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Trinche Carlovich: The legend of Argentina’s late mythical figure

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Last Friday, Tomas Felipe Carlovich, El Trinche (the Fork), died. He had been in an induced coma in Rosario, Argentina, since Wednesday, when he was struck on the head by a thief who stole his bicycle. Argentinian football fell into deep mourning, not just for the senseless loss of a popular 73-year-old but for the death of a dream.

Carlovich never won an international cap. He never won a title. He played only two games in the top flight. Hardly any video footage of him as a player exists. He was more myth than man. But he represented an ideal of what Argentinian football believed itself, at its best, to be. He was the only player Diego Maradona ever said was better than him. Jose Pekerman called Carlovich the best midfielder he ever saw. That conventional success seemed of no concern to him was part of his glory.

Born in Rosario, one of seven sons of a Yugoslav immigrant, Carlovich grew up playing football in the streets and it was there that he always believed real football was to be found: “I tell you why I like to play on the streets—a player who goes onto the pitch and looks up into the stands where there are 60,000, 100,000 people, how is he going to enjoy the game? He can’t play, ever. Those people in the stands, their demands, their insults…”

In that, his upbringing perfectly fit the template. From the rapid urbanization of the 1920s, the belief in Argentina had been that the true spirit of their game was to be found in the pibes (kids) who played on the potreros (vacant lots); who learned technique and balance on hard uneven surfaces; who developed skill and streetwiseness to protect the ball and themselves in unruly mass games in small spaces. They were not, the argument ran, like the British, who had introduced football 50 years earlier but had played on vast playing fields under the controlling gaze of a teacher and so developed a game based on running and speed.

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