THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

17 October 2009 ~ Football management computer games are, it's probably fair to say, hugely popular for one fairly simple reason. Football fans – even knowledgeable football fans – are often tempted to believe they could do a better job than the current incumbent of this or that team. In the case of the Argentine national team, they might just be right. Whether successful or not, it would certainly be difficult for anyone to do the job with less basic human dignity than Diego Armando Maradona, a man who has continued to think like a fan rather than a manager throughout his first year in charge of his country.

The press conference given after the 1-0 victory over Uruguay has already been widely talked about all over the world, but in Argentina it might have come to mark the moment when the country's press finally lost patience with Maradona the manager. A particularly irate gangsta rapper would have difficulty tallying up as many "haters" as Maradona claims he's got in the press, but until now they've been largely a product of Diego's own fevered imagination. Since his first day in charge he's raged against those sections of the Argentine media who've doubted him ever since he was a kid. If Maradona is to be believed, that's the whole of the Argentine media. The same Argentine media who have feted him as the greatest player of all time for the last two decades, and routinely refer to him as "God". They've now started to point out the ridiculousness of his thinking, though.

One soundbite that's been discussed from that same press conference was Maradona's assertion that the gameplan for Wednesday night's 1-0 win over Uruguay – their first win away to their rivals since 1976 – was not overtly defensive. Regardless of his protestations, the initial line-up and the substitutions marked a sharp departure from the dream of attacking verve that had been so easily dismantled by Brazil, Paraguay, Ecuador and, so spectacularly, Bolivia (who, in fairness to Maradona, also claimed a home win over an admittedly uninterested Brazil last weekend).

Carlos Bilardo, the 1986 World Cup-winning manager and now the "national teams co-ordinator" (you'll have to ask the Argentine FA what that means), was spotted near the tunnel during the second half. Many wondered whether it wasn't him steering the team's strategy and suggesting the substitutions. Bilardo's cynical, win-at-all-costs philosophy was seen as a fallback when he was appointed alongside (or beneath? or above?) Maradona last year, and so it may have proved.

Maradona will meet AFA president Julio Grondona to decide his future now, after announcing days before Saturday's win over Peru that he'd do so whether or not he qualified for the World Cup because, since he took charge “some things have happened which I'm not happy with”. Things such as Grondona drawing the line at hiring Oscar Ruggeri, a deeply underwhelming manager but a good friend of Maradona's, as the great man's assistant boss.

Maradona may not actually be leading Argentina to South Africa, and he may yet only be there as a fan when the World Cup kicks off next year. But if someone with his mentality can even pretend to be a national team boss for a year... well, maybe there's hope for the management computer game fantasist in all of us. Sam Kelly Hasta El Gol Siempre

Comments (2)
Comment by fbrazolin 2009-10-17 17:54:57

"the gameplan for Wednesday night's 1-0 win over Uruguay was not overtly defensive."

It wasn't, just because there was no gameplan at all.

It's a shame that such a promising squad became a bunch of players who haven't the slighest idea about what they're doing on the field. This is Maradona's Argentina...

Comment by Mambogol 2009-10-20 16:03:09

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa promises to become a sportswriter's dream. Now that here in England we've got over the shock of an almost flawless qualification process, elsewhere in the world there have been international dramas of colossal proportions. Once indomitable European dead-certs such as France and Portugal have yet to secure their places in the competition, whilst in South America the Brazilians stumbled through some shambolic performances before securing their place in the finals. Argentina scraped through only by winning against fierce rivals Uruguay with their last throw of the dice. A World Cup without Messi, Tevez, Mascherano, Cambiasso, Samuel, Riquelme, Aimar, Zanetti et al would have been an absolute disaster for FIFA – who are desperate to have their first African World Cup be a showcase for the best footballing talents on offer from around the world. Though clearly relieved by Argentina's late qualification, FIFA will be less pleased with the post-match performance of Argentina's volatile manager. Diego Armando Maradona's outbursts – which were broadcast live around the American continent - have already become the stuff of legend.
Maradona has had to endure some typically vicious media attention as a result of his team's often pathetic performances in the year since his appointment. Few would disagree that the abuse hurled his way has been, by and large, thoroughly deserved. Over the course of his tenure he has managed to systematically alienate most of his star players by experimenting with some baffling formations, some ridiculous substitutions and by insisting on playing his underperforming son-in-law, Sergio Aguero and by omitting established players such as Tevez, Riquelme and Zanetti. All in all, Maradona has used in excess of 80 different players in his time in charge. Things have been so bad in the dressing room that his star turn, the mercurial and irreplaceable world player of the year Lionel Messi refuses to talk to his manager any more. The Argentinian press had called for Maradona's head on a plate well before qualification hung in the balance at Montevideo last week, and the chubby, cheating former demi-god or Argentinian football cut a folorn figure as his side trundled out to face a belligerent Uruguay.

A scrappy and often bad-tempered game ended up with Maradona making his only decent call since he became manager – he brought on attacking midfielder Bolatti with ten minutes remaining and had this decision vindicated by seeing the lad score his first goal for his country. Maradona had survived by the skin of his teeth - and by the way he ran on to the pitch at the final whistle, wild-eyed and clearly demented – we were all looking forward to the post-match debrief. He did not disappoint.

This was his opening salvo to the massed ranks of the press – broadcast live to a relieved Argentinian nation;

“To those who didn't believe... and with apologies to any ladies present... you can carry on sucking it [the clear inference here is that 'it', in common parlance, is his cock]. I'm either white or black – I'll never be grey in my life – eh? You who treated me like you did – can just carry on sucking it.”

Can we for one moment imagine Graham Taylor, in his darkest hour, Kevin Keegan at his most excitable or Glenn Hoddle at his most sanctimonious telling the tabloids to suck his cock? No?
What were the AFA – the Argentinian FA – thinking when they elevated him to national coach?
The only equivalent that I can think of is the FA giving Paul Gascoigne a shot at the England job. Now that I've thought this through, this doesn't seem like a bad idea at all. Let's see how Capello gets on in South Africa – if we can tear ourselves away from the Maradona roadshow – maybe Gazza will be the only choice we have left...

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