28 July ~ Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Asociación de Fútbol Argentino (AFA) finally announced, as we all knew they were going to, that Diego Maradona's contract as national team head coach wasn't going to be renewed. When a small child falls over quite softly in the street, you can count under your breath to three or four before they start bawling. To anyone in Argentina, this was as predictable as that.
Maradona met with Julio Grondona on Monday, two days after he had gone on national TV to talk at length about all the things he'd find completely unacceptable were they to be put on the table. In essence, Maradona made clear that any changes to his backroom staff – "even the kitman... or the masseur" – would not be tolerated. If the AFA removed anyone Maradona trusted, or if they tried to introduce anyone he didn't want, he insisted, he'd be walking. Grondona's opening gambit during Monday's two-and-a-bit hour chat? According to Maradona, it was: "First up, the kitman's got to go..."
Not only that, but Maradona had made that public declaration on El Show Del Fútbol, a football show on which former international defender Oscar Ruggeri is a prominent panellist. Ruggeri was Maradona's choice for assistant coach, but Grondona never allowed him anywhere near the AFA. Once the national team were safely in South Africa, though, Ruggeri joined the TV team and was given a press pass to go out there as a "journalist". Indeed, he was the only journalist Diego allowed into the training sessions with the national side in Pretoria. Grondona wasn't impressed. Add to this the fact that the show is broadcast on TyC Sports, with whom the AFA have had a deep-running row for the last year, since the government allowed the association to break the broadcasting contract for national first division matches, and you've got a whole lot of internal politics Maradona didn't play too smartly.
Furthermore, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, invited Maradona and "a few of his players" to come and meet her after the World Cup at the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in downtown Buenos Aires, for a bit of gladhanding and a photo opportunity. Maradona's response? Silence. Not only that, but the first president he met after the World Cup was Hugo Chávez, during a few days spent in Venezuela which were also the reason for the delay of that meeting with Grondona. Maradona has done a fair bit to irritate a lot of powerful people in Argentine football (and, indeed, Argentina). Don't believe any suggestions that he's walked of his own free will – he's been pushed. Sam Kelly