BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, Sep 10 – As much as he was a genius with the ball at his feet, Diego Maradona’s coaching career has been far from distinguished and took a curious turn when he joined Mexican second-division outfit Dorados.
The man who led Argentina to just their second World Cup crown — according to many almost single-handedly — and whose brilliance inspired Napoli to the only two Serie A titles in their history, has ploughed a less succesful coaching furrow.
With a cultured left foot and mesmerising dribbles he was twice signed for a world record fee, first by Barcelona and then Napoli.
He played for some of Argentina’s biggest and most prestigious clubs: Boca Juniors, Newell’s Old Boys and Argentinos Juniors, while also representing his country 91 times and scoring 34 goals.
“If I die, I want to be born again and play football to give the people joy,” he once said.
Father time has long caught up with the 57-year-old, though, as he wryly notes: “I have shorter legs than a picture frame, if I want to train I get torn all the way up to the shoulders.”
After the glittering playing highs, his coaching career, barring a two-year stint in charge of the Argentine national team, has been largely spent far away from the glitz and glamour.
– Unmitigated failures –
This is not the first time he’s taken charge of a second-division side — he left Al Fujairah of the United Arab Emirates in May after failing to guide them to promotion despite seven wins in 11 matches.
Other spells at Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club in Argentina and UAE’s Al Wasl were unmitigated failures.
During the first two, from 1994-95, he won a combined three out of 23 matches and subsequently resumed his playing career, albeit briefly.
In this latest quest he can only improve the team’s performances given they have yet to win a game this season.
The club’s fans seem unperturbed by his poor coaching record, with one holding up a placard proclaiming: “Welcome golden god!” as Maradona arrived at the Culiacan airport on Saturday.
One teenage fan, Bryan Felix, has faith that even at 57, Maradona can still improve.
“His other coaching experiences weren’t good but that’s the same for other coaches when they started,” he said.
Maradona’s first coaching experience was five years before Felix was even born.
Dorados president Jose Antonio Nunez is another beating the same drum, attempting to find a positive twist on his high-profile signing’s record.
“He knows what it’s like to start from the bottom, he knows the value of a lower league,” he said.
– ‘Happy memories’ –
Maradona has a special affinity for Mexico as it was there that he enjoyed his finest hour, leading Argentina to a 3-2 victory over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final.
At the weekend he wrote on Instagram that he was “happy to return to the land where I was world champion and where I retain very happy memories”.
He will do so while retaining his other official positon, as honorary president of Belarusian outfit Dinamo Brest, a post he only took up in July, but to great fanfare as he was paraded around town to cheering crowds and given a diamond ring.
That would have come in handy for someone who has suffered financial difficulties in recent times, not least with a multi-million euro unpaid Italian tax bill hanging over his head.
It might explain his need to take up a coaching position in such a relative backwater.
It’s also an ideological fit for a man who was friends with two of Latin America’s most famous socialist leaders: Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Hugo Chaves of Venezuela, and sports a tattoo of revolutionary icon Che Guevara.
Maradona sent a welcome message to new Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador while hitting out at “imperialism” in a clear reference to the United States.
He has changed little over the years but, if his coaching fortunes don’t experience a dramatic upsurge, this could be another brief footnote in a career that will always be remembered more for his on-field skills than any off-field antics.