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Short on experience he may be, but Diego Maradona has displayed a more mature side to his character following his appointment as coach of Argentina.

By Eric Weil in Buenos Aires

Diego Maradona is the first national team coach anywhere in the world who has gained hardly any experience for the job at club level. He had short spells with Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club with little success, but as he did not have a coaching certificate, his friend Carlos Fren was the official coach and did more of the work, especially at Racing, where Diego rarely turned up.

To my knoweldge, Diego has never attended a coaching course, so he must still be without a certificate. That does not seem to matter now that Grondona has selected him. Grondona may have been convinced by Diego’s doings with the Olympic gold medal-winning team in Beijing, but while giving pep talks and advice, he never had anything to do with the actual coaching.

Pablo Michelini, who played under Diego at Racing, said: “His presence was very important. He gave us all his knowledge and experience. His presence in the changing room and bench cannot be compared to that of any other coach. He always wanted the team to play good soccer and attack. Today he is much better prepared.”

Jorge Martinez, who played under him at Deportivo Mandiyu, said: “He tried to get the best out of every player, analysing everyone to try and get little advantages. He gave us confidence and it was an extra motivation just to have him sit on the bench.”

That may have been so, but it was not exactly what the players said when he left the two clubs – Mandiyu after a one win, six draws, five defeats record and relegation and Racing after a two wins, six draws, three defeats record.

There is a feeling that his choice may have been dictated by TV – which rules local soccer with its cash – because his name is of more commercial value. But it must be admitted that since being named he has become a much more serious person and is taking his job seriously. There was only one row so far when Grondona refused to let him put Oscar Ruggeri (with whom he had words in the past) into his training staff.

“Obama could pick his staff. Why can’t I,” Diego complained bitterly.

Yet in spite of the original popular opposition to his choice – not so much by the media which seemed to campaign in his favour (for similar reasons as TV) – Maradona must face the same future of other coaches. He will stand or fall purely on results.

In a new development, some local clubs are engaging managers, apart from coaches, trying to copy the European method. In Argentina, the coach (or often called technical director) is like the manager in England. Now Boca Juniors, among the leading clubs, have engaged their former successful coach, Carlos Bianchi – who, by the way, was favourite for the national team job – as manager. He deals with transfers, contracts and office jobs, but says Carlos Ischia (his former assistant coach) is still in charge of the team.

It is the same situation in the national team with former national team coach Carlos Bilardo as manager and Maradona as coach. In this case, Bilardo’s main job is to keep unstable Diego on the straight and narrow.

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