“I cried”, admits Carlos Javier Mac Allister, then he is silent. Five seconds pass before he continues, or tries to. “I often cry,” he adds, swallowing and stopping again, catching his breath. “But…” He raises a hand to his eye, pressing gently, and eight seconds pass. “I try to be alone.” There is another pause, longer this time, this moment, the moment, repeated in his mind.
“If you’re a father, you know,” he finally said, his voice cracking.
Not just any father either. Ten days ago, Mac Allister sat at Stadium 974 alongside his two eldest sons and watched his youngest, Alexis, score for Argentina. Kevin and Francis are footballers at Boca Juniors and Rosario Central respectively. Their cousin plays in Malaysia. Mac Allister senior was a professional, just like his brother Patricio, and together they founded Club Deportivo Mac Allister. Nicknamed Color, red, Carlos Mac Allister played with Diego Maradona; Alexis plays with Lionel Messi.
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There can be no family with a claim like that – “in fact, there is: Diego and Gio Simeone”, says Mac Allister with a smile – and Alexis jokes that the debate is as endless as ‘inevitable. He says Messi is the greatest; his father says he is Maradona, not just a teammate but the closest of friends. But it’s home, and it’s here. And maybe it’s time to admit defeat.
“Compare Messi with those who are playing now. Don’t compare Messi to Maradona or Maradona to Di Stéfano,” says Carlos Mac Allister. “But, listen, Messi is undoubtedly the best ever. The best in the World Cup too, and at 35 it’s like his birth certificate is lying Modric is lying too We went to the Youth World Cup in 2005 and came back talking about a player who would be better than Maradona. He had just turned 18. Mac Allister draws an impossible dribble in the air.”Tick, tick, objective. Seventeen years later, it’s still there! No one has ruled this long. Maradona retired at 32. People say it’s his last World Cup. CheAre you sure?”
“I’m a rational man and Messi’s numbers are indisputable. What more do you want?! The thing is, there’s a context. Maradona had all sorts of personal issues and despite those, he won a World Cup. He went to Italy, carried an entire city on his shoulders, made them champions. Now you see Messi at 35 and think: che, Maradona was extraordinary, really great, but Messi is an example. You should watch Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Ramos: don’t to play like them, but for be like them.”
This message resonates with everything he says about his boys and their upbringing. The Mac Allisters arrived from Ireland in the 1800s, he says, and also have Italian roots. La Pampa is their place, Alexis the first pampiano go to the world cup. But if you’re looking for an identity, it’s football. The Mac Allisters to like Soccer. When the families visited the Argentina team hotel two days ago, theirs was the table with a phone showing Morocco versus Portugal.
There’s a smile, a flash of pride when he remembers Alexis being asked to speak at Villarreal five years ago. Unable to accompany him, he sent Kevin and Francis instead. “When the meeting was over, they were shouting, ‘Holy shit, Javier, what a son you have!'” he says. “They know every player, every team, every detail. I heard Raphinha say that he prefers watching series; my boys watch every game from morning till night drinking comrade. When they were little, I used to say, ‘You’re number two and number four; you follow the 8 and the 5; you, 10 and 11. I’ll do the others. They wrote down everything: good passes, bad passes, headers won, headers lost…” Mac Allister still does this, providing his sons with analyzes of their matches.
A product of their father, then? “No,” he insists. “The product of a very important academy, Argentinos Juniors. Family where what matters is to be good people. Themselves. They are not remote controlled. They find their way, do not always look back and see dad And mom.
“At games, people would pat me on the back: ‘che, Color, How did you do?’ No no no no. His mother did is fundamental; we need to value more the work of mothers. I am not the “father” of their formation: it is the clubs, the coaches, the children with whom they played, the whole family, and Alexis’ older brothers were so important to him. They are not footballers because they were told to be: they are footballers because they like it, it is their passion.
It doesn’t stop there: Mac Allister speaks warmly of Brighton and a future in which Alexis continues in the Premier League, with the stats he runs through highlighting his development, especially since his change of position. He remembers a long diagonal ball played during his second match, aged 17: “I said: ‘Bloody brilliant! And what personality. He is a first division player. So I don’t think the pressure will affect him: that’s his best quality. Asked what’s in his game that reveals Alexis as Mac Allister, Color smiles. “The way he attacks,” he says, sharing a photo to show it off. “But that’s the only thing he has that’s me, huh!”
“I will never be that papa tonto, this insistent father saying that his child is the best. The most important thing is the team, they know it. And I say to them: ‘hey, you haven’t played 400 games yet’”, laughs Mac Allister. “I told them that I had scored against Real Madrid. They didn’t believe me. One day of chain hopping, the game was on. ‘Look at this’. You have to say that once in a while. They are miles better in everything else. The more they leave me behind, the happier I am.
There may be no prouder father here. “Although you worried about injury until the last game against Aston Villa, I was convinced that Alexis would be called up,” he says, but even he didn’t expect it to go so well , the look on his face speaking of discovery, joy. “It’s my first World Cup,” said Mac Allister. “Now I realize what a World Cup is, what it means. And that’s great. I’ve never had the chance to come before.
Mac Allister’s competitive appearances for Argentina were limited to the qualifiers against Australia which qualified them for the 1994 World Cup. The story goes that he was left out after kicking to Ariel Ortega in a Boca-River clásico. “No, it’s the opposite !” he protests. “It’s because I doesn’t hit it. I should have buried him. I didn’t play well, although I don’t think a decision was made based on a match. [Jorge] Valdano said every player needs a small indoor crime quota and that day I didn’t.
“Those games, the qualifiers against Australia, were historic. There were a lot of nerves in the country and in the team. They were coming back from the 5-0 defeat against Colombia injured. So of course I would have liked go to the World Cup, but I was happy to have given what I had to bring Argentina there.
It was there that Maradona was expelled for doping, the conversation returning to the captain and companion of Mac Allister. “First of all, I don’t think Diego took drugs to play. [better]: I think it was an accident,” he says. “And you forgive an idol anything. The problem is that when your leader falls, you fall.
Mac Allister recalls a night in Brazil years later, when Maradona “almost died”. But then he adds, “Maradona flirted with death every day. Maradona was always bad for Maradona, he was never bad for anyone else; he mistreated himself, not others. Diego was a monster, I was a normal player. We were close; he took care of me. One day, Kily González, Juan Sebastián Verón and Blas Giunta gave me a Rolex each. I was robbed while leaving the Racing field one night. They broke the car window, grabbed me, we struggled. The guy pulled out a gun: ‘The Rolex or I’ll kill you’. It was worth over $5,000 but what mattered was the gesture and Maradona gave it all to you.
“We were going around the world, and wherever we went, there were 200, 300, 1,000 or 2,000 people. They never expected us, they expected Maradona. He was an extraordinary player, the best. But people don’t want a sportsman; they want a moral leader, and a piece of him. Maradona once said, “Sometimes I wake up, I look in the mirror and I say: Dieguito, what are they going to ask you today?’ They asked him about world leaders, war. What do you want him to say?! It has to be said, “I don’t have an opinion”, but Diego’s character meant he had an opinion on everything.
“Leaders absorb all the pressure. One of the reasons Messi is so great is the way he handles it. He’s polite even when he tells you to fuck off. Messi and Maradona grew up in different countries, different situations, different times. They just have different personalities, that’s all; completely different beings. The responsibility then was Maradona’s, now it’s Messi’s. Being Messi is not free. He never hides: if he is marked, give him the ball. For Argentines, Maradona has always been Maradona with the national team. But Messi showed that he loved the country, the shirt, like Maradona loved him. When things went wrong, he refused to back down. When leaders say that, you follow. I’m enjoying this one in progress.
Just like Kevin and Francis, the whole family is present at every game. Above all, his eldest son is too. “You have to know how to play with Messi. Messi has been the best for 15 years,” says Mac Allister. “These kids were six or seven when Messi started. When we were children, my brother and I shared a room: a table, beds on each side. We turned off the light, we put the radio on the table and we listened to Victor Hugo Morales commenting on the matches of Boca. One day, Boca became champion. I closed my eyes and imagined playing with Maradona. And one day I did.
“They will always be idols and it’s right never to forget them, to always respect them. The other day we saw Gabriel Batistuta. Alexis invited his children and that made me proud. My children are in a place forged by others: Batistuta, Maradona, Ruggeri, Batista. But you have to break that knot that says “he was my idol” and move on to “he’s my teammate”.
How? “Personality,” says Mac Allister. “And these pies have personality. Not just Alexis, all of them.