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