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The Maradona myth and the enigma of Diego

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Allaoua MEZIANI

Latest update : 2008-10-30

He dreamt of it ever since retiring. And then he got it – the “supreme” job of Argentina’s national team coach. Diego Maradona always excites passions, as well as debate. A look back on the extraordinary career of a living legend.

On Tuesday, Diego Maradona replaced Alfio Basile as Argentina’s new manager, immediately sparking a debate. Why did the Argentine Football Federation (AFA) and its powerful president Julio Grondona choose the former emblematic captain of “Albiceleste” for the post? Why Maradona, rather than Carlos Bilardo, head of the Mexico 1986 World Cup winning team, or Sergio Batista, manager of the recent champions in Beijing? Will Diego the coach be as great as Diego the player?

Jorge Forbes, Paris correspondent for the Argentine press, doesn’t doubt it for a moment. For him, Grondona pulled off a coup. “There was a lot of pressure recently in favour of Maradona”, said Forbes. “If he fails, Grondona can plead that he listened to the press and the people. At the same time, he gets rid of Diego. And if Diego wins, he can always say he made the right choice”.

‘Diego puts the Maradona myth into play’

Argentina’s football icon, "El Pibe de Oro" (" The golden kid ") never concealed his desire to one day become coach. With Argentina lagging in third in the qualifying stages for the 2010 World Cup, behind Paraguay and Brazil, the new manager’s already under pressure. As the Argentinean daily The Nation says, “Diego puts the Maradona myth in play". Myth? Yes, myth. And living legend.

In the 1986 Mexico World Cup, Maradona did not need to show the immense extent of his talent. It was on display naturally. Just after “cheating” with his hand-goal against England, he made up for it a few minutes later by dribbling past the entire England defence to score his greatest goal ever.

In the final, facing the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), he led the “Albiceleste” to their second world championship.

Four years later, in Italy, after a bitter defeat by Cameroon during the opening match, Diego made a promise: to take his country to the finals. He kept his word.
Argentina divided

But the dramatic end of his career, spoiled by drugs and alcohol, has somehow masked the exploits of the kid. That is why Argentina is divided today. Especially since their beloved son has no record as coach to speak in his favour.

Maria Laura Avignolo, correspondent of the daily Clarin in Paris, is worried. “This job is too complicated for Maradona”, she says. “His inexperience, his past with drugs, the pressure, all this handicaps him. He certainly had the extraordinary career we all know, but this a whole new game.”

Avignolo goes farther. She wonders if “the father of Argentinean football” is “balanced enough to occupy such an exposed post”. Surprised, then? “Yes”, she asserts, considering “the Federation’s president publicly rejected Diego’s candidacy after José Pekerman quit in the wake of Argentina’s defeat in the 2006 World Cup in Germany”.

Has he changed?

So has Maradona changed enough to deserve the position? Argentina is still divided. For Avignolo, the Federation offers him “the chance to change his image not only among his fellow countrymen but also among his fans and lovers of football in general”.

“Yes, he’s changing”, she says. “Thanks notably to his ex-wife, Claudia, and their girls. And also because of his age”. At 48, Maradona will soon be a grandfather and his son-in-law is none other than Agüero, the Argentinean forward.

But Forbes calls Grondona’s choice a coup also because Carlos Bilardo – a man of action on good terms with Diego – is there to help out, and mitigate Maradona’s inadequacies. A wildcard in case “el Pibe de Oro” should fail.

Date created : 2008-10-28