A Conversation with Galeano: Part Two

Returning to Eduardo Galeano's beautiful book, Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

The Manager

In the old days there was the trainer and nobody paid him much heed. He dies without a word when the game stopped being a game and professional soccer required a technocracy to keep people in line. Then the manager was born. His mission: to prevent improvisation, restrict freedom and maximize the productivity of the players, who were now obliged to become disciplined athletes.

The trainer used to say: "Let's play."

The manager says: "Let's go to work."

Today they talk in numbers. The history of soccer in the twentieth century, a journey from daring to fear, is a trip from the 2-3-5 to the 5-4-1 by way of the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-2 [sic]. Any ignoramus could translate that much with a little help, but the rest is impossible. The manager dreams up formulas as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception, and he uses them to develop tactical schemes more indecipherable than the Holy Trinity.

From the old blackboard to the electronic screen: now great plays are planned by computer and taught by video. These dream-manoeuvers are rarely seen in the broadcast version of the games. Television prefers to focus on the furrows in the manager's brow. We see him gnawing his fists or shouting instructions that would certainly turn the game around if anyone could understand them.

*     *     *

Once again, Galeano is describing the disciplinary nature of modern sport that allows the greatest calculus of productivity versus expenditure. In this passage, however, he begins to probe at the edges of post-Foucauldian theorizing, namely, the emergence into a society of numbers, computers, simulations, and cybernetics. The role of the coach/manager shifts to technician, as Galeano notes for (association) football, and which has been noted here for (gridiron) football.

However, I would like to make a reminder: the more that sport becomes an instance of disciplined "play," the more that the coach/manager fears the aesthetic uncertainty of the opposing star athlete. Galeano's lament for a lost artistry is sometimes answered by the players.

It is interesting that Galeano invokes the Immaculate Conception and Holy Trinity, since, as Baudrillard notes, we are at "the end of a history in which, successively, God, Man, Progress, and History itself die to profit the code, in which transcendence dies to profit immanence, the latter corresponding to a much more advanced phase in the vertiginous manipulation of social rapports" (Simulations, p.111).


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