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Horacio Pagani: “In football first is emotion, then justice”

Journalist Horacio Pagani in an all-terrain interview with his passions, his opinions and anecdotes with the big. That they are not just with the idols of the round.

Horacio Pagani

At zapping, the vozarrón de Horacio Pagani is a mandatory stop.  Whether talking about the latest classic, be it the last scandal of the famous plaque, Pagani embodies a poorly heard voice in the television mud. Sincerity.  There lies his charm and, too, his spicy moments that face him with the politically correct, although sometimes he “regrets” a thick stroke, and prefers not to see the repetitions of his exabrupts that flood television summaries. The media noise reveals a journalist of convictions, with a trajectory of more than half a century in graphics, which half passes in audiovisual media, with phrases that do not end up lost in the rostrum.  “ Football is a social phenomenon, perhaps the largest in the world. And it became great just because it lives with error, and allows everyone to understand and practice it. In addition, error makes it possible for discussion, social gathering. In football first is emotion, and then justice,” he ends from here to la Luna, lords of football for screens, without fans. An exclusive report for  that Pagani walks on the muddy court, with the elegance of a ten Argentine classic, and puts a goal to his loves, tango, box and family.

 “ We share with my son Luis the passion for journalism  — starts Horacio, one of the historic firms of Clarín and TyC Sports and, now, a reference in internet radios —, we have a program by   Conexión Abierta, 'Pagani Football Tango', Departs on Fridays at eleven in the morning. We've been on the air for nine years and I won the Martín Fierro digital. I'm older than Methuselah!  In the pandemic we do the program everyone at home although we are very connected in the daily one, because Luis takes care of taking the papers to me.  We're quite a few cronies. What we don't share is tango, one of the forts of the program together. The 2x4 is something I like only. Luis in these years barely managed to distinguish a couple of singers ,” he closes with a laugh Horacio, who left a seat in a bank at twenty, son of humble bread dispensers, the last of six, and never stopped living a thousand, with the weapons of the word. Even this interview is an unusual stop on a normal day of the journalist, who turned 77 in November: “I am writing several notes at once, and preparing to go on cable and TV,” says Pagani, who recovered last April from COVID-19, already today with the two inoculated doses.


Journalist: Tango lover, does he come from the milonguera family?

Horacio Pagani: The truth didn't have a lot of close history, and my family was not tanguera. A long time ago, to a friend I bought ten Carlos Gardel albums at 78 RPM, with one song per side, and I learned the twenty songs by memory. That's how my connection to tango began. Much later he attended a  tango shop near the Ministry of Public Works and followed the recording of Julio Sosa that recite about “La Cumparsita” -   recited from the 1961 poem “Why I sing so”. And I liked it so much that I learned it verse by verse, and 50 years ago, that I make that poem live.  

Lately I also connected with young singers and, when possible, we had meetings of six or seven new values. Great meals. I was very close to Ariel Ardit, I think the best of all, the Gardel of the 21st century, in my modest opinion.  And because of tango, I didn't hear anything about the other music, that people my age followed like rock.  


Q: I think you break the prejudice that current football journalists have a ball on their heads. And little more.

HP: More like! I also consider myself a boxing journalist, a sport to which I owe a lot. Most of my trips abroad were thanks to boxing. I already wrote three books but the last one is called “Six Travels to the Moon” (2016. Aguilar), for the number of miles I flew thanks to the gloves. I went to Las Vegas alone thirty times, city of my last — and third — marriage. I traveled more with boxing than with football.   I'm also interested in other issues.  I consider football a circumstantial thing in my life.   Of course it was my source of initial work, 55 years ago I'm a journalist, and 53 years ago I'm in Clarín, where I'm still writing retired.


Q: One of his books is prologated by the great graphic humorist, and writer, Roberto Fontanarrosa, how did they meet?

HP: We became very friends at the 94 World Cup in America, when we shared a room. We also had to coincide in the next Copa America in Uruguay, again together at the hotel. And back at the 98 World Cup in France.  So I spent with El Negro about 80 nights. More than some of my ex-wives (laughter) It was an extraordinary guy Rosarino, and I'm very proud to have accompanied him until his last days.  


Q: If football was circumstantial, could Pagani be a political journalist?

HP: And I would have liked... I worked at Siete Días magazine doing politics. And I did more than football especially on radio shows, in the morning with Daddy Brieva, Chiche Gelblung or Pepe Eliaschev. For eleven years I was on Saturday morning of Radio Mitre, not talking about sports, and reciting poetry. I remember he was chatting a lot about history with Professor Eduardo Lazzari.


Q: He became a sports journalist because he was the typical neighborhood boy behind a ball...

HP: I belong to another generation where all the boys in the neighborhood played football. But I followed boxing as a little boy, on the radio.  In the  Luna Park in the sixties I attended big fights of the champions like Nicolino Locche; as I also saw the great international teams on court that came to the country, like Johan Cruyff's Ajax, who played against Independiente, or the Celtic of Great Britain, who faced Racing. All that was training me for analysis.  


Q: The best moments in boxing?

HP: The best fight I saw in my life was Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler in 1987. With “The Wonderful” Hagler, I had an amazing dinner, once I found it in Boston, at World 94. I knew him well because I had interviewed him before he was champion, in Monte Carlo, thanks to Tito Lectoure.  Then we were eating near Hagler in the 1990s, and he introduced me as his friend to everyone, remembering that he had interviewed him before he was famous, heh.   Following boxing, I remember Mike Tyson's two fights, including the famous ear bite. I could also see Muhammad Ali, at the end of his career, and when he lost to Larry Holmes. I was also lucky enough to see the extraordinary triumph of Zurdo -Juli- Vasquez, and in Monterrey, the victory of Roña -Jorge- Castro, who won by an incredible knockout in a lost fight.


Q: What did boxing teach you?

HP: Recognize the purity of boxers. Unlike footballers, they put their physical and soul at risk.  They usually come from very low sectors, and they earn the respect of society, blows to their fists. They have a unique dignity, and grandeur.  


 Maradona and Vilas in the Fitito de Pagani 

Q: In their networks there is a photo with Diego Armando Maradona and Ángel Clemente Rojas, what is the story?

HP: That picture is from 1981 when Boca came out champion. We gathered for a note the greatest idol of Boca, had not yet appeared —Juan- Riquelme, Rojitas, and Diego recently crowned in the Bombonera.  Angel says that Boca's greatest idol is Riquelme, I say it's him. Because Rojitas was an idol when there was no ability to repeat a million times a play.  


Q: The relationship with Maradona comes from afar...

HP: When  Maradona turned 16 on October 30, I made a note that appeared on November 17, 1976, that is, he was on the grid for a fortnight, but I already knew he was going to be a very important player. He had only four half matches, not even an entire one.  That note was called “A dream of a keg,” and it's the only one I have hanging in my office. That was Maradona's first note in a mass media.  


Q: How do you understand the Maradona Phenomenon?

HP:  Maradona  is a unique case. Making notes in Naples, in 1987, I found that it was impossible for Diego to leave the house.  He was lying in the back seat of the car so they wouldn't chase him. That's how he lived every day. That's why I don't accept anyone saying what Maradona should have done. No one can put in the role of the best-known person in the world.   And Maradona for fifteen years was the best-known person in the world. Better known than the Pope, the president of the United States, or anyone we can name. He had that terrible privilege. It was too strong a burden for him. Unfortunately, then the drug aggravated all these problems. I talk about Maradona from the football issue, to personal subjects no one can judge them.  No one can know what it was to have the weight of being Maradona.  


Q: With  Guillermo Vilas,  you were also in your first steps, is it true that you encouraged you not to quit the sport?

HP: A chance. It all started because El Gráfico magazine, where I worked between 1969 and 1975, had run out of a tennis specialist, and they asked to cover the section, at a time when it was a virtually unknown sport.  It so happened that I went to Mar del Plata to cover a fight of Horacio- Saldaño and Justo Vilas had a conflict with the Tennis Association. So since I was over there, I went to interview him. I showed up directly at the house, talked to the family, and asked Guillermo to tell me about his problem, because I didn't know a lot about the sport . A few months passed and the number one in the Argentine ranking arrives, along with Julián Ganzábal, and was training in River. So since the writing of the magazine they ask me to interview him because he was only who knew him. I went to find him at the Núñez club, and took him in my Fiat 600; just like Maradona later, whom I left at the house on that note of '76. Going back to Vilas, I pulled him to the student pension in Belgrano, since he was studying right here.  We went to eat a choripan and tell that he was offered to play in Europe. I was hesitating about the law career. And then I answer that I had time to be a lawyer and try a year in Europe.   Some journalists wanted to deny me with a face with Guillermo himself, heh, that's the truth. I'm not saying I made him go on with tennis, I'm sure I knew. Vilas just needed another voice.


 The fulbó that argentino likes 

Q: How do you work as a football journalist in a country of 44 million technicians?

HP: I'm a journalist of the old generation.  New journalism, and the eruption of social media, have confused everything. Journalists speak as though they were technical directors and everyone thinks they understand technical management. And they're two different things.   Once - César Luis- Menotti said that 97% of journalists did not know anything about football. And I replied that 97% of coaches don't know anything about journalism. I believe that our communication should be direct, according to what it seems to each commentator, and according to the understanding of the people going to the court. The guy who swells for a club, you have to talk to the fairness of the game.  Now journalists say they are fans of such a club. An absurd.

On the other hand, we live in the era of media speed, and instead of corroborating information, they launch it collecting a post on the networks. Today anyone uploads an opinion to social media, and the media reproduce it as if it were a news story.  Everyone thinks as if they knew everything, or were credible sources.  


Q: Why can't journalists say they sympathize with a club?

HP: Because they lose credibility. If a journalist tells me he's a river fan, I don't believe him when he thinks for, or against another team, because I know what preference he has.


Q: You wrote two books with “Football That People Like” (2006/2008), what would it be?

HP: We're in a war maybe thirty years.  And that has to do with what football everyone likes, whether Menotti's football, that of —Carlos Timoteo- Griguol, or that of —Carlos- Bilardo. Looks like a trench war, heh. I say everyone knows what is the game on the palate of the Argentine fan . Of course everyone wants his team to win, but he recognizes how the Argentines play. Especially when we analyze the national team, which is a team that does not have fans. He's got sympathizers, we're all. And to the teams I hold we can ask him to play with the Argentine style, which distinguished us with two World Cups. The Argentine style has to do with the touch, with the gambeta, a series of freedoms to players, beyond that now runs so much that less and less is played. If there is a Brazilian way to play, if we know how the Italians or Spaniards play - who were the only ones who changed with the appearance of other types of players like Xavi Iniesta, or other types of coaches like Pep Guardiola -,  if Uruguayans played the same way a hundred years ago, Why are we not going to respect our traditions?  


Q: Did we lose identity?

HP: Yes I think it has been related to extra football issues, more about the business, and also, about the overvaluation of tactics.  It's a game that depends circumstances, and there's nothing scientist. Football is football and its circumstances.   If you notice, 50% of the goals that are made outside the area you have a touch, on some defender. That's totally fortuitous even though many say, “look where he put it,” and he didn't put it anywhere, really. He just kicked in the bow and went in where he could. A scientific question has been made of something that is simply a sport.


Q: So we are against technological advances such as VAR (Video Arbitration).

HP: Absolutely against. Football is a social phenomenon, perhaps the largest in the world. And it became great just because it lives with error, and allows everyone to understand and practice it. In addition, error makes it possible for discussion, social gathering. In football first is emotion, and then justice. Of course we're talking about sports justice.  And the VAR is killing him when you have to wait five minutes to find out if the player is enabled by an electronic stripe, which you don't even know is well on.   You can cancel a goal simply by a line that puts a machine. There's no uglier thing in football that you celebrate a goal, and then they cancel it. That's what anyone who kicked a ball knows.


 Pagani and the character 

Q: At one point in his thirty-year career as a serious, respected graphic journalist, he jumped to television and media fame, how was the transition?

HP: At first I was a little embarrassed. I always did my job as a journalist that we can call serious, I never wrote jokingly, but as I was spending my time on television, which is almost twenty years,  I realized that it is another game in front of the camera.    Play to be a character. Always in real life I went this way, quite warm, but since I wasn't on TV, no one found out.  I don't pretend, I'm the way it comes out on the programs. Maybe over time, I'm exaggerating a little bit. Just a little bit, nothing more.


Q. Do you regret any televised stag with your companions?

HP:  Of course I regret it. That's why I never look at any of the repetitions.   What happened with my character, is that my companions look for me where, and that I react to generate sizzling and repercussions. I admit my hand is going, sometimes. And I'm the first to apologize.


Q: What do we see on the Pagani farandulero of  “Bendita TV”  on  Channel 9  ?

HP: A much lighter, less analytical Pagani. I don't watch any chimentos show, I don't even know sometimes who they're talking about, I don't like interference in personal life,  so I put together some kind of antihero, and that says some things about celebrities that others don't cheer up. I take it as a fun,  I'm happy working with Beto Casella and my teammates at night,  but if you give me a choice, leave me with football or boxing. Or tango, I talk to you all night.  

Publication Date: 18/05/2021

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We suggest you continue reading the following notes:

Guillermo Vilas: el tenista del pueblo Guillermo Vilas: the tennis player in the village
Maradona Being Maradona: the metaphor of a country



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