Mauricio Macri: from Boca Juniors to the presidency of Argentina via the Latin American Centre at St Antony’s, Oxford

Fourteen years ago almost to the day, Maurcio Macri, then President of Boca Juniors Football Club spent three days in Oxford. His talk on Football and Politics was the last event organised by the Argentine Studies Programme before lack of funding forced its closure.   It was at the LAC that the future president of Argentina launched his political career.

When first approached to ask if there would be an interest for the ASP to host a talk by Mauricio Macri there was some hesitation.   I knew Alan Knight was a keen footballer, but Malcolm Deas? Alan Angell? Rugby, yes.  Rosemary Thorp? Lawrence Whitehead?  To my surprise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The LAC was not in the habit of inviting non-academics to speak. But this was intriguing: Macri wanted to talk about Football and Politics.  Stan Cohen, who knew about football marginally more than me, told me his friend Adam Kuper’s son had written a book on the topic and was a sports commentator at the FT. Simon Kuper accepted the invitation, and recently recalled the event for the FT (20th November 2015). Also present was Rory Miller, who had been running an MBA on Football Industries at Liverpool since 1997. So, in Simon’s words, in front of a “gathering of academics and strays”, Mauricio Macri came to 1 Church Row and gave an engaging, funny and fascinating presentation using…power point! It may have been another first for the LAC.

The original plan had been for Macri to spend a week in Oxford, and attend a series of lectures and seminars on IR topics.  He would also spend a few days in London. In the end, the need to join the xeneize (*) delegation already in Tokyo to play Bayern Munich meant he only had three days in total to spend in the UK. But he made the most of his time: besides the seminar at the LAC, he attended High Table at University College as a guest of the Master. I knew Mauricio would find Lord Butler fascinating. But what about the Master of Uni?  Over drinks at the Master’s Lodge they quickly discovered they shared a passion for golf, and they had both played at St Andrew’s and Alberta, Georgia.    At the time, Mauricio was married to Isabel Menditeguy, considered to be one of the most beautiful women in Argentina. Dressed from top to toe in a figure-hugging red leather outfit, when I saw her at the Old Parsonage I wondered what the dons at Uni attending HT that night would make of the small Argentine group. I never found out, but I did not hear of any complaints.

Macri’s talk at the LAC was an unexpected  triumph. We were all surprised by his fluent English, his self-confidence, and the persuasive arguments he put forward to justify why he believed that having presided one of the top football clubs in the world qualified him for a career in politics. President of Argentina? It seemed presumptuous at the time.

Now we can say with certainty that the future president of Argentina launched his political career at the Latin American Centre of the University of Oxford on 22nd November 2001.

(*) Xeneize means from Genoa. Ships from Genoa started arriving at the end of the nineteenth century in La Boca, Buenos Aires, with their cargo of hopeful immigrants. BJFC adopts the name of this Buenos Aires neighbourhood, mostly inhabited by Genovese immigrants.

Celia Szusterman (MA Essex, DPhil. Oxon) was Director of the Argentine Studies Programme at St Antony’s College (1999-2001). She is the author of Frondizi: The Politics of Developmentalism, 1955-62 (Macmillan, 1996) published in Spanish as Frondizi: la política del desconcierto (Emecé). She taught Latin American Studies at the University of Westminster (2001-2010) before joining The Institute for Statecraft as Director of its Latin American Programme. She is currently involved in El Salvador, working on gangs, employment, rehabilitation and reinsertion. Formerly Latin American Fellow at Chatham House, she is currently an Associate Fellow of UCL-Institute of the Americas and  a Senior Member at St Antony’s.