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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part I. North West

Valeri Stayed with the Tsar, I Followed Mazinho

Steve Porter
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There were two billboards on Vía Norte. One was an advertisement for Galician beer, with bubbles fizzing to the frothy surface. The other in blue and red lettering said ABÓNATE Ó REAL CLUB CELTA DE VIGO. “Sign up for the royal club Celta Vigo.” It was the second of these adverts that I escaped into at the weekends.

The city’s football team had gained a lot of respect for their swashbuckling play. They were irresistible at home, where they were unbeaten for about a year. Yet, Celta’s inconsistent away form saw them fail to win any trophies. The team included the Frenchman Claude Makelele and the Galician Michel Salgado, who both went on to sign for Real Madrid. But there were other players who gave me a lot of pleasure. Valeri Karpin was often frustrating to watch. He had good attacking ability but could be anonymous and wayward. A lot depended upon whether Valeri could keep his mouth shut and temper under control long enough to see out the whole 90 minutes. Opponents knew they could have a little kick at him and wait for the inevitable tantrum and maybe a red card. However there was little question of his overall value to the team. Having established himself as something of a celebrity about town he later fronted a chat show on Vigo’s independent TV channel, appearing in the latest colourful fashions, with his blond mop swept forward like some Byrdish pop star. Never short of a word against referees, he could always fill a little column space in the sports pages with his controversial opinions.

Though Karpin, and his antics on and off the field, will be remembered with some fondness in Vigo, outright adulation was saved for his fellow Russian, Alexander Mostovoi. Known as the Tsar, he was untouchable. In an age where players come and go with frequency, Mostovoi stayed in Vigo long enough to become an adopted son. He is one of those rare players for whom space just seems to open up when he receives the ball. The Tsar relies on quickness of mind and foot rather than speed or strength. He scores more than his fair share of goals from midfield and possesses a deadly free kick. When there is a stoppage, life can get a little boring. That’s when Mostovoi likes to have a friendly chat, making sure the referee understands his take on the game. He has a sarcastic chuckle for every decision that is given against him.

Finally, there was Mazinho, a member of Brazil’s World Cup winning side from USA 94, who still retained enough of his old brilliance. To say he wasn’t a fast mover is an understatement. Mazinho rarely left the centre circle but his instant control and long range passing was a joy to watch. Later, I would follow him across the peninsula to Elche, where he lay on a hammock between games, having a siesta in the city’s palm forest.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationMarch 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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