Football in South America, more than anywhere else in the world, is shrouded in myth and fable. It is a rich tapestry of hearsay and folklore; a sport discussed more in the vernacular of the supernatural than analysed as a science.
And embroidered into that story are numerous mystical figures, ascribed abilities that cannot necessarily be explained using reason or logic.
Jorge Griffa, though not widely known outside Argentina, is one such character. And before we get to what exactly this has to do with new Tottenham signing Giovani Lo Celso and his manager Mauricio Pochettino, please do bear with me.
A defender during his playing career, Griffa spent a decade with Atlético Madrid after making his name at Rosario-based club Newell’s Old Boys. He was hugely successful in Spain, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1962, La Liga in 1966, as well as three Copa Del Reys.
Yet the legend of Griffa is built not around what he did on the pitch. After hanging up his boots, he returned to Newell’s Old Boys to become a youth coach. And it is from there that his myth has grown.
Under his watch, La Lepra’s production line did not stop churning out excellent footballers. Through came Jorge Valdano, Américo Gallego, Gabriel Batistuta, Gerardo Martino, Maxi Rodríguez, Walter Samuel and Gabriel Heinze, among many others.
Then Griffa moved to Boca Juniors and the magic kept happening. Nicolás Burdisso, Éver Banega, Fernando Gago and Carlos Tévez were moulded in his hands.
After returning to Rosario, it was he who knocked on the door of the Messi household to convince young Lionel’s parents that their son should sign for Newell’s.