Hmmm, wonder how this is going to turn out.......
On the eve of Germany and Argentina’s World Cup quarter-final clash, Jurgen Klinsmann wrote of a ‘clash of styles’ between the two sides, but was uncertain as to who would come out on top.
It was the Germans.
In the wake of this game, a 4-0 destruction of the Albiceleste; Diego Armando Maradona - arguably the greatest player of all time - was to leave the post of Argentina manager (albeit very reluctantly, and with a later plea to be reinstated).
Barring the odd football match with a Chechen warlord (the bizarre game he featured in as a favour to Ramzan Kadyrov in Grozny), El Diego has been oddly quiet since he was replaced as national team coach by Sergio ‘Checho’ Batista.
Well, until now that is.
It’s a measure of Maradona’s career since retiring as player that nobody was surprised this week to see him named manager of a club barely anyone in the football world had heard of. This club, Al-Wasi, is a side currently fourth in the “Pro-league” of the United Arab Emirates.
Now let us not dismiss this league immediately, after all, World Cup and Ballon d’Or winner Fabio Cannavaro plays in this league. Not to mention the talents of… erm, former Athletic Bilbao playmaker Francisco Javier Yeste, or the managerial pedigree of David O’Leary (oh wait, he’s been sacked).
This latest development in the mildly saddening but never dull saga of Diego’s life is not by any stretch his most surprising, that was probably his appointment as manager of Argentine minnows Textil Mandiyú in 1993. Whilst they were in the Argentine Primera Division at the time - enjoying the most successful period in their history in fact – this is a side that’s never won anything, and is arguably closer to it’s natural level now, in the regionalised fourth level of Argentine domestic football.
In his twelve games in charge of Mandiyú (who got the Textil part of their name from their origins as a team from a textile factory), Maradona was victorious in just one, but from this unmitigated failure he somehow found his way to manage Racing Club, one of the big five in Argentina.
Racing, known as La Academia, hail from Avellaneda, which whilst a city in it’s own right, is part of Buenos Aires province and is just to the south of the Capital city. Technically in joint charge (alongside Carlos Fren) as he was at Mandiyú, it made little difference to his fortunes with an 11-game reign resulting in just two victories. With a win percentage of 13% in club management he took his leave from football for a considerable period.
The antics of El Diez in this period are well documented, the consumption of ludicrous amounts of cocaine sent him to rehab on various occasions. Alcoholism came and went, he took an interest in politics and controversially, yet unsurprisingly aligned himself with Latin American leaders such as Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.
This ‘clash of styles’ that Klinsmann speaks of though, is a potentially worrying observation on a personal level.
It’s hard to say much that is certain about Diego the manager, but as a person he’s a renowned maverick. An eccentric. Watching this crazed yet absurdly talented individual score in the ’94 World Cup and then sprint towards the camera with a maniacal facial expression is an iconic snapshot of his career and shows both sides of Maradona the man in a matter of seconds.
It’s like comparing his ‘hand of god’ goal of 1986 to his dazzling individual effort later on in the game. The sublime somehow is intrinsically entwined with the madness and need to push the boundaries that has characterised his career both on and off the pitch.
Pushing the boundaries with drugs and alcohol in his new home of Dubai however, would come with it’s own set of punishments. And whilst in the past, his flawed genius may have perhaps led to him being punished leniently for his mistakes, he can afford to make no mistakes of this ilk in a society that seems totally at odds to Maradona’s personality.
Following his disastrous attempt at club level and his extended hiatus from the game, he found his way into the Argentina job in 2008 following Alfio Basile’s departure.
Averaging a win percentage of 72% was by far an improvement on his previous managerial record but with the players he had at his disposal, it is similarly easy to give him little credit, as seems the critical consensus.
It was a reign that had few high points. It’s major low, a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia (ironically at a very high point - nearly 12,000ft above sea level) in La Paz was part of four defeats in five qualifying games which left the Albiceleste in the play-off positions.
In what he’d later call “a miracle”, veteran striker Martin Palermo threw Maradona a managerial lifeline with a stoppage-time winner against Peru, which meant that Argentina would qualify with victory over Uruguay days later.
This victory came, a 1-0 that sent them on their way to South Africa. As per usual though, it was overshadowed by the post-match press conference where the Argentine manager invited members of the media to [ahem] orally pleasure him, and made a plethora of suggestions containing other ways they may wish to sexually gratify themselves.
This was all a (perhaps excessive) reaction to criticisms of his direction of the national team.
Considering this was his longest job in football management, what did we learn in his 25 games in charge of Argentina that will give us a clue about his upcoming role in the Middle East?
Well, not a huge amount.
In his first 12 months as boss, he capped over 70 different players. He also chose to experiment with a midfield six, and even a front four. His training regimes seemed to perplex the legions of stars that were used to the rigidity found in the clubs of Europe’s elite.
In the World Cup in South Africa, his decisions once again echoed his sublime-ridiculous polarity.
He left out Argentina’s all-time most capped player Javier Zanetti who had performed excellently in another successful campaign for Inter, and also his team-mate Cambiasso. Included however, were Ariel Garce, a 30-year old defender plying his trade with Colón de Santa Fe in the domestic leagues of Argentina. Rodriguez and Otamendi were other featuring in the local league who were on the plane, as well as uncapped midfielder Javier Pastore.
It was a gamble from Maradona, but as we know, far from the first in his life. His side sailed through their group, winning three from three and conceding a solitary goal.
Their performance in the second round was an excellent demolition of a spirited Mexico side which saw them momentarily made 2nd favourites of the competition behind eventual winners Spain.
It wasn’t to be however, Jurgen Klinsmann’s “clash of styles” prediction was accurate, and with devastating consequences for the South Americans.
The utter contrast of an organised German unit, against the rather haphazard mapping of sky-blue shirts across the field in Cape Town brought about this defeat and in turn, the departure of Argentina’s greatest ever player.
So what does the future hold for Diego Armando Maradona? In the three seasons since the UAE pro-league was established, there have been 45 coaches of the 16 different teams. 35 of those changes were made during the season.
So for us onlookers, whilst his stay in Dubai may not be long, it’d be a safe bet that it’ll be fairly eventful.