At 5pm on Friday, a pre-recorded interview with Diego Maradona was broadcast on Fox Sports, and true to form, the former manager of the Argentine national team came out firing on all verbal cylinders. He still believe he can retake charge of the national side, firmly believe Sergio Batista is the wrong man for the job because, ‘he goes to Uruguay and no-one knows who he is,’ and thinks Javier Zanetti – who ran like a twenty-year-old through three title-winning campaigns last season – ‘hasn’t got the legs’ any more. And of course a bit of utter, nonsensical insanity: ‘I’m Heidi’s little grandfather. The nicest one.’ Would you let this man manage your son at a World Cup? 23 sets of parents already did…
‘I’d give me life to be the manager,’ Maradona insisted. Even in the same interview though, he managed to underline some of the reasons the AFA shouldn’t let him do so again. ‘I’m really sad for the way everything turned out, after [the defeat to] Germany I felt dead.’ He indulged in a bit of analysis of the 4-0 defeat to Germany which saw his team crash out of the World Cup; a match he’s maintained he’ll never watch again, even though that might help him do what any proper manager would and learn from his mistakes. ‘We had everything prepared and ready,’ he insisted. But it was all Nicolás Otamendi’s fault. ‘In training we worked on defending set pieces, with Martín Palermo, Diego Milito and Mario Bolatti as the attackers, and the defence won every ball. But in the match, Otamendi let [Thomas] Müller get away from him, and we weren’t ready for the early goal.’
‘I’d stick with three up front,’ Maradona said – and in that at least he’s not far removed from Sergio Batista’s current strategy. His reasoning was odd, though. ‘Of those three, only one – Pipa [Higuaín] stays up front. Lionel [Messi] and Carlitos [Tevez] drop deep, almost becoming other midfielders. That meant we were well stocked in the middle and we could recover the ball.’ Well Diego, it would do if more than one (Javier Mascherano) of the five players dropping into the central area were ball-winners. Messi and Tevez both play high pressing games at their clubs. Maxi Rodríguez and Ángel Di María might be good on the ball, but neither of them have a clue how to tackle.
Linked to that point, he also said he didn’t understand how Batista could play ‘three ball-winning midfielders’ against the Republic of Ireland, referring to Mascherano, Ever Banega and Fernando Gago. Leaving aside the dubious judgement required to view Gago as a ‘ball-winning’ midfielder, neither he nor Banega style themselves as the kind of combative, purely destructive midfielder Mascherano is happy to be. Both, in reality, are deep-lying playmakers. Exactly the kind of player Seba Verón is. Exactly the kind of player who might have made a huge difference to the team’s structure against Germany.
Maradona also laid his former ‘principles’ to one side and, having previously refused to sign a new contract because the AFA refused to let him carry on with his assistants Alejandro Mancuso and Héctor Enrique, announced that he’d take whichever assistants Julio Grondona wanted to impose on him in order to get a second chance at the job. ‘First, though, I’d go looking for Batista and [José Luis] Brown, because they told me that they’d go anywhere with me, but wouldn’t work with Bilardo even over their dead bodies,’ he implied that was the reason they hadn’t taken the positions under him. He seems to have forgotten that Batista was in fact the assistant Grondona wanted him to have, and that he – Diego Maradona – had refused that and insisted on bringing his own buddies in.
And finally, evidently forgetting that if he wants the job back he needs to be in certain people’s good books, Maradona launched a bizarre broadside at AFA president Julio Grondona. ‘I don’t understand the change of opinions. Inside one week, they went from wanting me to continue, to wanting me out. I’d been told that [Marcelo] Bielsa never let Grondona eat with the players, and that [Daniel] Passarella was the same. I never disrespected him like that. [In comparison with them] I’m Heidi’s little grandfather. But they don’t respect [long term] projects.’
Remembering the scenes which greeting the selección on their return from the World Cup, when thousands met the coach from Ezeiza to thank the squad for their efforts, Maradona insisted, ‘I go out onto the streets and everyone agrees. Remember when they came to greet us at Ezeiza. It’s hardly my fault that everyone in the world knows me and that for Batista and Brown, if they go to Uruguay no-one has a clue who they are.’ As if that’s got a thing to do with deciding who’s the best man for the job. ‘I’m waiting for the call. I’ve got a lot of motivation to return, I’m impatient. I’d give an arm to come back.’
Any Argentina fans who are reading this from behind their fingers with fear should also read this quote this evening from Carlos Bilardo, on his return from a trip to Spain: ‘Everything at this stage indicates that [Sergio] Batista will be confirmed as the permanent boss.’
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