24/7 Valencia:What are your memories of the 1978 World Cup?
Mario Kempes: I genuinely believe that winning a World Cup is the greatest possible achievement for a football player. On top of that, I had the great fortune to win it in my own country of Argentina…which is the most emotional feeling of all. It was wonderful to see the happiness on the faces of “la gente.” The most “lindo” i remember is celebrating the title with the people, happy that we had finally put Argentinean football well & truly on the map and I clearly remember the euphoria of the public. Even though the national team had nearly always had a good squad with great players over the decades, Argentina had never won a real title until ’78. We started it then and Argentina won again in ’86. Now, we’re still waiting & waiting for a third title but that’s life…
Can you tell us your impressions of Valencia from the 1970s up until now?
The ‘loco’ years that I lived in Valencia were spectacular. It was wonderful to be playing for a great club with such a rich history. It was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever lived in. As the years have gone by, the city has got better and more attractive each time I visit. The way people treat you and the quality of life in Spain is unique. They say “Che!” in Valencia, which sounds like what they say in Argentina (but I don’t think it is connected) but it makes you feel at home.
Given that I arrived in Valencia in 1976, I’m still stunned at the beauty of the place and the ‘cariño’ of the people. I was here for the 100th anniversary celebrations of Valencia CF recently and I still find the city to be a truly marvellous place. Via planning, investment, big events and structural changes Valencia has become a great tourist attraction in Spain and abroad. It has grown immensely. Over time I would say that modernity has definitely had its influence and Valencia has grown & become one of the great cities in the world.
Tell us something about your book, ‘Matador.’
My autobiography goes from my childhood up to the present day. I missed all sorts of parties & events as a youth because of football matches & training but I wouldn’t change it for a thing. It is the story of a sportsman with plenty of time on his hands. You did miss out on a lot of things because of the sacrifices of being involved in sport but the world of football introduces you to some marvellous experiences, like the one we’re are living with the centenary.
You’ve worked all over the world as a football manager from Indonesia to Bolivia. Does each culture experience football in the same way?
Football is football wherever you are…be it in Argentina or Bolivia or anywhere in the world. What makes a difference is the way people feel about football and the manner with which they support their team. Some fans make a lot of noise, others shout more, some fans are like warriors at the party and others are more pacific. When all is said and done, I think football is one of the most beautiful games in life. In the USA, where I live, you have a huge following for Baseball, Basketball and American Football. However, on a world level, football is the number one sport. “Futbol es futbol” and I would not change it for anything.
You were near death after a sextuple bypass operation. Do you see the world in a different way since then?
I had a heart attack without expecting it as I was physically in good shape. I was saved in time as I was due to have a back operation and they discovered that my heart needed operating on too. Maybe I perhaps do appreciate even more all that which surrounds me, including my family. However, there are things that I’m still prohibited from taking since the operation but I still enjoy this marvellous life to the full…
Despite your success you have always maintained your humility. What is your philosophy of life?
I think having a humble outlook comes from upbringing. I don’t think that a person having money or talent converts them into some sort of phenomenon. If you believe that, you run the risk of becoming ungrateful to others and looking down on them. One of the most gratifying things after retiring from sport is when people recognize your human qualities as a person, which is the best way to approach anything. Thanks to God, I have been fortunate in that way.
Interview by Will McCarthy
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