Diego Maradona officially took over as the new coach of Argentina, asking his sceptical countrymen to "give me a chance."
Maradona wants fans' backing
BUENOS AIRES // Diego Maradona officially took over as the new coach of Argentina yesterday, asking his sceptical countrymen to "give me a chance." The troubled genius has been handed a contract to the end of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, if Argentina qualify. Argentina are currently third in the South American race. "It's an honour," Maradona said. "It's a dream come true being named coach of the national team.
"I'm going to give it my all to make sure that things go well. We're going to work every day so that Argentina has a national team that keeps getting better and better." Dressed in a suit and blue tie, the 48-year-old Maradona was flanked at a news conference by the new Argentina manager Carlos Bilardo and Julio Grondona, the head of the Argentine Football Federation. While Maradona remains a national hero, his appointment has been questioned by local media and fans since it was first announced last week.
Many are doubtful Maradona can translate his technical skills into coaching expertise, and are wary of the star's past, which includes near-death battles with drugs and obesity. Grondona brushed aside criticism that Maradona was not qualified to be the national coach, saying: "We have the security of excellence." Maradona agreed: "It's fine, but they're going to have to be my fans because I'm Argentine.
"I ask that they [fans and media] give me time, that they give me a chance." Maradona gave assurances he had recuperated from his drug and alcohol problems, and that the job offer came at a most opportune time. "This is the best moment in my life," he said. "I have my two daughters, I get up every morning and I look forward to the day. That's something I've gotten back. "I'm earning back the confidence of my daughters and I have the beautiful dream that is the national team ... it's like touching heaven with my hands."
Asked by reporters if he was daunted by the prospect of failure while leading the team and further damaging his reputation as a living football great, Maradona responded: "I'm not afraid that my crown will fall. It would be worse to hide myself." He replaces Alfio Basile, who stepped down on Oct 16, a day after a historic 1-0 loss to neighbours Chile in World Cup qualifying. His first game in charge will be an international friendly against Scotland on Nov 19 in Glasgow, followed in February by another friendly against France.
His first match before a demanding home crowd will be a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in March. One of Maradona's first decisions was to replace Javier Zanetti as captain with Javier Mascherano. Maradona said Mascherano was the "best suited player" because he brings together the necessary characteristics of "thinking, sacrifice, professional, being attentive to teammates." His first squad for the Scotland game was little changed from Basile's tenure. As expected, star forward Lionel Messi was not on the list due to a deal struck between the AFA and his Barcelona club to allow him to play in Beijing but then finish the season playing only for the club, an arrangement Maradona said last week he would respect.
The squad includes his son-in-law Sergio Aguero, from Atletico Madrid, and the only notable absence was goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. However, who will ljoin Maradona's back room staff remains unclear. Last Friday, it seemed Sergio Batista and Jose Luis Brown, Maradona's teammates in Argentina's 1986 World Cup champion side, would be his assistants. Batista was the Argentina Youth coach and Brown his assistant. Batista also coached the team that won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
But Maradona surprised local media on Monday when he announced that he preferred Oscar Ruggeri and his friend Alejandro Mancuso on his coaching team. The AFA head Grondona though apparently does not approve, and so the official announcement on the assistants has been delayed. "We still don't have it resolved," Maradona said. "What we're looking for with Carlos is that the (new coaching staff) be made of iron, that they're ready to work and that they will accept orders from the head guy, which is me," Maradona said.
The 1986 World Cup winning captain has a busy schedule over the coming week. He will travel to Spain to watch Real Madrid host Juventus in the Champions League tonight, before continuing on throughout Europe to speak with overseas-based Argentine players. *AP Line-up: Goalkeepers: Juan Pablo Carrizo (Lazio), Mauricio Romero (AZ Alkmaar). Defense: Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle), Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich), Daniel Diaz (Getafe), Gabriel Heinze (Real Madrid), Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan). Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Real Madrid), Luis Gonzalez (FC Porto), Jonas Gutierrez (Newcastle), Javier Mascherano (Liverpool), Maximiliano Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid), Jose Sosa (Bayern Munich). Forwards: Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid), German Denis (Napoli), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli), Lisandro Lopez (FC Porto), Carlos Tevez (Manchester United).