Robot referees and haters: the novel that ‘spoiled’ the Argentine debut in Qatar

The writer from Bahía, born in 1981, tells the story of Toro, a fictional Argentine soccer player who missed a goal in the 2014 World Cup final in Brazil / IG Photo

Once again, literature asserts its anticipatory component from “Can robots dominate world soccer?”a novel written by Nicolás Guglielmetti in which, long before Argentina faced Saudi Arabia in the match that this Tuesday meant a unexpected defeat for the National Teampresents a story with nods to reality that takes place in another Soccer World Cup where refereeing is controlled by robots and, just like at the beginning of Qatar 2022, the players are harassed by haters on social networks.

The plot

This novel by 111 pages, published by the publishing house UOIEA!, is a counterfactual story that can be read in a prophetic key. Guglielmetti, Bahian writer born in 1981, tells the story of Toro -a fictitious Argentine soccer player who had the opportunity to score a goal and failed in the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil- and at the same time Nico, the friend who accompanies him and discover a secret plot of FIFA -the federation that brings together world football- that includes robot referees.

After not having been able to define with luck, Toro is punished on social networks, as is happening these days with the players of the Argentine team after losing to Saudi Arabia 2-1. Like the character in the text, the team led by Lionel Scaloni, whose reference is the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, also receives some aggressive comments about his performance in the game at this time.

The Asian team had a bold proposal that consisted of “throwing the offside” in each attack by the Argentines, a strategy that had the “complicity” of the VAR, the device by which three goals were canceled against the national team throughout of the party, generating debates and suspicions about the fallibility of this technology. Obviously written months before this comparison, Guglielmetti’s novel anticipates and thematizes these new questions that turn football into another game.

The journalist explains to Télam that the theme of the robot as a referee in the novel is an exaggeration in reference to all these technological implementations such as the VAR or automatic offside that “supposedly they come to bring justice to football and make it more corrupt, less fair and empty it of the true spirit of this noble sport”. And he points out: “that a match is defined by an offside of a small part of the shoulder or the edge of a fingernail after crossing lines in three dimensions seems to me like a hitman for the spirit of the sport itself.” Technologies that are applied with disparate criteria depending on the context are suspicious to the writer: “that seems more serious to me than an arbitrator who makes a mistake at the very moment of the actions,” he maintains.

In the novel, where already from the title there is a clear homage to Philip K. Dick’s book “Do androids dream of electric sheep?”, the reader vacillates between the human characters and those managed by artificial intelligence, the axis of a police plot that the reader tries to clear throughout the 22 chapters that run through the text. However, the most important thing in this story lies in showing the solitudes and events behind the idols of soccer, as in which the Argentine players were submerged in the concentration of Qatar.

Also author of the books “Fisher” and “Los refugios”, Guglieminetti also has a collection of poems published by Vox with the former player Ariel Ortega as the protagonist, and in his previous book, “Before time destroys everything”, there is another extensive poem dedicated to the death of Maradona.

– What metaphor narrates science fiction in your novel?
– Science fiction is a resource that I used in all my previous narrative projects. Here I introduced it through the referee and the conspiracy theory to the point that in the novel there is constant doubt about which characters are people and which are mere artificial intelligences. I think I bring this from my fascination at an early age with Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5”, where he narrates the horrors of war with mastery and corrosive humor until science fiction bursts in. There is also a nod in the title to Philip K. Dick’s great novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. In addition to this, I have always been interested in the work of three Argentine writers such as Luciano Lamberti, Felix Bruzzone and Carlos Godoy, who in some of their stories mix realism with supernatural or horror elements.

– Has the appearance of social networks changed the relationship between people? Is there something positive in those links? something literary?
– Social networks and new technologies cross our lives no matter how much we refuse to do so. The possibility of being interconnected with people from any part of the world that we could not otherwise meet is a positive thing. Immediate access to information as well. For example, I am a fan of Twitter. I use it to have fun and many times to inform myself long before the news reaches the newsrooms, but I also cannot deny that it is often a den of haters. I also often see that certain people create a character to sell an image or a discourse that in no way matches how they are in real life and there I do detect a lot of literature. There are many people doing literature on social networks and who am I to say what is right or wrong?…

– You wrote a poem dedicated to Maradona. Do you think he had a more epic and tragic life in terms of the hero than Messi? Can you think of a Messi novel?
– Maradona was the greatest thing I saw on the face of the earth. I was born in 1981 and I have vague memories of 1986 but I saw what he did in 1990 with an ankle like a grapefruit against Brazil and I also saw him in 1994 shouting the goal to FIFA, which later charged him with the doping episode that we already know The day he died, I think a part of our Argentinian being died with him. Although now that I think about it sometimes it happens to me that I think he’s alive. I believe that Maradona transcended death itself and I believe that in that sense Messi is different and it is good that this is the case. I don’t think it’s right to ask Messi to be Maradona. He is the greatest in his way and that is very good. Even now that he is more relaxed without the burden of losing finals, he seems more human and close to people.

– What is the most literary aspect of the life of a soccer player?
– The soccer epic is extremely rich material for writing literature. The soccer player has a superpower that even the political class does not have: to bring joy and genuine sensations to a people. That seems magical and transcendental to me. The most literary aspect of the life of a soccer player, I think, is also related to that of self-improvement. Most of them come from humble origins and see soccer as a way to save not only themselves but their family group and project themselves, in many cases, to the top of the world. I think there is no richer literary material than that.

– How do you see the relationship between football and literature?
– It’s natural for me. I played for a club in Bahía Blanca called Bella Vista, from which stars like Alfio Basile, Jorge Recio, Martín Aguirre and Rodrigo Palacio came out. The problem is that I wasn’t them and soccer abandoned me at about 19 years of age when I entered university. There I came across a book that crossed poetry with soccer and was called “Laspada”, the author was Marcelo Diaz. That’s when I realized that I shouldn’t separate my two passions, which were football and literature, but go deeper into that. The relationship between football and literature seems distant but I work so that it is not like that. My dream is that the great Argentine novel is traversed by soccer. I cannot understand how in a country where this sport is breathed there is not a literature according to that passion. Sometimes it happens to me that I read great writers trying to get closer to soccer and I don’t believe they’ve touched a ball in their lives. What I tried to do in this work was to capture the way of thinking and saying of the elite players and their environment. Show the human side, their loneliness and suffering behind the façade that marketing puts together for them.

– Is your novel in any way a tribute to the soccer player?
– I started writing the novel in 2014 after the defeat of Sabella’s team against Germany. There I began to perceive harassment of the players of the national team by the haters of social networks and I found it interesting to build a character who suffered from this to the point of having to go into exile and be devoured by oblivion. For many years that idea thrived as an unauthorized biography. Then my editor suggested I add to the plot a conspiracy theory in which the main referee of that final had been nothing more and nothing less than a robot created by FIFA to harm us.

Robot referees and haters: the novel that ‘spoiled’ the Argentine debut in Qatar