They say that in Argentina football is the national religion. Everything moves around it. Even in everyday conversations that don’t touch upon the sport, football is present. Che, dame bola a friend says to another, which literally means, “Give me the ball; pay attention to me”.
When you watch fútbol argentino, you’ll be amazed by the variety of words and expressions used to describe every trick and maneuver a player manages to pull off. Even if you speak Spanish, you might not understand all the nuances Argentines use. We’re here to help make sure you’re with us. ¿Estamos?
Caño (el): El caño is the ”nutmeg”, or the act of passing or dribbling the ball between an opponent’s legs. Caño is not an innocent, playful trick. On the contrary, it’s seen as a way to humiliate the opponent. Just ask Mario Yepes.
Taco (el) : El taco – more or less a backheel – is a technical move that shows great skill.
Sombrero (el): Sombrero literally means hat. In football lingo, however, it’s an impressive move involving passing the ball over the head of the opponent, then immediately retrieving it, leaving the poor opponent disoriented and humiliated.
Rabona (la): A term that’s made its way from the tango floor to the football pitch. The act of crossing one leg behind the other and kicking the ball with the crossed leg. A trademark of Claudio Borghi and, well, Angelito di María.
Chilena (la) : aka the bicycle kick
Vaselina (la): aka the lob
Gambeta (la) (gambetear): When I think of la gambeta, the first thing that pops into my mind is Maradona dribbling past the players of England before scoring the “goal of the century”. So gambeta means dribbling? Well, not exactly – it’s a special kind of dribbling that involves keeping the ball close to the feet, dropping the shoulder to trick the opponent into moving the wrong direction, quickly changing the direction of the hips.
Just think of Messi dribbling. Got it? That’s a gambeta. It’s no coincidence that it almost looks and feels like a dance. “Gambeta” derives from the word gamba, an Italian term meaning “leg” that’s often used in lunfardo, the slang of Buenos Aires associated with the Underworld and the tango.
La Gambeta is the quintessential move of el fútbol argentino. As the band Bersuit Vergarabat sings, “Si sabemos gambetear, para ahuyentar la muerte” (If we knew to do a gambeta, we’d chase away death).
Lunfardo, the slang of Buenos Aires, is a mix of words and expressions deriving from different Italian dialects, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, African Bantú and indigenous languages.
Morfón: Morfón is a lunfardo term that, when used in football, describes a selfish player who never passes the ball to his team mates. A classic example is Mauro Zárate who had an anti-morfón clause to his contract with Internazionale. Morfón derives from the italian term morfa which means mouth.
Bartolear: Originally this lunfardo term meant to laze around. In football it means to kick the ball aimlessly without creating chances.
In Argentina the spectacle is not only on the pitch. Creating a fantastic atmosphere is essential and it’s la hinchada who play that role. Nowadays visiting fans are mostly banned due to the brawls between rival barra bravas but nevertheless the home fans in most cases try to steal the show with their chants and trapo.
Hinchada: Hinchada are the supporters of a team, the tifosi.
Barra brava: La barra is a group of organised fans, within la hinchada, the Argentinian version of ultras who are often associated with violence and criminal acts.
Trapo (el): Trapos are the banners and flags used by the supporters.
Amargos: Amargo literally means bitter. This term is used to describe a fanbase that doesn’t support their club when the team is having a difficult time. The equivalent term for a footballer who doesn’t give their best when the team is down on their luck is called a pecho frío, literally meaning cold chest.
Dar el aguante: This expression means to support your team actively and emotionally, to encourage your team with all your passion and heart. ¡Aguante Boca, caretas!
Tablón (el): The stands. The term derives from the word tabla, which means wooden board, as the first stands were made out of wood.
Termo: This term can be used to describe either players (Dani Osvaldo) or fans who are quite hot-headed, which is no surprise since termo literally means thermos, an essential part of the mate lovers’ paraphernalia.
Passion can create conflict. What’s better: winning badly or playing beautifully? This question has divided Argentinian fans for ages. There are two major schools of football philosophy, each named after a World Cup winning manager of la selección.
Menottismo: The football philosophy of César Luís Menotti, the winner of the World Cup of 1978. This philosophy treats the football as a spectacle, focusing on playing well regardless of the result. One of the most well-known menottistas is Jorge Valdano – remember his ”shit on a stick” comment? Ángel Cappa and his tiki-tiki, the Argentinian version of tiki-taka, is another famous menottista.
Bilardismo: The football philosophy of Carlos Bilardo, the winner of the 1986 World Cup. Bilardo’s philosophy is based on defending well, trying not to concede goals, and winning by all means. The infamous bidón (meaning water can) is an example: According to legend Bilardo tampered with a container of water given to Branco, a Brazilian player in 1990. Other stories tell of him pinching rival players when he played for the Estudiantes de La Plata.
Enough with the tricks and terms. Let’s talk about the players. Argentina has a tradition of using numbers to describe football positions. The most classic example is, of course, El Diez, the 10: Diego Armando Maradona.
Enganche: Enganche is el diez, the 10, the most mythical number in Argentinian football. The term literally means hook, the hook which links the team together, the lone ranger of the archetypal Argentinian 4-3-1-2. An enganche is the maestro that conducts the orchestra, the creative player of the team who dictates the game by passing the ball, creating links in play, and establishing the rhythm of the game. Apart from Maradona (el D10s, the God) and his idol Ricardo Bochini, a classic example of an enganche is Juan Román Riquelme. The legendary #10 of Boca Juniors is, along with being my personal favourite, for many the last specimen of the classic 10s.
Cinco: If el enganche is the maestro, el cinco, the five, is the vigilante of the team. A cinco is the one that distributes the ball, often with long passes, the one who knows how to mark the opponents and how to steal the ball, the player who leads the defense when the team is attacking and the first to recover the ball when the team loses it in the offensive zone. In other words, el 5 does the dirty work.
Sometimes one 5 isn’t enough so the team plays with a doble cinco, two cincos playing as a pair. In that case one usually plays a more creative role, like Fernando Redondo or Éver Banega, and the other the ugly role of the destroyer, like Javier Mascherano.
As the great Uruguayan author and football fan extraordinaire Eduardo Galeano wrote in his book ”Sol y Sombra” (Sun and Shadow) ”Once a week the supporter flees their house and attends the stadium… There the fan waves their handkerchief, gulps their saliva, swallows their bile, eats their cap, whispers players and curses and suddenly lets loose a full-throated scream, leaping like a flea to hug the stranger at his side cheering the goal. While the pagan mass lasts, the fan is many. Along with a thousand other devotees they share the certainty that we are the best, that all referees are crooked, that all our opponents are crooked.”
Football is a passion that unites and divides people of all cultures. Whether you’d rather connect with other fans or scream at rival supporters, knowing what everyone is saying certainly helps.