Kempes: The moustache had to go

  • Kempes recalls how shaving off his moustache helped him score

  • He moans about Daniel Passarella’s Trophy-hogging

  • He raves about a solid-chocolate replica

Mario Kempes may have taken ten appearances to break his FIFA World Cup™ duck, but when his first goal came he delivered them in doubles – three, to be precise, to propel Argentina to ecstasy on home soil and himself to the adidas Golden Ball and adidas Golden Boot. caught up with ‘El Matador’ to discuss the Argentinian players’ camaraderie in 1978, his slow start at the tournament, being persuaded to shave off his moustache during it, the Final against the Netherlands and Daniel Passarella hogging the Trophy.

Senor Kempes, what did the World Cup mean to you when you were a child? I remember listening to my first World Cup in 1966. I was with my parents, helping them build our house and listening to it on the radio. We still didn't have a TV back then, but fortunately the first time I listened to a World Cup Jose Maria Munoz was commentating, and he's one of the best there is. That's when I really started to experience what a World Cup is like.

Your first World Cup was Germany 1974. What do you remember about that? How inexperienced I was. Let's just say I was very green, very young. I was 17 or 18. The first shock came when I met our European-based players for the first time, because I didn't even know who they were. I only knew the ones based in Argentina, and it meant I was a bit in awe of the others. That's until you spend a bit of time together of course, and you quickly start making friends.

Going into the 1978 tournament, you had just won back-to-back Pichichi awards. That must have filled you with confidence… We were all confident because there was a great sense of togetherness in the camp. I joined up not long before the World Cup: I landed in Argentina on 8 May and we had our first game on 2 June. My team-mates, in contrast, had been training together since February. But the best thing was that as soon as I arrived, they treated me as if I'd been there for the previous three months. There was no selfishness, no adverse reactions, and none of those sneaks who run blabbing to the coach to tell him what everybody has been saying. Everybody was free to talk to the coach or just get on with their lives. If they wanted to go to bed early or stay up watching TV, they could. There were no strict rules governing our behaviour.

After failing to score in the first phase, did the two goals against Poland lift a huge weight off your shoulders? Yes, it was liberating to finally score, a huge release. I don't score many with my head but, as it happened, that's how I netted my first-ever World Cup goal. I put it past the Polish keeper, [Jan] Tomaszewski. Curiously enough, he played against us in a friendly game in Germany four years earlier, and I missed a chance a minute after coming on when I was completely unmarked. You never know when you might get the chance for revenge, but that was my opportunity. It was my first World Cup goal, and a cracking goal it was too.

Menotti told us a story about your good self. He says he told you, "Look, Mario..." (Interrupts) "The moustache will have to go?"

Exactly. What went on? We were so focused on the job in hand. We never left the training camp, and I couldn't be bothered with the whole shaving-every-couple-of-days routine. After nearly three weeks I had a pretty decent beard and moustache going. I played like that in our first two games, but shaved the beard off before our third. We were heading back to our camp after that match, thinking ahead to our next assignment in Rosario, when the coach said to me, "Mario, why don't you get rid of the moustache and see if your luck changes?” The coach had been over to see me before the World Cup to see how I was getting on in Valencia. At that time I was clean-shaven. "You didn't have a beard or moustache when you were playing for Valencia," he said to me, "so why don't you shave when we get to Rosario and you might start scoring again?" I don't know if it was luck or coincidence, but I took his advice and ended up scoring twice that day [against Poland]. That marked the start of a new chapter for me. After that every time he saw me, he'd say: "You're due a shave today Mario, aren't you?" That was the famous story of the goals and the moustache.

What do you recall about the Final against the Netherlands? We really struggled during the opening minutes because the Dutch players were breaking through with ease. ’El Pato’ Fillol pulled off three or four great stops, and we could easily have gone one or two goals down. As the minutes ticked by we gradually started holding our own and were able to get the first goal. From that point on we didn't exactly take our foot off the pedal, but we knew that we held the initiative. Then [Dick] Nanninga got the equaliser with about seven or eight minutes to go, and then came that famous shot from Rensenbrink that hit the post.

Could you sense the realisation in the air of how close it had been to a goal? The Estadio Monumental went deathly silent. It was like a fire alarm had emptied the place, you could've heard a pin drop. When [Americo] Gallego belted the ball away, it triggered an explosion of noise that sounded like we'd scored ourselves.

And your second goal, which put Argentina 2-1 up in extra-time.... It wasn't the prettiest goal I scored, but it was certainly the most thrilling. The crowd were willing it over the line. It was a goal of real suspense, and it finally sneaked in.

Some of your team-mates told us that Passarella... (Interrupts) ...Grabbed the Trophy and wouldn't let it go!

Did that really happen? He always played with his elbows flailing around, and that's what he was like with the Trophy – no-one could get it off him (laughs). I never got to touch it once, not even when we went back to the hotel for dinner, as they wouldn't let us. But, to be honest, I didn't care. I knew we'd done what had to do. We’d brought some joy to our people and put Argentinian football back where it belonged. We'd always had great national teams but had never won the World Cup.

When you finally did get to hold the Trophy… It's heavy, isn't it? But it's lovely, really beautiful. I remember one of the many different presents sent to my home after that win was a replica of this made of chocolate. It was immense and I couldn't eat it... I mean it was delicious and pure chocolate, you know, completely solid. Anyway, I took it out to the patio, where all the kids were gathered, and they devoured it in no time!