Manuel Vázquez Montalbán – Off Side

 

Pepe Carvalho, Montalbán’s symbol-character, finds himself investigating on the threats a city football team received about its striker’s murder. The player is Jack Mortimer, a young English emblem of the new generation of rampant champions idols.
The counterpart to the story is Centellas Fútbol Club, a trudging team in decline that has to place its hopes in Palacín, a skilled player but with too many years and few minutes of play in his legs. The disparity between the two teams perfectly epitomizes the different speed of the city itself: on the one hand, we have the freedom from a recently ended dictatorship and the political and social evolution; on the other hand, the preparations for the ’92 Olympic Games and the dream of development and modernity. On the one hand, there are immigrants, prostitutes, drug dealers, suburbs and degradation; on the other hand, regimental ties and land speculators. Football, in this context, becomes an exact metaphor: it is the sublimation, through sport, of the aggressiveness that has grown in a urban artificial scenario.
Literature also has a role in Montalbán’s novel: the author of the threat letters quotes (in a rather pompous and smug way) classic authors and models; Marta, a young drug addict prostitute, offers her customers “literary fucking”. Pepe Carvalho instead burns books: since culture separates us from life, fakes life sentimentality “as antibiotics destroy the body’s defences” (see Tattoo, by the same author). Therefore, burning books is burning useless truths. Carvalho finds his truth in other pleasures, especially food . Disquisitions on cuisine make the most pleasant pages of the novel, rich as they are of flavors, smells, suggestions.
Off Side is a good novel, written in a neat prose that has much less to do with football than it would look like; its interlocutory epilogue leaves more than one unanswered questions.

Translation by Anna Anzani (edited by Sara Di Girolamo)

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A passionate reader from an early age, she always wanted to write a book. Meanwhile, as long as the Muse of Inspiration is pleased to inspire other pens, she is training for the pose “I’m pondering about the infinite with my hand under my chin” on back covers, and for signing autographs on outdated checks. Of all aphorisms about reading, her favorite is “Those who do not read, when 70 will have lived one life: their own. Readers will have lived 5,000 years: there they were, when Cain slew Abel, when Renzo married Lucia, when Leopardi admired the infinite ...” (Umberto Eco). Travelling, with the mind or any means that might take her elsewhere - sometimes only a few kilometers from home, but also, why not ?, poles apart - is one of the activities she loves most. She would describe herself, in two words, as a curious dreamer.