He's gone. It's not that it was unexpected, but El Diego and La Albiceleste have parted company. Did he jump or was he pushed? Sam Kelly reports from Buenos Aires.
In the late afternoon on Tuesday, the Asociación de Fútbol Argentino 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. You know when you see a small child fall over quite softly in the street, and you can count under your breath to three or four before they start bawling? Well, to anyone in Argentina, this was roughly that predictable.
Maradona met with Julio Grondona on Monday, and was given, in typical mafia style, an offer he... erm... very much could refuse. A word of advice, dear reader: if your boss wants to get rid of you, and you desperately want to keep your job, it's not a great idea to go on national TV a couple of days before your contract negotiations and talk at length about all the things you'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 Oscar Ruggeri is a prominent panellist. Ruggeri was Maradona's choice for assistant coach, but Grondona never allowed him 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'. 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 TyCSports, 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 politicas Maradona didn't play too smartly.
Oh but there's more. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina, invited Maradona and 'a few of his players' after the World Cup to come and meet her 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 between him and Grondona.
He may have inspired a new English-language world football site, but Diego Maradona has also done a fair bit to irritate a lot of powerful people in Argentine football (and, indeed, Argentina). Just don't let anyone tell you he's walked of his own free will; mentalist though he is, he was never going to do that. He's been pushed.
Sam writes regularly for ESPN Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and you can read his Argentine football blog, Hasta El Gol Siempre, here.