If there is one member of the global footballing fraternity who needs no introduction, it is Diego Armando Maradona. The Argentinian legend is considered by many to be the greatest player to have walked the Earth. Now, at the age of 49, he has put his reputation at stake by taking on an entirely different challenge at the helm of the national team.
Set to take part in his fifth FIFA World Cup™ finals, El Diez knows all about the highs and lows the competition can bring. After captaining his country to glory at Mexico 1986, he experienced the bitter taste of defeat in the Final at Italy 1990, the last time the Albiceleste reached the tournament showpiece.
Maradona began his coaching career at Mandiyu while he was serving a playing suspension for a positive drugs test at USA 1994. The unfashionable club from inland Argentina were struggling to stay in the top flight at the time and looked to the fallen idol for salvation. Maradona lasted just 12 games, however, presiding over one win, six draws and five defeats before trying his luck at Racing Club, one of Argentina’s big five. He fared little better at La Academia, resigning from the post after overseeing just two wins in 13 games. After then resuming his playing career, El Pelusa made his last league appearance in the colours of Boca Juniors in October 1997 and stayed out of the game for the next 11 years.
In October 2008, not long after travelling to Beijing to see watch Argentina win Olympic gold, Maradona was offered the job of national coach following Alfio Basile’s resignation ten games into the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010. Argentina had won just one of their previous seven games and with their qualification bid in serious jeopardy, Maradona agreed to take on the task of turning things around.
“It's totally unfair to expect to see the Maradona style when I only get the guys together two days before each game,” he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com nine months into the job. “I see myself as more of a coach than a technical director.” Whatever his job description, El Diez was able to steer his side into the world finals, overcoming crushing defeats against Bolivia and Brazil to seal their passage in the final game against Uruguay in Montevideo.
Though his qualification record of won four lost four was far from perfect, Maradona has since had the satisfaction of seeing his side beat France and Germany in high-profile friendlies away from home, both times without conceding a goal.
“I've been at World Cups, I've played in two finals and I know how to get there, how to handle the group, how to coach them,” he added in that recent interview with FIFA.com. “I know what to say to them. I know what I'm talking about. I didn't come eighth or ninth and it didn't happen to me just like that. I know something about all this.” The time for him to prove it has arrived.