Diego Maradona Surprised All as Coach of Argentina Team

The FIFA World Cup 2010 has already seen so many highs and lows that I have little doubt that by the time the final ends on July 11, the careers of quite a few players and coaches will be at stake.

The way results have gone till now, it is clear that England and France are two teams with their reputations in tatters, though it is the Frenchmen who know it’s almost over.

So, what is the difference between ‘ almost over’ and ‘ could sneak ahead’? I think, even at this stage, a lot of people are still giving England a theoretical chance, though based on performance, they have done nothing to catch the eye.

One strong point emerging from this edition of the World Cup is how much the coaches are feeling the heat. In England, people still never tire of reminding us how they won the World Cup in 1966. From then till now, in almost all sports, they have slid down the ladder.

Leave aside football, in cricket, in tennis and other team sports as well, it’s all about hype. Yes, as far as the medals tally was concerned at the last Olympics in Beijing, they did well.

But at blue riband events like the FIFA World Cup, the past reputation of one World Cup win doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter if you build up huge hype. There is already a lot of criticism for English football, where money is abundant, but true English talent is never thrown up.

It’s almost like the wait for a British champion at Wimbledon, where after Fred Perry in 1936, nobody has won the men’s singles title. Tim Henman kept trying in the Pete Sampras era, but could never get beyond the semi- finals at the All England Club.

England’s problem is not just about having a good team, the coach also comes across as someone who is defensive and lacks creative ideas. Fabio Capello has a contract till 2012, but if England fail to make it to the second round, his neck is going to be on the chopping block.

What about France? A side which won the World Cup in 1998 and lost in the last final to Italy in 2006 seems to have declined rapidly. This is a classic example of how European teams are finding it tough.

French captain Patrick Evra has said he feels his team is “ like a small football nation”. And that is saying a lot if you look at the team’s history in the World Cups, though the performance at the last European Championship was a wakeup call for them. What happens to Evra I do not know, but French coach Raymond Domenech must be literally counting his days.

Domenech has been rubbished for his inability to give the team drive and direction. And with his own players up in arms against him, he is going to go down in the history of French football as one of the most unpopular coaches.

That brings into focus two more coaches in this World Cup, Diego Maradona and Dunga.

It is surprising how Maradona, whose coaching came in for criticism from former greats, has shown on the field how he well he works with his boys.

His love for Lionel Messi is too well known in this team, but Maradona can be seen as a coach who works with heart and soul. For most of us who have seen the overweight star in track suits post- retirement, the new jacket and tie is still something one hasn’t got used to.

But the way he has adapted himself is a revelation. In every single minute of action on the field, Maradona is a bundle of energy and the way he enjoyed the hattrick scored by Gonzalo Higuain made it clear how he is enjoying his role.

Is this really the Maradona who was on deathbed two years ago and did all the wrong things in life? There again, apart from egging on the players and hugging his support staff on the sidelines, Maradona has been a huge hit with the media.

Not all great players go on to become great coaches. At least with Maradona, there is enthusiasm and energy when he is around. And that surely is being passed on to the team.

Mind you, this was one team which scraped into the World Cup finals almost at the last minute.

One coach who has also been quietly performing is Dunga, though the brand of football which Brazil have been playing seems defensive.

The short passes and geometry on the field is gone and so is the one- touch. Instead, Dunga does make this Brazilian side look European with long overhead passes, and the run- and- run pattern till you hit the goal! In his heyday, Dunga was tough as a defender, mostly as a sweeper- back. But since the sweeper- back system doesn’t exist anymore, I guess Dunga has changed it all.

Of the rest on view, Spain are scratching, Holland have done well and Germany have the flair and firepower.

Yet, in the nine days of this edition of the FIFA World Cup, Maradona the coach has caught the eye. Let’s see if this turns out to be another ‘ Hand of God’ for Argentine football on the big stage.


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