Diego Maradona broke the Argentine national side’s self-imposed media blackout (bar Sergio Agüero’s infuriatingly over-exposed Twitter account) on Tuesday with a press conference two days before he’d been expected to call one. Javier Mascherano sat alongside him, mute for the most part, as perhaps a small part of the genius of having Maradona as manager was revealed – when he’s in the manager’s seat, who’s going to want to ask the players any questions? Maradona talked of the team he’ll use against Nigeria (‘You’ll know it a couple of days before the match’) and his relationship – or lack thereof – with the barra bravas who were on the same plane as the selección over to South Africa.
Brazil defender Felipe Melo had claimed on Monday that ‘Argentina will only stay in the World Cup until they have to play Brazil,’ and Maradona countered that statement early on, saying ‘I’m not thinking of Felipe Melo, I’m not thinking of any little kid… we’re going to try and arrive as well as possible on the 12th against Nigeria and after that, take little steps forward all the way.’ He also insisted the current team are better than the squad Carlos Bilardo took to Mexico ’86 (‘I know what it’s like to be a world champion and I believe in these boys because of what they’re giving me in training’).
The squad have been shielded from public view ever since arriving in Pretoria’s High Performance Centre by green cladding around all the gates and fences surrounding the centre, as Maradona’s worked with the players on various combinations and ideas. One point players have kept coming back to in interviews during the last two years, when questioned about the team’s inconsistent performances under Maradona, is that ‘we need time together,’ to gel properly as a team. Whilst they’ve had as much time as any national side gets together, it’ll still be interesting to see if Maradona springs any surprises and just to what extent the group ethic takes hold in the coming days.
‘Spain only beat [Saudi] Arabia 3-2,’ he said at one point, ‘for those who said we had an easy win over a nothing team [against Canada].’ That was perhaps a bit harsh on Saudi Arabia, who have at least qualified for multiple World Cups since Canada’s only appearance in 1986 (ah, so that’s why the AFA chose this particular opponent…), but it allowed Diego a smirk all the same. ‘I’ve got 23 demons who are ready to leave their skin on the pitch,’ Maradona also said, stirring up some truly disturbing images.
The last ten minutes or so of the press conference were given over to questions about the ‘official’ barra brava of 22 who travelled to South Africa on the same plane as the AFA officials and the squad. The group includes a number from the Lomas faction of Boca’s La Doce. The AFA’s highest-ranking official on board the flight was Argentinos Juniors president Luis Segura, and he claimed not to be aware of who was travelling in economy class (apart from the delegation in business and first class, the rest of the flight was a normal, open-to-the-public affair). Both Maradona today and Carlos Bilardo in Monday’s Olé denied having been told about the matter by Julio Grondona. All the same, the group is lead by a barra from Chacarita called Ariel ‘El Gusano‘ Pugliese, who just happens to be the same man chosen as a bodyguard for Lionel Messi on one his visit to Argentina during 2009. This one’s going to run and run.
By the way, I made passing reference above to Sergio Agüero’s Twitter page. The Argentine media have getting incredibly excited about the fact he uses the site (he is, despite several other claims, the only member of the Argentine camp either playing or technical to do so), but none of them have told their readers what his Twitter username is – as if they want to keep the secret to themselves. I think it’s incredibly dull, much like Agüero himself (happy birthday by the way, Kun), but should anyone want to follow him, this is his Twitter profile (it rather goes without saying you’ll find it even more boring than it really is if you don’t read Spanish).
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Photo pinched from ole.clarin.com