Considered by many the finest footballer ever to play the game, Argentina legend Diego Armando Maradona is just days away from fulfilling his greatest remaining ambition: coaching his beloved Albiceleste. The mythical No10 will be officially named as the 42nd senior national team coach in Argentinian Football Association (AFA) history on Tuesday.
"Maradona has been offered the role of national team coach and Carlos Bilardo that of technical secretary," AFA spokesperson Ernesto Cherquis Bialo told FIFA.com. "All that remains is to hammer out certain details: who is going to be working with them and what their duties, powers and obligations will be. Once these are decided, the Executive Committee will meet over the course of Monday and Tuesday to approve the project, as laid down in the (AFA) statute."
What better birthday present for El Pelusa, who turns 48 this Thursday? In an intriguing quirk of fate, Maradona's first match in charge will be against Scotland in Glasgow in November, in the very same city and against the very same opponents where El Diez scored his first senior goal for the Albiceleste in June 1979.
For Maradona and the national team, it was love at first sight, right from his first appearance way back in 1977, just four months on from his top-flight debut. Under the watchful eye of then coach Cesar Luis Menotti, who masterminded Argentina's first FIFA World Cup triumph the following year, Maradona came on as substitute for Leopoldo Jacinto Luque in a 5-1 win over Hungary on 27 February. The outrageously gifted left-footer would go on to represent his country at no fewer than four FIFA World Cup finals.
In total, the former Boca Juniors and Napoli star won 91 full international caps for his country, scoring 34 goals. Twenty-one of those matches and eight goals came at FIFA World Cups, including five strikes as he inspired Argentina to victory at Mexico 1986. Head coach on Mexican soil was none other than Carlos Bilardo, newly appointed technical secretary of the country's national teams.
"It's the one ambition that I'd yet to fulfil," admits Maradona on his new role. And though he has been linked with the position on many previous occasions, this is the first time an official offer has been made. "It was easy for me to say that they [the AFA] didn't want to give me the job and I could just stay at home and not carry any responsibility. I wasn't well back then, but now it's a different story," says Maradona, who has already started contacting some of his future charges.
Maradona's two previous spells in a head coaching role both came about during the ban imposed after testing positive at USA 1994. Though he lacked the relevant qualifications, this obstacle was circumvented by his partnership with Carlos Fren - an old friend from his Argentinos Juniors days.
His first coaching adventure in the Argentinian top flight came about on 3 October 1994 when he took the reins of Corrientes outfit Deportivo Mandiyu. There he lasted just two months, presiding over one win, six draws and five defeats. The team eventually finished second bottom of that year's Apertura standings and were relegated to the second tier.
One year on, with Fren still at his side, Maradona was given the opportunity to coach Racing Club - one of Argentina's biggest clubs. His time in charge began on 24 February 1995 with a 1-0 home defeat to Ferro in the first matchday of the Clausura, and ended four months later on 6 May. Of his eleven matches at the helm of the Avellaneda side, the team won two, drew six and lost three.
But times have changed, and so has Maradona. Calmer and more thoughtful than before, the former Argentina captain is also fortunate to have at his disposal an impressive stream of young talent and players established in the world's biggest leagues.
For Maradona, the recipe for success is a simple one: "The players have to believe in the jersey again. You have to make the players understand they need to give everything for their country, because that's what really matters. Money is no substitute for glory."