Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Steven Beacom: Maradona the boss?

When you think of Diego Maradona, Argentina’s 1986 World Cup quarter-final with England tends to spring to mind.

There was the “Hand of God” and then came those dazzling feet from football heaven.

I’ve heard both goals described as the finest of his astonishing career. Generally it’s the Scots who go for the former.

Best of his career? For me they weren’t even his best of the tournament.

That came in the semi-final victory over Belgium when once again Maradona scored twice, though on that occasion both were with his left boot.

The Belgium match is rarely shown but having been allowed to sit up and watch it live when I was a kid - with the finals in Mexico many matches started at 11pm our time - the memory remains as clear as when Maradona cheated Peter Shilton and made chumps out of Peter Reid, Terry Fenwick and Terry Butcher.

He was mesmerising against a well drilled Belgian outfit. Oozing confidence, his first touch was bewildering. And that left foot was like a wand capable of creating magic even David Blaine wouldn’t attempt.

I promise you had someone chucked Diego a beach ball in a telephone box with the whole Belgian team inside he could have kept it away from them.

The two goals were glorious - the first clipped in with the outside of his foot and the second my particular favourite.

Surrounded by half the Belgium team, he surveyed the scene before gliding past every one of them, chipping the ball past the bemused goalkeeper into the net. Breathtaking.

The Argentina captain didn’t actually score in the final against Germany, but typically he was the difference between the teams with a delightful pass to set up Jorge Burruchaga for the late winner.

In that mid 80s period Maradona was untouchable although many defenders tried every means possible, mostly illegal, to get close to him. After virtually winning the World Cup on his own for Argentina in 1986, he inspired Napoli to the Serie A title TWICE. Think West Brom winning the Premiership and you’ll realise why what Diego did in Italy is rightly regarded as one of the most remarkable feats in European club football history.

For all Maradona's ability - I would rate him better than Pele in that particular debate - what makes him so fascinating is a self destruct button that he has pressed on a regular basis.

Taking drugs saw him shamefully banned from football for 15 months from 1991. That was followed by being chucked out of the World Cup finals in 1994 for taking ephedrine, tax problems in Italy, some outlandish political statements, weight problems and of course a long standing fight against a cocaine addiction which many believed would kill him.

The phrase flawed genius could have been invented for Maradona, who turned 48 last week.

Incredibly he celebrated that birthday by becoming the new manager of his beloved national team.

Unbelievable.

This is a guy who finds it difficult to take control of his own life, so how is he going to manage a football team that effectively decides the mood of a nation?

If you think the English press like putting the boot in, you should spend a few hours with the Argentine media.

I’ve been at post match press briefings in World Cups, when Argentina have won 6-0, where most of the questions related to why it wasn’t SEVEN.

The Argentine press and indeed footballing public are even more demanding than Linfield fans!

Maradona is still revered in his country of course.But if there is one sure way to become as unpopular as Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand at a grandparents convention, it is to become a football manager. The questions have already started about Maradona’s ability to manage the national side.

His stints as a boss with clubs in Argentina were short and unsuccessful.

There’s no doubt he is fiercely patriotic and of course the job appeals to his monumental ego.

He’ll have numerous high class players at his disposal which will help.

Despite poor form in World Cup qualifying to date, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero, who will father Maradona’s first grandchild next year, and Lionel Messi, the closest thing to Diego in 20 years, are all there.

And they’ll be desperate to deliver for their hero.

Argentina have not won the World Cup since 1986 when Maradona was their leader on the pitch. Now he will be the leader off it with his reign starting at Hampden Park in a friendly against Scotland later this month.

It could have been Windsor Park and Northern Ireland, but the Irish FA didn’t have the money to bring the South Americans to town. Instead we play Hungary!

Despite their cynical nature, I’d like to see Argentina doing well under Maradona.

And with Northern Ireland unlikely to be there, I’d quite fancy a World Cup final in 2010 between Diego’s Argentina and England.

Imagine the build-up. You would hear the word revenge uttered more than 1966!

A successful Argentina side playing with the style and freedom of Maradona in the 80s would be wonderful for football and glorious to watch.

I fear though, that it will all end in tears. And quicker than most of us would like.

The truly great players find it difficult to manage because they get so frustrated coaching players who couldn’t lace their stardust sprinkled boots.

Mind you, with Maradona, who knows? I guess there is only one prediction we can make with confidence and that’s that his time as Argentina manager will be ridiculously unpredictable.

It’s one roller-coaster ride that will be worth keeping an eye on.