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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Getting to the bottom of Noodle, Flea and other player nicknames

Noodle, Atomic Flea and Chubby take a celebratory photograph after yesterday’s victory against Switzerland.
By Dan Edwards
For the Herald

The aliases used by the World Cup team can lead to lots of confusion

The light blue and whites have plenty of reason to feel confident after yesterday’s 1-0 World Cup last-16 victory against Switzerland. Tiny has been impressing in goal despite concerns over his performance pre-tournament, while in the middle of the pitch the Little Chief has surprised nobody with his tenacious displays.

Fans would perhaps like to see a little more from Pretty Boy and Pipe following their uneven showings so far, and attention now turns to Chubby as he attempts to fill in for Kun up front. But if all else fails, the Flea has the ability to turn the game in a split-second, adding to his tally of four goals to aid the Sloth in his pursuit of glory in Brazil.

He can also lay them on for his colleagues, as he did for Noodle to keep Argentina on track for the final in the last minute of extra time.

Confused? Time to explain a little more about the glorious nicknames used by the Argentina squad in 2014.

From the family to work, and in all guises of everyday life, nicknames are used extensively in Argentina. These can be manifested in the shortening of normal names (Francisco to Fran, for example), or comments on a particular trait of the individual in question. The names may not sound particularly flattering outside a society that clings ferociously to politically-incorrect ideals, but offence is rarely taken — and even more rarely intended.

Argentina’s World Cup stars may not go to the extremes of a nation like Brazil, where the alternative monikers are often better-known than a player’s name. But within the squad, and for commentators, nicknames are liberally used. So who is who in the Albiceleste’s alternative list of denominations?

Let’s get physical

As this writer, referred to almost on a daily basis as flaco (skinny) can confirm, nicknames referring to physical attributes are by far the most common. Even multi-millionaire footballers are not exempt from being called out for their appearance.

Some are easy to understand. Tuesday’s goalscoring hero Ángel Di Maria is best known as fideo (noodle), an obvious reference to his wiry frame as he hares down the left wing. Fernando Gago’s chiselled features earned him the not-entirely unflattering tag of pintita (pretty boy), while El Flaco Federico Fernández also represents those individuals who leave little impression on the bathroom scales. We may not have seen him yet in this World Cup, but former Vélez man Augusto Fernández sports one of the most universal nicknames in Argentina, the wholly acceptable and uncontroversial Negro, based on his dark eyes and complexion.

Other names are a little harder to decipher at first glance. The thousands of female fans who commented appreciatively on Twitter about Ezequiel Lavezzi’s body as he stripped on the sidelines contradicted the nickname he has carried since childhood, Pocho (chubby). And what of Argentina’s goalkeeper, Sergio Chiquito (tiny) Romero, who stands at a strapping 1.91 metres tall? Another product of infancy. As the youngest of four brothers, all of whom played basketball to professional or semi-pro level, the Monaco man was dwarfed by siblings Diego, Oscar and Marcos, who gave him the tag which has stuck into his adult years, despite his rather giant frame.

Too many cartoons

An unfortunate nickname can stick with you for life. But another mainstay of a player’s formative years — cartoons — can also prove vital in the search for an alternative persona. Indeed, two of Argentina’s top stars owe their titles to the animation industry.

Lionel Messi’s alter-ego La Pulga, the Flea, is clearly related to the fact that his diminutive stature has never held him back on the field, where he is one of the most explosive players around. Most simply know Messi as the Flea, but others have insisted that the name is inspired by the famous Hanna-Barbera 1960s cartoon Atom Ant, which told the story of a tiny insect superhero blessed with super speed and strength. At what point the ant became a flea to fit Messi’s profile is unclear, although the cartoon hero did have a nemesis in the series known only as Ferocious Flea.

Sergio Agüero, who missed yesterday’s Switzerland game with a muscle complaint, also takes his name from a television character, this time from the world of Japanese anime. The youngster was a big fan of the series Kum-Kum and its eponymous hero, so much so that his family dubbed him Kun, in a strange deformation of the original title.

Like father, like son

Soccer nicknames are a little like male pattern baldness — more often than not it will turn out to be hereditary.

Giovanni Simeone, one of the youngsters from domestic football called up as sparring partners to the senior team in Brazil, knows this feeling. The River Plate teenager could go on to have a fine career, but he is destined to be known to the world as Cholito, in deference to father Diego, the current Atlético Madrid coach and Argentine football legend.

Gonzalo Higuaín, meanwhile, has already far surpassed father Jorge in terms of playing achievements. But Higuaín Sr. left him two important legacies: his birthplace, the French town of Brest where he starred as a defender — and a big nose that leads to his nickname, Pipa (pipe).

The boss

For those truly dominant figures, a nickname denoting authority and power is the ultimate praise. Even though he lost the title of Argentina captain following the arrival of Alejandro Sabella as coach, Javier Mascherano is still seen by many as the squad’s spiritual leader; making his title of El Jefe (the chief) seem rather appropriate. It is not, of course, quite as grandiose a title as that bestowed on the predecessor in the captain’s role Daniel Passarella. The 1978 captain has showed imperious tendencies throughout his career as player, coach and president, so much so that the Kaiser does not raise many eyebrows even in his most dictatorial moments.

At the other extreme, current boss Sabella would almost certainly love to change his nickname for something a little more authoritative and worthy of respect. Ever since his days as a gifted but somewhat one-paced central midfielder, the ex-Sheffield United player has carried around the rather unthreatening Pachorra, or sloth.

If he can continue to guide the Albiceleste to victory, and towards World Cup glory, the coach may be justified in requesting a slightly more evocative name from the Argentine public — or he may only succeed in immortalizing the alter-ego for generations to come. Just ask the last Argentine trainer to bring home soccer’s most-coveted prize: Carlos Narigón (big nose) Bilardo.

@DanEdwardsGoal

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