Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maradona to Coach Argentina;
Is This a Risk Worth Taking?

Never having been to Argentina, I'm not sure I can properly appreciate the adoration and appreciation that exists for Diego Maradona. To an outsider, he's a legendary footballer. His 1986 World Cup performance rivals that of any of Pele's. A true genius with the ball, Maradona elevated Argentina to greatness; I can say I saw him score his last competitive goal for Argentina against Greece in the 1994 World Cup in Foxboro, Mass, below.

But like many legends and giants when they fall, they fall hard. Drugs and other forms of abuse did Maradona in, pushing him to the brink of death on a couple of occasions. He's sought cures all over the world for what ails him, including at the foot of Fidel Castro in Cuba. His insulated little world includes millions of Argentina fans who forgive and forget, which is their right.

But how, oh how, does this fly? How on Earth is Maradona qualified to manage Argentina to the 2010 World Cup? Maradona will reportedly be officially named coach of Argentina today [UPDATE: Apparently, the appointment will be announced next Tuesday], but it's been widely reported that the deal is done. [COMMENT BELOW]

Having never coached outside of stints with two small clubs in the mid-'90s, Maradona has been given the keys to perhaps the second greatest football team in the world behind Brazil. This is a volatile, dependent personality who essentially is going from celebrity movie-star status to the White House overnight. Friends, however, this is no Ronald Reagan.

Maradona can't manage his personal goings-on as he's demonstrated numerous times. How will he function at such a high footballing level? What a slap in the face to great coaches such as Scolari, Aragones, Lippi, hell, even Bruce Arena.

Argentina is third in South American qualifying, six points behind leaders Paraguay, and one back of Brazil for second. The last straw for Alfio Basile was last month's loss to Chile that left Argentina in third. Maradona says he was "seduced" by the offer to coach Argentina. Carlos Bilardo will advise Maradona; Bilardo was Argentina's coach in the '86 World Cup.

Now what do we have here? Is Maradona a figurehead? Is this a puppet regime? Does the Argentina federation think it needs this kind of attention-getting stunt to motivate its players and fans to facilitate qualification for South Africa 2010? Time will tell, and perhaps that's the case, that Maradona's Type A personality will infuse the players to take it to the next level, while Bilardo strategizes behind the scenes.

But is Maradona really worth the bother? One would assume the federation did its homework and understands whether Maradona is a couple of losses away from a devastating relapse. Or do they care?

As the New York Times points out:

There is no denying Maradona’s appeal in Argentina where fans’ adoration has proved ever-lasting, despite his personal problems and clown-like antics. Though his technical credentials may be in doubt. He’s had brief and unsuccessful coaching stints at two clubs in Argentina in 1994 and 1995. In fact, he may very well have spent less time coaching than he has spent in rehabilitation clinics for drug addiction, alcoholism and obesity.

It's a gamble and a potential marketing nightmare. It's also a potential marketing boom. You can bet there's a feverish run on No. 10 jersies in Buenos Aires today. And you can bet that Argentina is the talk of the football world today, tomorrow and the next time the teams reconvene for qualifiers.

But what if the team tumbles? What if they don't make it to South Africa? Was this risk assessed properly. Some fronts say Maradona has the football acumen to make this happen. Well sure, as a player. Great players, however, don't necessarily make for great teachers. Perhaps there's more to Bilardo's presence than meets the eye.

This is high theater and so worth watching over the coming months that it will be impossible to look away--kinda like a train wreck, impossible to look away. Here's hoping Argentina has a "Hand of God" type bailout should it derail.

(BTW, here's Maradona's goal in Foxboro)

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John said...

As a big fan I'm happy for Diego on his appoitment. He deserve his second chance in the National team. I pray that he can deliver us the World Cup.

I'm sure he will get the players respect as many of them have always look up to him. He can be a great motivator in the dressing room. Diego has been my hero since I was 6 years old.

Though I was born in Malaysia, he is my idol. Check the latest posting on my blog. Your comments is always appreciated.

The Soccer Blogger said...

I hope he does well, but I can't help feeling this has got disaster written all over it. Maradonna has been on a general downward spiral since defeat to German in 1990, he just seems to be one of those people that naturally self destruct. Like I say, I hope he proves me wrong and this is what he needs to truly get his life back on track, because let's face it, it's been a bit of a train wreck the last 18 years. Such a stark contrast to the previous 10 years before 1990.

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boncuman said...

good luck ....maradona

dual diagnosis said...

Diego Maradona should be given a chance to coach the national team. Past records of alcoholism and drug addiction won't be a hindrance to his success. His willingness will help Argentina get to the championships in future competitions.