Jim White

Mad Maradona will be back

Jim White

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The story was as brief as it was predictable: "Former Argentina World Cup-winning captain Diego Maradona has been sacked as coach of United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl," it read.

And really that was all you needed to know. The man with a legitimate claim to be regarded as the greatest player ever to kick a football has seen his career as a coach once again stall at the lights.

"The 51-year-old, who agreed a two-year contract with Al Wasl in May 2011, was dismissed following a meeting of the club's board on Tuesday," continued the news copy.

At least you could say this: 14 months, by Maradona's standard that is positively Ferguson-esque in its longevity. Though he can hardly claim unfair dismissal. Things didn't exactly go to plan in the Emirates for the diminutive hand-baller.

Rather than delivering the gongs he had promised the club chairman who employed him at inordinate cost, he presided over Al Wasl sinking down the local league, being eliminated from domestic cup competitions and souring the regional equivalent of the Champions League with ill-discipline and poor sportsmanship.

So underwhelming was the Maradona magic that the entire board which sanctioned his employment were obliged to resign when he failed to deliver. It makes you wonder: if he can't hack it in the desert backwater, what chance has he got of proper employment in football's mainstream?

Sadly, the prospect of him coming to Britain to manage a top club — an idea which flowered briefly after his stint as Argentina national coach ended after the 2010 World Cup — has further diminished.

So what are we to make of the news that the great man is to be spending a bit more time with his paranoia over the coming months? Coupled with the growing ascendancy of career coaches like Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas does it provide yet further evidence of the theory once proposed by George Best that great players simply never make great managers?

Never mind that it was largely spun to provide cover for Best's own inertia in retirement, you can see the logic in the argument. The Ulsterman's contention was that the really great simply do not have the requisite tools of patience, tolerance and consideration to bring out the best in their charges.

One of the most important qualities in a good manager is his ability to subsume his own ego into the collective, to allow others to accrue the glory out on the pitch. Pele, Puskas, Greaves, Moore: Best's list of those who had failed was damning. And now here's Maradona to add further evidence to his contention.

The trouble with any generalisation is the exceptions that undermine the rule. Johan Cruyff didn't do badly in Barcelona's dugout; no one could accuse Roberto Mancini of being without merit as a player; while admittedly not in his class, Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc won as many World Cup winners' medals as the great Argentine and managed to hold down respectable coaching jobs.

And this is point: there are many reasons Maradona hasn't made it as a coach, but being a great player is not one of them. For instance, being madder than a bucket of frogs might be a more substantial barrier to managerial success than having more talent in his big toe than he had in the entire squad at Al Wasl. It was a total disregard for the laws of sanity rather than succumbing to snootiness that undermined his tenure.

Things like not getting up in the morning, not implementing any kind of coherent playing strategy and threatening journalists didn't help. And maybe looking back, he might reckon it was not such a good idea to indulge his favourite player, the goalkeeper Majid Naser.

Maradona selected him for Gulf Champions League matches despite the keeper being in the middle of a 17-match domestic ban for slapping Al Ahli coach Quique Sanchez Flores after a match between the two sides. The boss said he loved the boy's passion.

Majid's inclusion in the side that faced Al Muharraq, however, proved not to be quite the masterstroke Maradona envisaged as he was sent off for head-butting an opponent and Al Wasl went on to lose the tie despite holding a 3-1 lead after the first leg in Bahrain. Being able to distinguish between passion and propensity for thuggery is another of those small characteristics that successful coaches share.

Have we seen the last of the man then, who, during his spell as chief coach of his country, revealed that his principal motivational trick was to kiss his players full on the lips?

You have to hope not. His unhinged displays of excitement on the touchline during the 2010 World Cup were a theatrical highlight of the competition - few will forget a goal celebration which made it appear as if he were in the midst of a prolonged bout of electrocution. Such enthusiasm would be missed were he to hang up his tracksuit and retire completely from coaching.

The good news for him and us is that, when it comes to displays of consistent sanity, football club chairman are not exactly renowned. We can say with some certainty that somewhere out there is an owner mad enough to take him on.

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