Belfast Telegraph

James Lawton: Maradona and Dunga can shape football's future

Diego Maradona bounces around the training field so full of life you wonder if at some point he might rise skywards, like a fabulous balloon, and perform some kind of ritual blessing on his team.

He swears he loves them more passionately than he ever imagined possible when he was appointed coach of Argentina in a firestorm of controversy and disbelief.

Dunga of Brazil could not be more different. Dour and tough as a coach, as he was a player, he stands on the touchline seeing everything and storing all of it away for when he sits down with his players and hammers home again the mantra that defines his impact on the great football nation which still half-reviles him: the past is dead, today is everything.

But if Maradona and Dunga come from different places, maybe even different planets, it is quite extraordinary how they have come here these few weeks to occupy together the centre of the football universe.

An insider in the Brazilian camp yesterday confirmed this growing sense of men who may be shaping a new way of dealing with 21st -century footballers. He also reported a growing view of Maradona that could hardly contradict more profoundly the withering criticisms made by the nation's national god-hero Pele.

The insider says: "Both Dunga and Maradona have never coached before, both were considered the wildest cards and they are relying entirely on their understanding of how it was to be a player, and I have to tell you we are falling in love with Maradona, the life and the joy he has brought to Argentine, and South American, football, and if we have to lose to anyone I think we would be most happy if it is to him.

"You know, people don't understand that in most Brazilian football men there is a closet 'Argie'. In many ways they are like us in the way they play their football, but they have something else too, a bit of the devil, and when a young player puts in hard tackles and goes crazy to win we call him 'Argie'.

"So yes, we love Maradona for what he is doing for his country and for the game. We also think that, with the success of teams like Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile, we have other reasons to feel pride.

"The way we feel now it seems as though Europe has got all the money in football but we have kept its heart and its soul."

Where Dunga isn't trying to compete with Maradona is in the level of overt affection which the reanimated maestro is pouring over his men, especially the key figure Lionel Messi.

Maradona fretted over Messi's retiring nature, his refusal to exert himself in the dressing room and sometimes on the field, and his remedy appears to be working quite beautifully. Messi has been roomed with the old hand Juan Sebastian Veron, who has been told to urge the superstar to be more expressive, more trenchant when expressing his views. It is working out well so far; Messi has rarely looked so feisty in a blue-and-white shirt and the other day he was heard to swear, much to the coach's pleasure.

Maradona has also bestowed conjugal privileges, with wives and "stable partners" rather than prostitutes, at 2am with a bottle of champagne primed – a proviso which has caused much merriment in the dressing room when they consider some of its author's form.

Dunga is the roundhead, the man who puts everything on a player's understanding that his time playing with Brazil is the privilege of his life. "We only have one star in my team," he insists. "The star is the yellow jersey."

Lucio, the great centre-half, says: "It doesn't matter that Dunga hasn't coached before; he learnt everything that was important when he was winning the World Cup as a player in 1994. He told us how it was coming from Italy in 1990, when coins were thrown at the players when they arrived home at Rio airport. He has never forgotten that.

"He hated the idea that Brazil was living in the past, still believing in the football played by Pele and Garrincha and all the others, and not realising it was different times, different players, a different game.

"Now he is the coach but also part of us. Sometimes when I'm on the field I look to the side and I see Dunga and I think, 'Any minute now he is going to come on to the field and start playing with us. You feel his spirit on the field all the time."

The parallels between Dunga and Maradona become a little uncanny in that Brazil and Argentina turned to them in nothing less than outright desperation. The reward for decisions which created uproar in both countries has been impressive overtures on the way to the knockout phase of this World Cup.

Dunga, even those Brazilians who most dislike the functional thrust of his work agree, had most work to do. The sense of team was in ruins four years after the disastrous defence of the title won on a rainy night in Yokohama, when Ronaldo, the last true Brazilian superhero, squeezed out some of the remnants of his scoring talent.

"In Germany it was just terrible," says the Brazilian source. "The training camp was more like a circus, a brothel. Anyone could come and go. When it was over, Dunga took charge and said everything had to change. He set tests for the two most important players. He wanted to see if he could work with them. Kaka passed the test, Ronaldinho didn't. Opinion at home is still mixed. Everyone was lifted up when Brazil played the best football of the World Cup against North Korea for an hour, but of course they are not against a strong team, and when we conceded a goal near the end the knives were out again.

"Still, Dunga just marches on. He believes he is right and fights with the press and the public and says, 'All of that doesn't matter. It is winning that matters.'"

Yesterday, with Robinho on the bench and Kaka suspended, he settled for a slugging, goalless stalemate with Portugal. He wasn't happy with some of the execution. Maradona might have been appalled. But then, as we were saying, they are united only in their passionate desire to get the most from their players. As they do it, they might just be shaping the future of football.

France's shameful conduct reflected in Italian tears

Forget for a moment Thierry Henry's outrageous cheating on the way to this World Cup, and wonder why the exit of Italy was so more much poignant than that of the French.

It is an interesting question because Italy, for all the stupendous achievements over the years, have never been exactly the angel of the game. The defence was cynical to the point of madness, not least when it was orchestrated by the ferocious and misnamed Claudio Gentile. By comparison, the French have generally lit up the game with superior skill.

The best clue to the puzzle may well be found in the picture of the great, time-expired Fabio Cannavaro and his team-mate Fabio Quagliarella at the moment of defeat.

Cannavaro's face might be a skull as he puts his hand across the bowed head of the weeping Quagliarella. The Italians plainly cared. That might be the difference.

Warm welcome on the streets beats any slick PR

So far, and of course these things should not be taken for granted, fear of terrible mayhem on the World Cup streets has been replaced by something a lot more uplifting.

It is the grace and the charm of people who are among the poorest and least encouraged on earth. Each day they come out of the townships and all their perils and deprivations, and they give a welcome that makes the occasional inconvenience an extremely small price indeed.

"No stress, my boss," says the driver Shadrach when you groan in a traffic jam. His subservience is wonderfully ironic and so is his wisdom. BP should make him the chairman of the board.

Belfast Telegraph


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