What happens when Chiquita passes to El Pintita, who in turn plays it into the path of Pipita before El Fideo’s cross finds La Pulga who finds the back of the net? It means Argentina just scored through Lionel Messi. Whenever that happens, expect even the poker-faced Pachorra or the ‘sloth’ to get animated on the sidelines.
By now, we’re accustomed to South American teams dishing out catchy monikers for their players. But the Argentines have always taken it to the next level of creativity. It’s no different this time around either. Where else would you find players nicknamed after a witch, a noodle or a donkey?
While Messi, the pint-sized poacher who runs defences ragged, is endearingly — and aptly — referred to as ‘the atomic flea’, the Argentine superstar is not the only one in the squad to be handed a sobriquet on the basis of his size. Sergio Romero might be a 6ft 3in tall giant in front of the Argentine net, he is still called Chiquita or ‘tiny’, as his basketball-playing brothers, Marcos, Diego and Oscar, are anywhere between two-to-eight-inches taller than him. Striker Ezequiel Lavezzi is El Pocho or ‘the chubby one’ for his obvious girth, Fernando Gago is Pintita or the ‘small one who tries to look good’ and the burly Maxi Rodriguez is Le Fiera or ‘the beast’. Then there is Angel Di Maria known as Fideo or the ‘noodle’ for his wiry frame and the combative midfielder Javier Mascherano is El Jefetico, or ‘the little chief’. Hitman Sergio Aguero on the other hand has retained the pet name of El Kun given to him by his family for having a strong resemblence with the Japanese anime character Kum-Kum.
The ingenuity of the epithets in Argentina, of course, originates from the nation’s evident lack of diversity in first names. You can only have so many Diegos, Sergios and Fernandos in the mix without pandemonium breaking out in the camp.
Argentina have not made it past the quarterfinal stage since the 1990 edition. This, despite having possessed superstars with rather macho monikers, from ‘El Angel’ Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan ‘Arma Letale’ (Lethal Weapon) Crespo to Javier ‘Il Trattore’ (The Tractor) Zanetti. Juan Sebastian Veron, meanwhile, was La Brujita or ‘the little witch’ and Ariel Ortega El Burrito or ‘little donkey’. There were those of the rodent variety too. Juan Riquelme was called Topo Gigio after the famous lead character of a Spanish puppet show, a rat.
Not surprisingly, Diego Maradona, the man who generations of Argentines have obsessed over, boasts of having hoarded the most number of nicknames, a dozen of them at least. The legendary striker was most commonly referred to as El Pibe de Oro or ‘the golden kid’. But during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Uruguayan radio commentator Victor Hugo Morales coined him as the Barrilete Cosmico or ‘cosmic kite’ as Maradona ran past five defenders to score a magic goal against England.