Argentina coach Diego Maradona said he wanted to be his own man ahead of Wednesday's friendly away to France. The headstrong world champion player has been battling to impose his will on the Federation since his surprise October appointment but insisted that he doesn't want "to resemble anybody" else as he bids to lead the team to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Asked if he felt closer to 1986 FIFA World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo or Cesar Luis Menotti, the 1978 chainsmoking world champion who gave him his bow as a teenage international, Maradona said it was hard to pick either.
"Bilardo on a tactical level and Menotti for motivation - mixing that would amount to perfection. Menotti had his moment, Bilardo his too and as for me, I want to have my own," Maradona. "I want to be authentic, I want to be myself, I don't want to resemble anyone," he insisted. "You have to hang onto the good things that my coaches have given me, such as Miguel Angel Lopez (his first coach at Argentinos Juniors in 1979). I remember everything he told me - and he was right."
Asked if he felt appreciated in charge of the albiceleste two-time world champions Maradona said that doesn't change anything.
"Someone said my popularity has gone down but I'm not sure about that. I don't want the issue of Maradona the coach to come in ahead of responsibility of being an Argentina player," he said. "Sometimes I don't give an interview or don't appear on people magazine covers as it's the players who are the true protagonists."
But Maradona said he is consumed by the job. "I want to be Argentina coach. I live, dream and wake up asking myself how I can improve this team. I want to improve the Argentinian players."
Asked if he can get the best out of the mercurial Leo Messi, whom he has anointed as the man to fill his own superstar boots after a raft of other players tried and were largely found wanting since he retired, Maradona said: "I want him as a goalscorer, a passer, everything. his best position is the one he has at Barcelona, on the right, looking for the ball and then pushing along the flank. That's where he feels most comfortable," said Maradona, adding he would be "crazy" to impose anything different on him.
"You have to leave him to move the ball around at his own pace and let him get on with the game," concluded Maradona.