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The Mexican mens national football team and representations of the nation during the 2010 World Cup: a postcolonial dilemma
Roger Magazine , Miguel ngel Gonzlez Ponce de Len & Sergio Varela Hernndez
a b a a

Departamento de Ciencias Sociales y Polticas, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico.


b

Departamento de Antropologa, UAM-Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico. Published online: 21 Aug 2013.

To cite this article: Soccer & Society (2013): The Mexican mens national football team and representations of the nation during the 2010 World Cup: a postcolonial dilemma, Soccer & Society To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14660970.2013.828595

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The Mexican mens national football team and representations of the nation during the 2010 World Cup: a postcolonial dilemma
Roger Magazinea*, Miguel ngel Gonzlez Ponce de Lena and Sergio Varela Hernndezb
a Departamento de Ciencias Sociales y Polticas, Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico; bDepartamento de Antropologa, UAM-Iztapalapa, Mexico City, Mexico

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This article analyses the results of a survey conducted previous to and during the 2010 World Cup to capture Mexican university students opinions of the mens national football team. These results offer a window onto how Mexicans see not just the football team but the nation as well. The respondents frequently use the team to express their frustration, disappointment and resignation regarding Mexicos failure to progress beyond Third World status and to achieve international recognition as a successful nation. While these negative expressions can be attributed, in part, to Mexicos defeats and failures on and off the pitch, the very denition of a successful nation also plays an important role. We argue that this denition is weighted against postcolonial nations, which is why the survey shows Mexicans struggling to represent the team and the nation in a manner that is both uniquely Mexican and competitive in global terms.

In this article, we will present and analyse the results of a survey conducted previous to and during the 2010 World Cup to capture Mexican university students opinions of the mens national football team. We propose that these results offer a window onto how Mexicans see not just the football team, but the nation as well, in the context of international competition. The survey results suggest that while the team offers an opportunity to celebrate the nation, more frequently, it constitutes a topic for assessing and criticizing it. The survey respondents use the team to express their frustration, disappointment and resignation regarding Mexicos failure to progress beyond Third World status and to achieve international recognition as a successful nation. These negative expressions regarding the team and the nation can be attributed, at least in part, to Mexicos defeats and failures on and off of the football pitch. However, we will attempt to suggest that Mexicos performance is not the only cause of these negative sentiments. The very denition of a successful nation on a global scale, one that its citizens should be proud of, also plays an important role. According to this denition, a nation is successful if it is distinct and unique and, at the same time, competitive in the supposedly universal terms of the strength of its economy and how democratic and just its political system is. Generally speaking, the countries of Western Europe as well as the USA have little trouble seeing themselves as successful in these terms. This is not surprising, considering
*Corresponding author. Email: roger.magazine@ibero.mx
2013 Taylor & Francis

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that they not only established this denition of the successful nation, but also claimed as their own the characteristics that are needed to compete for success, including liberty, justice, efciency and rationality. This denition and these claims leave Third World or postcolonial nations with two options if they want to achieve international recognition. Either they can adopt these characteristics to try to compete, but taking the risk that they will appear as mere mimics without a distinct national identity, or they can celebrate their singularity, which means distancing themselves from the First World but also from the possibility of competing successfully.1 We will argue here that our survey results and their negativity reect this postcolonial dilemma. They show Mexicans struggling to represent the national football team and the nation in a manner that is both uniquely Mexican and competitive in global terms. Because of the fact that football can be used to discuss, contemplate and measure both unique national styles and competitiveness on an international scale, it is not surprising that studies of football and nationalism in Latin American countries often reveal such a dilemma. For example, Roberto DaMatta (2009) posits that Brazilian football is known for its jogo de cintura2; malice and malandragem3 which are absent from football in other countries, above all Europe, where football is based on physical force, muscular preparation, absence of improvisation or control of the ball by individual players (2009, 107). But when the national team suffers a defeat, the same black/African inheritance that was celebrated for its beautiful, artful style of play is seen as what prevents the nation from succeeding (2009, 111). Thus, as Simoni Lahud Guedes puts it: the so-called art-football permanently confronts power-football in internal debates (2009, 177; our translation). In the case of Argentina, Eduardo Archetti (1999, 60) demonstrates how early twentieth century sports journalists employed the contrast between colonialist British force and physical power on the playing pitch and local or criollo agility and virtuoso movements to dene a particular Argentinean, masculine character. According to Archetti, Argentineans also draw a contrast between playing football with the creativity of the pibe an undisciplined child for the sake of enjoyment vs. the British style of employing tedious, machine-like discipline in order to win (1999, 60, 168). However, despite the claims that style matters more than victory, defeats in international play still lead to feelings of humiliation, disappointment and self-doubt, which in turn lead to never-ending debates over whether or not a European style should be adopted (1999, 17075). Bartlomiej Brachs (2011) comparison of the Argentinean players Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi exposes a similar dilemma. Brach argues that Maradona is adored by Argentineans not just for his spectacular play on the pitch but also for his lifestyle off of it. Maradonas chaotic, immature, undisciplined, anti-authoritarian lifestyle makes him into the embodiment of the mythical gure of the pibe and thus of the nation (2011, 41921). Messi, in contrast, rivals Maradonas success and style on the pitch, but appears as the opposite of the pibe off of it. He is timid, modest and avoids attracting attention to himself. He is also hard working and well behaved (2011, 421). He, therefore, alienates many Argentinean fans since he appears as a European, as the other and undermines the myth of Argentinean football and national identity (2011, 422). However, it is important to remember that Maradona and his fans have paid a high price for his lifestyle, which has led him to legal troubles, suspension from international competition, drug addiction and life-threatening illness. Thus, in

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their search for a national symbol, Argentineans are left with the choice between Maradona with his typically Argentinean but also self-destructive behaviour or Messi whose focus on training and football is perfect for football clubs concerned only with victory (2011, 424), but leaves no room for the Argentinean ideal of living life with personality, passion and joy. We would add that these choices have found embodiment in Maradona and Messi, but that the dilemma of their existence as the only two options available for conceptualizing Argentinean national identity exists beyond and prior to these two individuals. This dilemma is not, of course, particular to Brazil and Argentina or to football. Rather, it is faced by most, if not all, postcolonial countries as they attempt to represent the nation so that it appears competitive among other nations and at the same time unique. For something like national pride to exist, both of these elements are necessary: competitiveness because nations, to be viable, must be able to contend for the investment of capital and distinctiveness because competitiveness gained through imitation is not fully ones own. One or the other of these aspects of nationalism may come to the fore in different historical moments, determined primarily by the shifting global economic tendency toward national vs. international markets, but neither can be forgotten completely. This pair constitutes a dilemma for postcolonial nations because the former colonial powers established the rules of the game and claimed the winning formula as their own uniqueness. Thus, the so-called First World nations can successfully compete through their rationality, efciency, liberty and justice and at the same time claim that they are acting in a distinctive manner. Postcolonial nations, in contrast, are forced to choose to do things their own way, demonstrating their distinctiveness but risking their ability to compete, or to focus just on competing and risk accusations of imitating First World nations. In the case of Mexico, football is not as signicant a national symbol as in Brazil and Argentina. The reason for this difference is primarily historical. The version of the nation that emerged from Mexicos early twentieth century struggle with neocolonialism was inspired by the peasant revolution of 1910 and thus employed rural and socialist imagery. By the time football became a popular urban pastime at midcentury, the dominant symbols for dening the nation were already in place. Therefore, there was not much opportunity for dening national character through a national football style. This is not to say that the national football team and its performance are unimportant to how Mexicans see the nation. In fact, footballs signicance in dening the nation in a competitive sense appears to have increased in the neoliberal period as Mexicans have been faced with the need to see themselves more and more in terms of their ability to compete economically in the so-called global free market. These competitive representations of the nation have grown in importance to the detriment of an inward-looking version that draws on symbols of Mexican specicity, such as estas, tequila and mariachis and that held sway during the mid-twentieth century when import-substitution policies protected national markets. Our survey results suggest that currently the national football team offers Mexicans a medium for contemplating and talking about international competitiveness, or, more specically, about the manner in which the nations distinctive characteristics relate to and often impede international competitiveness.

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Methodology We applied written surveys to a total of approximately 500 undergraduate students in ve different universities: (1) Universidad Nacional Autnoma de Mxico (UNAM); (2) Universidad Iberoamericana (UIA); (3) Instituto Tecnolgico Autnomo de Mxico (ITAM); (4) Universidad Autnoma del Estado de Hidalgo (UAEH); and (5) Universidad Autnoma del Estado de Mxico (UAEM). The rst three are located in Mexico City and the other two are in mid-sized cities (Pachuca and Toluca) about an hours drive from the capital. The Universidad Iberoamericana and the Instituto Tecnolgico Autnomo de Mxico are private institutions while the other three are public. The surveyors purposefully included a nearly equal number of men and women, and they shifted their activities to different parts of the campus to try to include a range of different majors in their samples. All of the surveys were applied during a two month period leading up to and during the 2010 World Cup. After requesting some basic information about the participant, such as age, place of birth, place of residence and university major, the rst section of the survey asked some general questions about how the participant perceives Mexicanness, with particular reference to symbols and persons associated with the nation. The purpose of this section was to provide a point of comparison to perceptions of the nation as seen through the mens national football team. At this point in the survey, the participant presumably did not yet know that its focus would be the national football team. The next section attempted to gather information about the participants relationship to professional football, asking if they are fans, of which club team, if they watch or plan to watch the national teams games, with whom, etc. The following group of questions was aimed at the participants opinion of the 2010 national team, asking how far they think it will go in the World Cup and why, about differences in comparison to previous years, and about its key players and its coach. The subsequent three questions were directed toward the participants opinions about the existence of a national style of football play and if this style reects any characteristics of Mexicans as a people or a nation. Finally, the survey closed by enquiring as to why the Mexican national team has not enjoyed the same success as that of other countries such as Germany, Brazil, Italy and Argentina, and asks what it would have to do to win a World Cup. For the purposes of this article, the surveys have been analysed qualitatively. That is, we have read over the surveys looking for frequently expressed responses and general tendencies, although at moments our attention was drawn to less common answers that we believe represent opinions that are key to understanding certain aspects of Mexican football and national identity even if they are held by a minority. For example, the occasional but enthusiastic references to the positive qualities of Cuauhtmoc Blanco, one of the national teams players, fall into this category. The limits of this study should also be mentioned. For example, while the sample used in the survey could hardly be considered homogeneous if we take into account the equal participation of men and women and of students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, it admittedly covers only a small section of the Mexican population in terms of geography, age, and educational levels. Also, the results of a written survey, conducted on a university campus at a moment when the national team is not playing a match, hardly reect the full range of followers

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possible expressions. The survey responses are almost exclusively intellectual or thought-out rather than emotional or bodily. Our informal observations, meanwhile, suggest that while they are watching a match, followers express a range of emotions including joy, anxiety, anger, frustration and sadness. If the team wins these emotional expressions continue during a period of celebration, while if it loses followers fairly quickly revert back to an intellectual and critical discourse. More research is needed on these emotional, bodily responses to the national team in the context of matches and celebrations. Finally, we do not attempt to offer here anything beyond a few speculations regarding the historical origins of these ideas surrounding the national team and the nation. It is notable that many of the respondents answers echo each other as well as discourses that can be frequently heard in everyday conversations about Mexican character and its relation to political and economic performance. The source of these discourses is difcult to determine. They are espoused by a few critical experts in the media to explain the nations performance in sporting events and in the global market. However, the mass media itself is hardly autonomous in its production of ideas. But even if it did not invent these discourses, it certainly keeps them fresh and alive. Perhaps they can be traced to the intellectuals who, since the rst half of the twentieth century, have confronted the postcolonial dilemma when attempting to explain Mexicos failure to progress out of the Third World due to its cultural particularities (see Bartra 1992). Results The answers to the questions in the survey section about general perceptions of Mexicanness were generally of a positive nature. For example, in response to the question, What does it mean to you to be Mexican? many participants mentioned love for their country, a sense of belonging, and pride in the nations traditions and customs. A few also added to these positive associations some kind of negative comment, usually in relation to the ineptitude or corruption of the government and politicians. The following question asked what symbols, characteristics, traditions, customs or foods people associate with the nation. Frequent answers included the ag, the national anthem, holidays such as the Day of the Dead, historical events such as Independence or the Revolution, mariachis and foods such as tortillas and mole.4 Football was mentioned in just 11 of the responses. Answers to the next question, about persons associated with Mexico, reect a similar tone, sounding as if they were taken directly out of school textbooks or other ofcial portrayals of the nation. The most common response was to name the nations historical heroes including the nations founding father, Miguel Hidalgo, and the revolutionary leader, Emiliano Zapata. Artists were also frequently mentioned, such as the actor Cantinas, the painter Frida Kahlo or the writer Octavio Paz. A small minority included football players in their answers, the most frequently mentioned being Cuauhtmoc Blanco (fteen times), following by Hugo Snchez (eight times). While approximately 200 of the 500 participants responded that they were not football fans, many of them said that they would watch Mexicos World Cup games and almost all of them responded to the subsequent questions about the national teams pending performance in the World Cup and about the relationship between the team and national character. In fact, their answers to these questions were difcult to distinguish from those of participants who labelled themselves as football

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fans, except for the latter s tendency to give more specic answers and to use more technical football-related terms. In response to the question asking if the national team was important to the nation, the most frequent answer was Yes, it represents us internationally. Some added positive comments about the team creating joy or excitement, and still more made critical comments, noting, for example, that it is a distraction from the countrys real problems. The subsequent question, asking them to predict the teams performance in the upcoming World Cup, produced three types of answers. One type was unambiguously optimistic, stating that the teams performance would be good. This was often phrased in terms of a positive comparison to past performances. Some added more details such as a prediction that it would reach the quarter- or semi-nals. Another type of answer was unambiguously pessimistic, with predictions that the team would not make it past the rst round or that it would lose in the second round. These respondents often noted that its performance would be mediocre, the same as always and would disappoint. The third kind of answer might be called objective, with simple statements such as round of sixteen, quarter nals or its difcult to predict. Some, instead of focusing on Mexicos national team, pointed to the strength of potential early opponents such as Argentina. The responses to the next question, which asked participants if the current team was different from those of the past, followed a similar pattern. No answers were usually followed by a negative comment, while Yes answers displayed optimism about the current team. In other words, continuity with the past was not seen as something positive and a break with the past was generally seen to be for the better. We found some of the explanations for why the current team was better to be of interest. Respondents frequently mentioned the players youth and the fact that many of them play for club teams in Europe. We will return to these statements in the analysis below, but for the moment, we would like to compare them to the replies to the next question, which inquired as to who they considered indispensable to the team. The most frequent response was Cuauhtmoc Blanco, who was neither young nor playing in Europe, followed by Rafa Mrquez; hardly youthful, but known for his long career with Barcelona F.C. Chicharito Hernndez, a young player who was yet to play in Europe at the time, was also mentioned frequently. Another favourite was Gerardo Torrado, a veteran playing with the Mexican club Cruz Azul. A few others, such as Giovanni Dos Santos and Andrs Guardado, did t the bill of youthful and playing in Europe. The responses to the next question, which asked What is the Mexican style of playing football, were notably varied and contradictory. The most common answers were in the mould of: I dont know or There isnt any particular style. A few participants described the players as ghters, tough or passionate and the style as that of the street or barrio, in contrast to others who labelled the style technical and strategic. Some called the team fast and offensive and others defensive and slow. A number of respondents criticized the teams individualism and disorganization while others touted its ordered passing game. These responses, we believe, suggest the lack of consensus about a national football style and also a difculty in identifying, dening or even imagining such a style, at least in positive terms a fact also reected in the frequent replies of I dont know or There is no style. Another question in this section inquired as to whether any characteristics of Mexicans are reected in the national teams style of play or in its performance.

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The vast majority of the answers fell into one of ve different categories, which we have ordered here from the most positive to the most critical. The rst of these ve comprises responses that refer to the players celebrations following goals and victories. The participants noted, for example, that they really know how to celebrate in comparison to other national teams or that they celebrate in a euphoric manner . This kind of response is reminiscent of the question in the rst part of the survey that asked participants about symbols associated with Mexicanness where many named national holidays or estas and the foods served on those occasions, reecting an idea of Mexicanness that could be described as festive or celebratory. This idea usually implies, we believe, a comparison to the supposedly overly serious manner displayed by Europeans and Americans both on the soccer eld and in life in general. It is notable that this kind of response completely avoids the question of performance and competition in the game itself. The fact that Mexican players excel at celebrating has nothing to do with whether or not they have goals and victories to celebrate. Another positive category of answers refers to the players as passionate, ghters, warriors, or describes their style as energetic and perseverant or as displaying mucha entrega, which might be translated as devotion or surrendering themselves [to the game]. The use of all of these terms implies that the players make up for what they lack in technical skill, natural physical ability or size, and training with their emotional character and their greater effort. In other words, they are the underdogs who triumph despite the odds being against them. These answers reect a more general Mexican notion of themselves as a people that succeeds through hard work despite the countrys unfavourable social, economic and political conditions. The team can compete because of these characteristics, but it could be said to be the competitiveness of the weak. The third category of responses is also linked to ideas about the countrys unfavourable conditions, but represents an uglier side of the characteristics produced by these conditions. Participants referred to the players as aggressive, enojones (anger-prone), peleoneros (prone to ghting), vulgar, and groseros (rude). In this case, the implicit comparison to the First World is that Mexicans cannot be expected to be well behaved, disciplined and sportsmen-like considering the combination of their passionate character and the frustrating conditions under which they live. In general, we would posit that many Mexicans admit to these negative characteristics, on the football pitch and off, with a touch of pride since they represent an attitude of resistance to authority. However, they can also produce embarrassment as indicated by the use in the survey of the more negative, colloquial term panchero, which refers to someone who ghts unnecessarily or makes a big deal out of nothing. Such ambiguity can also be seen in the use of terms such as maosos (cunning; crafty) or tramposos to describe the players, which carry both the negative implication of the cheater and the more positive one of the trickster. These characteristics can help the team to be competitive, but they can also impede success because they may result in sanctions. Further, even if they lead to victories, many feel that these manners of behaving on the eld are shameful for the nation when performed in front of an international audience. Undoubtedly, Cuauhtmoc Blanco is the player most closely associated with this kind of description, in both its positive and negative forms. He is known, both on and off the eld, to demonstrate the authority-defying character associated with the inner-city barrio, Tepito, where he grew up and supposedly still lives. Tepito is

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Mexicos black-market capital, and its residents are famous for their toughness and for their cunningness that allow them to survive and even prosper right under the nose of the authorities. Blanco reects these qualities through his constant spats and his creative play on the eld and through his creative wordplay off the eld, which earned him his own television programme. His detractors, of which there are many, see him as a childish panchero who embarrassingly performs berrinches (temper tantrums) during matches. The last two categories of responses are unambiguously negative or critical and imply an incompatibility between Mexicanness and international competitiveness. The fourth consists of descriptions of the players and by extension Mexicans in general as envious, egoistic, and individualistic. These terms refer to the fact that players are more concerned with their individual interests and glory than that of the team or the nation. According to this logic, this kind of attitude prevents them from playing successfully as a team and even distracts from caring about the teams performance and results. It is not unusual for Mexicans to describe themselves in such terms in contexts unrelated to football as well. For example, envy and self-interest are used to explain national problems such as corruption and why Mexicans fail to accomplish many things on a collective level, including, in a general sense, their progression to the category of First World. The nal category is comprised of descriptions of the players as apathetic and mediocre, and representations of their overall attitude as one of conformismo (conformism). Some participants helped to explain this kind of response by noting that the players, once they receive a good salary, are content to settle for mediocrity rather than making the effort to achieve greatness. Another version of this critique describes players as lacking self-esteem, and lacking mentality, thus portraying them as unable to achieve greatness even if they were to try, due to psychological reasons. This lack of self-esteem and of a winning mentality is attributed, as some respondents explained, to Mexicans belief that they are inferior to other nations and in particular to those associated with greatness and success for their exploits on the pitch (e.g. Brazil, Argentina), off of it (e.g. the USA), or both (e.g. Germany, France, England, Italy). Thus, they are crippled by fear and feelings of inferiority when they play nations with winning reputations, and their mediocre football reputation and, by extension, their Third World status as a nation become self-fullling prophecies. As we will describe in further detail below, this particular negative selfportrayal, commonly referred to as malinchismo,5 has been elevated to the status of unofcial national myth, in large part through the writings of Octavio Paz who claimed that Mexicans have failed to overcome the humiliation and emasculation caused by Spanish conquest and rule (Paz 1961). In the nal section of the survey, in response to the question asking why Mexico has not demonstrated the same level of performance in the World Cup as countries like Germany, Brazil, Italy and Argentina, at least half of the participants blamed this poor performance on the players mentalidad (mentality). Some simply mentioned this one word, suggesting the existence of the assumption that its use clearly conveys broader meaning. Others were specic and referred to the lack of a winning mentality, a conformist mentality, the mentality of the Mexican, or a mentality of laziness. Still other respondents did not use this term specically, but provided explanations that could be considered to fall into the category of mentality, including: the lack of a hunger for victory, feelings of inferiority, or the ideology or the culture of the Mexican. Many of these answers referred to the fact

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that this mentality is Mexican in general and thus not exclusive to the national team. In a similar vein, a number of participants mentioned other problems usually associated with the nation as a whole or at least with its leaders. For example, some blamed the teams lack of success on corruption, individualism, an inability to play as a team, a lack of discipline, or a lack of professionalism. Others mentioned interests, referring to the theory that the footballers play for money and fame instead of for the nation or passion for the game, or they stated that the players do not make an effort because they earn too much. It is not uncommon for people to aim the same kinds of critiques at politicians or other public gures and to blame the countrys Third World status on such attitudes and practices. Most of the responses unrelated to questions of mentality attribute the teams lack of success to its poor level of physical and technical preparation. Some extended this explanation beyond the national team itself to the lack of support for football training at lower levels, usually referred to in Mexico as las fuerzas bsicas (literally, the basic forces). Meanwhile, other participants extended this critique still further, mentioning the lack of support for sports in schools. Such comments parallel widespread opinions about the need to improve the educational system in order for the country to progress. Respondents also made reference to the fact that the players are unaccustomed to competitiveness due to the Mexican Soccer Leagues poor level of play compared to European leagues and the fact that Mexico exports few players to Europe in comparison with Brazil and Argentina. Finally, a few participants blamed the nations lack of success in World Cups on the Mexican physique, sometimes stating explicitly that: theyre short. When asked what would have to be done for the national team to win the World Cup, not surprisingly, many participants noted the need for a change in mentality, and one of them added the need to change it in 120 million Mexicans. Similarly, some stated that the team would need more motivation, that it would need to give 100%, to focus its energy and concentration, or make more of an effort. Others suggested they should bring along a psychologist, prepare physically, culturally and psychologically, work on the cultural concept of the team, or even become a First World country. Another category of answer focused on more structural problems and called for better preparation, investment of money in preparation, or a government that really takes interest in sports. Those who apparently saw little hope in change coming from within Mexico pointed to the need to send more players to clubs in foreign countries. It is worth noting that this question received more humourous responses than any other in the survey. A number of respondents remarked that a miracle or lots of prayer were the only solutions, while others said that the team would need Germany, Brazil, Italy and Argentina to disappear or at least not show up to the World Cup. It was also suggested that the players be sent to live in Brazil or change genes with the Brazilians. Finally, joking with the idea of a truly Mexican solution, a few participants proposed bribing the organizers or the other teams. Analysis and conclusions One aspect of the results that seems worth discussing further is the contrast between the portrayals of the nation in the rst section of the survey and those found in subsequent sections focused on the national team. Generally speaking, the former are positive or celebratory, while many of the latter are negative or critical. In fact, it

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could be said that the two parts of the survey seem to be talking about two distinct nations: one proudly characterized by heroes, great artists and inimitable celebrations and food and another plagued by egoism, apathy, mediocrity and the lack of a winning mentality. We propose that this nationalist schizophrenia is a reection of the postcolonial dilemma. The positive portrayals represent the nation in terms of its uniqueness and do not pose a problem in the Mexican case. It can easily distinguish itself as Latin in comparison Northern European cultures and as indigenous, or more specically Aztec or Mexica, in comparison to Spain and much of the Latin world. To put it another way, Mexicos unique contributions to global culture are plentiful and indisputable. Of course, like with all nationalisms, specic versions of such representations of the Mexican nation have been invented and selected by intellectuals, government ofcials and politicians, and clearly serve or have served the interests of the state. But even if these representations have little to do with the daily lives of many Mexicans, they are available as a source of national pride to most. In contrast, the mens national football team primarily represents the nation in a comparative, competitive sense. The game of football and international tournaments such as the World Cup provide a forum for competitions between national teams and the nations they represent. Here the dilemma begins: Mexico must compete with England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Argentina in the game that these nations have played a central role in dening as one of the principal measures of global sporting success. Representations of the nation as seen through the national team depend more on its performance than on its uniqueness. Or, better said, the nations characteristics are not seen as ends in themselves as in the other, particularist version of nationalism, but rather as means to the end of football performance. Some survey respondents did draw on unambiguously positive characteristics of the nation to talk about the national football team, as they did when they referred to the players capacity for celebrating and enjoying goals and victories, but these representations sidestep the question of competitiveness. In contrast, the respondents who commented in an unambiguously positive manner about the teams competitiveness avoided the question of national character or even linked competitiveness to a distancing from Mexicanness. As mentioned above, a number of respondents pinned their hopes for the teams success to the fact that many of its young players were playing with European club teams rather than in the Mexican League. This could be interpreted as an indication of the players improvement or of the appeal of Mexican football to European clubs. However, our casual conversations with Mexican fans suggest that this is not necessarily the case. Many fans take the position that only by distancing young players from Mexicos problems and by exposing them directly to Europes competitiveness and superior physical and mental training will they improve. In other words, these traits are seen as European and must be imported to or borrowed by Mexico. It is conceivable that Mexican players reach a level of physical or technical superiority, but this superiority is not attributed to their Mexicanness. Consequently, Mexican competitiveness attributable to these traits is bittersweet, since it appears more foreign than Mexican. When survey respondents faced head-on the question of the relationship between national character and football performance, they either succumbed to the postcolonial dilemma and used national character traits to explain why the team failed to compete or they struggled with it, portraying the team in an ambiguous or

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bittersweet manner. The former mentioned traits such as egoism and conformism, on the one hand, or the lack of a winning mentality or of self-condence, on the other. In part, this negativity can be explained by the teams past performance in World Cups. Based on the teams successes in 1970 and 1986, when it reached the quarter nals, a discourse of progress and betterment emerged, which the media continue to recycle before each World Cup. However, since 1986, the team has disappointed, at least in relation to the expectations created by the discourse of progress, and has failed to make it past the round of 16. Yet, the disappointing performance of the national team pales in comparison to that of the nations economic and political performance. Failure on the soccer eld has meant going from the worlds top eight to its top 16, but in terms of per capita income Mexico ranked just 41st in the world in 1970, falling to 47th in 1980 and 50th in 2010. Transparency Internationals corruption index, which ranks countries from least to most corrupt, put Mexico at 98th in 2010. Independently of whether such rankings are accurate reections of economic and political systems and of whether it makes sense at all to think of such things in terms of competition, they undoubtedly fuel the perception that Mexico has performed poorly in global contests. Thus, considering these negative perceptions and disappointments regarding the nations performance on and off the pitch, it is hardly surprising that many respondents did not even attempt to formulate a positive portrayal of the national team and of its Mexicanness. Those who did struggle with the postcolonial dilemma in an attempt to represent the team and its Mexicanness in a positive light referred to the players as passionate warriors or, alternatively, as cunning tricksters. Both of these gures the underdog and the trickster can be used to explain success on the eld, but this success is by denition compromised. The underdogs success, which by denition must be limited, comes from his superior effort, while admitting to inferiority. The trickster also presents the problem of an implicit inferiority since he must resort to cunning in the rst place because he cannot compete on the supposedly universal terms of fair play. Further, the trickster presents the problem of shame since the terms of fair play dene him as morally transgressive. We posit that the ambiguity of the trickster gure helps to explain the appeal and rejection of Cuauhtmoc Blanco. Blanco is celebrated by many fans as the most Mexican of Mexican players and the most equipped to beat the world football powers because he confronts them unabashedly on his own terms and not theirs. However, Blanco is also the most hated player among Mexican fans6. He is commonly described as a naco, an insult particular to urban Mexico that Claudio Lomnitz (1996) has described as a failed or foolish appropriation of modernity. Many see him as a national embarrassment representing much of what is wrong with the nation. One manner of sidestepping the shame that comes with the trickster is to represent him through humour. Blanco has often successfully presented himself in this manner. The survey participants themselves demonstrate this technique in response to the nal question when they jokingly suggest that Mexico bribe the other teams in order to win the World Cup. It also appears frequently in everyday life in Mexico in the form of jokes in which a Mexican defeats an American or a European through trickery.7 But while this use of humour may downplay the shameful aspects of trickery, it is also an admission that the victories it produces are not to be taken too seriously. Taken to the extreme, this form of self-deprecating humour attempts to avoid the issue of international competition completely and

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returns to the nationalism of Mexican specicity: what matters to Mexicans is not competition but rather humour and self-deprecating modesty. Like the success attributable to European traits, that which is explained in terms of the supposedly Mexican characteristics of trying harder or trickery is bittersweet. This kind of success resolves the problem of ownership since it is indisputable Mexican, but it does not really complete with European success since it implicitly admits inferiority and may also be either shameful or trivial. Do postcolonial nations such as Mexico have any choice but to admit defeat or struggle futilely to represent themselves as successful on an international scale? What must be done to move beyond the postcolonial dilemma? We do not claim to have the answers to these questions, but it does seem like such a move would have to begin with a critical examination of the accepted denition of the successful nation. In other words, we need to question the rules of the game before we can look to the teams and their qualities. One rule that needs to be questioned is the central place of ownership in nationalisms. Just as it is unfair and unreasonable that a country such as Mexico cannot make claims to efciency, rationality and justice, it is also detrimental to human well-being that Germans, Frenchmen or Brits are expected to see passion or enjoyment as secondary. Another rule that dearly needs revision is that which puts competitiveness rst in the scale of global values. This prioritization clearly reects impersonal economic rather than human interests: as anyone who has ever kicked a ball around knows, there is much, much more to the game than winning. Acknowledgement
The authors wish to thank the Direccin de Investigacin of the Universidad Iberoamericana for generously funding the research on which this article is based.

Notes
1. As Partha Chatterjee despondently asks: Why is it that non-European colonial countries have no historical alternative but to try to approximate the given attributes of modernity when that very process of approximation means their continued subjection under a world order which only sets their tasks for them and over which they have no control? (1986, 10). 2. Literally play of the waist, this expression refers to not only bodily creativity and exibility but also to the ability to bend without breaking and thus to get ones way in social situations (DaMatta 2009, 107). 3. According to DaMatta (2009, 108, f.n. 7) the malandro is a trickster and [m]alandragem is what malandros are supposed to do, i.e. breaking the rules without being discovered. 4. A sauce made of ground-up chilies and other spices. 5. The term malinchismo derives from the indigenous historical gure la Malinche, who, according to legend, betrayed her countrymen by helping Hernn Corts in his conquest of Mexico. Mexicos colonial domination and its national character are gendered through this myth. La Malinches betrayal implicates her and, by extension, all Mexican women as potential dangerous Eve-like gures while it leads to Mexican mens emasculation as the Spaniard, Corts, sexually conquers their woman and militarily conquers their country. 6. Blancos status as the countrys most loved and most hated player parallels that of his rst club team, Amrica, owned by the powerful television conglomerate Televisa,

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which is the team that many Mexicans love and all the others love to hate (see Magazine 2001; Varela Hernndez 2012). 7. For example: An American, a German and a Mexican nd themselves in the desert with just one bottle of water. The American suggests they divide it up, but they decide to take the Germans suggestion that they compete seeing who can jump farthest for the whole bottle. The American jumps two meters and says and thats after not having eaten for three days. The German jumps two and a half and says and thats with a sprained ankle. The Mexican then jumps half a meter and says and thats after drinking a whole bottle of water.

References
Archetti, Eduardo P. Masculinities: Football, Polo and the Tango in Argentina. Oxford: Berg, 1999. Bartra, Roger. The Cage of Melancholy: Identity and Metamorphosis in the Mexican Character. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992. Brach, Bartlomiej. Who is Lionel Messi? A Comparative Study of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. International Journal of Cultural Studies 15, no. 4 (2011): 41528. Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? Toyko: Zen Books Ltd. for The United Nations University, 1986. DaMatta, Roberto. Sport in Society: An Essay on Brazilian Football. Vibrant 6, no. 2 (2009): 98120. Lomnitz, Claudio. Fissures in Contemporary Mexican Nationalism. Public Culture 9 (1996): 5568. Magazine, Roger. The Colours Make Me Sick: America FC and Upward Mobility in Mexico. In Fear and Loathing in World Football, ed. G. Armstrong and R. Giulianotti, 18798. Oxford: Berg, 2001. Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1961. Varela Hernndez, Sergio. Al Amrica se le odia o se le ama: Acin futbolera, melodrama, aguante, identidad y clientelismo en Mxico. (PhD thesis, Universidad Iberoamericana, 2012).

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