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BatiGol Weekly 325: Up the devil’s pay

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In which we discuss deals made with the Great Deceiver in the form of a one-act play.

Harz Region, Known For Witches, Celebrates Walpurgis Night
I’m gonna tend a bad fire until you come around.
Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

SCENE: An empty space. It’s impossible to tell where it is in the world, or even if it’s indoors or outdoors. There is a round wooden table for two at center stage with a rather rickety chair on either side. The rest of the stage is nothing but empty shadows, with a background that defies any understanding of depth or distance.

Enter PANTALEO from the left. He walks calmly to the table, pulls out a chair, and seats himself, leaning way back and getting comfortable. He waits. And waits. And waits.

A shadowy figure slowly comes into focus on the right and slowly approaches the empty chair, but stops just before sitting and turns its hooded face towards PANTALEO. PANTALEO eventually turns and meets the space where the figure’s face would be.

DARK FIGURE: [ominously] You have summoned me here.

PANTALEO: [unruffled] Yeah, sure did. You ready to do this?

DARK FIGURE: Let us begin.

PANTALEO: Actually, one thing. Would you mind taking a slightly more corporeal form? It’s kind of hard to make deals with someone you can’t really see.

DARK FIGURE: It shall be done as you wish.

The dark figure steps back into the shadows and is lost in the darkness for a moment, then reemerges in the form of GIANNI AGNELLI.

PANTALEO: Huh.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: Not who you expected?

PANTALEO: Kinda thought you’d be Berlusconi this time.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: [impressively] I’ve worked closely enough with him, believe you me.

PANTALEO: [rolling his eyes] Yeah, never would have guessed that.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES sits and reaches back into the darkness, whence he produces a thick sheaf of papers. He sets it on the table in front of him, and then pushes it across to PANTALEO, who coolly lifts the top sheet and skims it.

PANTALEO: Tell ya what, Gian-boy. We’ve both done this song and dance enough times that we can dispense with the formalities. Why don’t you just tell me what it says?

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES [shrugs]: Very well. [clears throat] I, the undersigned—that’s you [PANTALEO nods and makes a “no duh” gesture]—er, right. Sorry. Old habits, you know? I don’t get a lot of repeat customers. Anyways. I hereby grant you another year of unearthing talented teenagers that nobody’s heard of and putting together a team that pundits warn is a dark horse in the league.

PANTALEO: Checks out.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: I also grant you more than 0.75 genuine superstar players, but no more than 3. Unfortunately, I do have to add the usual off-chance of no more than one (1) missing at most half of the season, pending where the Mario Bolatti’s Wheel of Doom comes to rest.

PANTALEO: Yep yep yep.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: Finally, I grant you a successful coaching search, resulting in a below-market deal for either a battle-tested veteran or an exciting up-and-comer, who will maximize the talent of the players and produce imminently watchable soccer while also endearing himself to the players and the fans for his humor, humility, and leadership.

PANTALEO: Word.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: In return, I will finally, finally get the rights to your soul, which I will[mumbling very quickly] immediately consign to the lake of fire for all eternity without any hope of escape, redemption, or respite. [resumes normal speaking voice] Do we have a deal?

PANTALEO: Yeah, sounds pretty good to me. [pats down his jacket pockets] Uh, you mind if I borrow a pen? I forgot to bring one.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: [chuckling] It’s not in the contract, but I think I can oblige you.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES reaches back into the darkness again and his hand returns with a feather quill and an inkwell of what looks a lot like blood. He slides them across the table to PANTALEO, who unscrews the lid of the inkwell and dips the quill. AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES leans forward in anticipation of finally getting his long-unvanquished foe to sign over his soul. PANTALEO touches the quill to the paper, but then stops and looks up.

PANTALEO: [offhandedly] Oh, now that I think of it, there is one other thing.

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES: [impatient] What, what? Hurry up. I have business with Keith Richards.

PANTALEO: [innocently] Can we throw in an extra swap deal? Say, let’s send, oh, Marco Benassi to Juventus in exchange for, oh, I don’t know, Moise Kean? [AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES flinches] No? Fair enough. Maybe, um, Douglas Costa? [AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES tenses and a twitch runs across his face] Still no dice, huh? Well, maybe if we could get a nice big pile of cash and Marco Marchionni and give you Felipe Melo...

AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES shrieks wordlessly. The lights black out for a moment and everything goes completely silent except for a sound that is simultaneously at the very bottom and very top edges of human hearing. When the lights blink back on, AGNELLI/MEPHISTOPHELES has transformed again into the hooded black figure. Looming ominously, he advances on the table, across which PANTALEO sits with his fingers interlaced across his belly and legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, completely at ease.

DARK FIGURE: You have mocked me for the last time. [DARK FIGURE reaches across the table, snatching the papers and quill pen away, spinning on his heel, and storming off.]

PANTALEO: Oh, you forgot something. [Picks up inkwell as DARK FIGURE stops and slowly turns.] Here, catch.

PANTALEO tosses the inkwell, which describes a glittering arc across the stage. DARK FIGURE tries to catch it, but ends up dropping everything else he’s holding. The papers go flying everywhere. PANTALEO stands up to help DARK FIGURE gather everything, but while DARK FIGURE is distracted, PANTALEO smoothly slides a couple of sheets under his jacket.

PANTALEO: [reassuring] There now, I think that’s all of them. Sorry, I really don’t know what came over me. Are you sure you don’t want to keep hammering this thing out? I feel like we were pretty close to finding some common ground there.

DARK FIGURE: [coldly dignified and after a long pause] No, thank you.

DARK FIGURE turns away with what’s left of his pride and stalks off stage right. PANTALEO withdraws the stolen sheets of paper from under his jacket, settles himself back into his chair, and balances his bifocals on the bridge of his nose to read.

Enter ANDREA DELLA VALLE from the left. He trepidatiously makes his way over to PANTALEO and surreptitiously tries to read over PANTALEO’s shoulder. PANTALEO, without turning around, folds the papers down.

PANTALEO: Yes, Andrea?

ANDREA: [surprised, guilty, and a little nervous] Ah! How did you know...er, how did it go? You know, the ritual and the thing with the eternal bonding of the soul and maybe getting the fans off my back for a little bit?

PANTALEO: [smirks] Just fine. Didn’t get the whole contract, but have in His Evil Majesty’s own writing that he’ll provide us with one of the three items we discussed.

ANDREA: [excited, but still a little scared]: Wow! Um, which one? Are we getting a really good coach?

PANTALEO shakes his head.

ANDREA: Ooh, star player or players?

PANTALEO shakes his head again.

ANDREA: [deflated, but trying to hide it] So another bunch of talented teenagers who’ll get everyone’s hopes sky high before it all unravels and leads to the fans calling for me and Diego to step down, forcing us into an ever-diminishing circle of pettiness, mistrust, and mediocrity?

PANTALEO nods and smiles widely.

ANDREA: [trying and failing to hide his disappointment] Oh. That’s...that’s very good. I’m excited that we get to do this again. It’s been so much fun the past two years, and, [lower lip quivering] seventh place seems like [sniffles] such a good goal. Then fans will be so pleased and won’t have anything mean to say about me, I’m sure.

ANDREA turns and shuffles off left, a broken man. The spotlight narrows on PANTALEO, still seated, and completely at peace with himself.

Curtain.

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Comment of the week(ish)

Well, at least now we know Fiorentina’s long-term strategy. Thanks, mark@.

That’s it for this week, folks. Enjoy the sunshine.