Diego Maradona may mess up Lionel Messi and co, too

England sport a manager who disdains 'chips and ketchup' while Argentina are already finding it tough to keep the lid on a new boss who had to have his stomach stapled to stop him eating himself to death.

We went for order, they spun the wheel of chaos. Until recently it seemed more probable that Diego Armando Maradona would be found in a ditch than a dugout in Glasgow as the Argentines prepare for a friendly against Scotland, where his 'Hand of God' goal is every Caledonian's favourite sporting felony.

Diego Maradona

Bumpy ride ahead: Diego Maradona at Madrid airport earlier this month

For the sake of accuracy it was really the hand of a rascal, as Sir Bobby Robson, the then England manager, rightly calls it, and of a three-time convicted drug cheat. But genius buys a lot of leeway, especially at the Church of Maradona, with its 20,000 followers and 10 commandments, which this column would dearly like to run past the Scotland assistant manager Terry Butcher, one of the victims of El Diego's theft in Mexico at the 1986 Word Cup.

'Love football above all else' is No 2. The God-head must have received a special exemption as Peter Shilton sped out to fist the ball. But let's ourselves race from the goalmouth to ask whether El Loco is about to consign another good team to oblivion 22 years after he bamboozled England with a combination of venality and virtuosity.

My Maradona 'tracker' has emitted some lively bleeps this week. First, the word was that he might stomp out in protest at the Argentine FA's reluctance to support his choice of 'rugged' Oscar Ruggeri as his No 2.

This followed Maradona's own U-turn in abandoning his original choice of assistants: 1986 team-mates Jose Luis Brown and Sergio Batista, who has an Olympic gold from Beijing on his coaching CV but was overlooked in favour of a national icon who recorded three wins in 23 games as a club manager.

Organisers of office sweepstakes on whether Maradona would survive from November 4 (the day of his appointment) to November 19 (the date of the Hampden Park assignment) must have been getting ready to pay-out on 15 days as the federation's president Julio Grondona said of Ruggeri, 'I don't like his face, it's nothing personal' and technical secretary Carlos Bilardo chimed in: 'When I coached the national team I had to change my staff after four or five months. But Diego wants them all at once.'

Lionel Messi

Future icon: Barcelona star Lionel Messi

Chased down in Mar Del Plata on Thursday, Maradona told reporters: 'There's never been a resignation. There's never been anything. I'm with the Argentine team for the players and not for anything else.'

English football can mix it with the best in a parlour game of hysteria, but you can't help feeling that making Maradona the Argentina manager was akin to appointing Pete Doherty as governor of the Bank of England.

We thought our game ran on emotion, but here we see a whole culture extending its faith in improvisation on the field to what a local columnist, Horacio Pagani, called, according to the New York
Times, the hiring of 'the least prepared manager in the history of international soccer.'

The drug addiction, alcoholism and eating disorder that have been neatly tucked away in Maradona's 'past', as if the impulses that created them are not incompatible with the stresses of international management (especially in Argentina), are not the kind of smudges you would find on Capello's resumé.

As the great sage of Argentine football, Jorge Valdano, once told the BBC: 'I believe this game, when you live it with such intensity, can make you deranged.'

He wasn't referring to Maradona, but he might soon be, as the little deity sets about curing Argentina's record of under-achievement. Their latest World Cup record: 1994 - second round; 1998 - quarter-final; 2002 - group stage; 2006 - quarter-final.

You can have all the fun you like tracing the erratic rocket flight of the 'genetic miracle', as Valdano calls him, but just as ominous as the realisation that he was hospitalised for alcohol-related hepatitis as recently as March 2007 is the knowledge that he holds in his twitching hands the international careers of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez and several other of the world's best players, who deserve the best possible chance to adorn their records with a World Cup winner's medal.

This is where the romance falls down. Osvaldo Ardiles posits that Maradona will be an 'inspiration to the young players of the national squad'.

He certainly thrilled the hard-bitten squads of Liverpool and Manchester United on recent training-ground visits.

Rio Ferdinand, the most excited of the lot, knows enough of excellence to see that the spectrum runs from good to great to superhuman, where only five-to-10 footballers reside.

But what a terrible epitaph it would be for Messi and Aguero if nostalgia for Maradona's great talent ended up ruining their own.


Oh yes we can (and oh no we can't), Harris

Keith Harris

Keith Harris

Keith Harris - not the one with his arm up Orville - is a merchant banker who finds foreign buyers for Premier League clubs.

In an interview this week he defended the sale of national assets to speculators thus: 'We cannot regulate against this in a free world and have to accept these changes.'

Oh yes we can, and oh no we don't.


Lord, don't ruin a good knight

Sir Trevor Brooking

Sir Trevor Brooking: warnings

Who are you going to back: Sir Trevor Brooking for denouncing medieval coaching or Lord Brian Mawhinney when he warns the Football League are 'running out of patience' with one of the few administrators willing to confront the truth?

Not hard to choose, is it?

Sir Trevor says: 'I want to have an effect with the 5-11 and 11-16 age groups. That's where the gulf is with the rest of the world.'

Lord Mawhinney says: 'The way he's behaving and the scattergun approach of his criticism is seriously starting to undermine our confidence in him.'

Sir Trevor says: 'There's more money in the game than ever before but I don't see us in 10 years' time being able to capitalise on it.'

Lord Mawhinney says . . . actually, that's enough of what he says. Sir Trevor is at the sharp end of poor coaching standards while Lord Mawhinney is a refugee from Westminster who sits in an office.

Sir Trevor may not be long for the role of Football Association director of football development, because the game is too busy shaking the money tree to notice how bad things are on the ground.

The charlatans who don't want to admit that English football needs a national curriculum for coaches and technical tuition will doubtless see him escorted from the building.

The old phrase 'prophet without honour in his own land' jumps to mind.


2007 win over Aussies was no joke

Who are England kidding when they say the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in Marseille is 'irrelevant' as Martin Johnson faces his first big test as England coach?


Big test: England will be hoping to repeat their 2007 triumph over Australia

This is one of the more fatuous party lines. You don't stick 12-10 wins against Australia when nobody gave you a prayer in the memory bin. You draw on the recollection of a stunning imposition of physical clout and obduracy.

This, remember, was probably the greatest weekend in rugby World Cup history.

France beat the All Blacks in Cardiff and England made matchsticks of the Wallaby scrummage as Jonny Wilkinson kicked all 12 points to revive thoughts of the 2003 Final in Sydney.

I'd say that's worth a mention before kick-off.


What did Barrett expect from 'The Hayemaker'?

David Haye's opponent in London (On Saturday) complains that he was given £30 a day for meals and is stuck in a 'box hotel' of the sort 'where men take their mistresses'. Women with low expectations, one assumes.

Monte 'Two Gunz' Barrett
Monte 'Two Gunz' Barrett

Head-to-head: Monte 'Two Gunz' Barrett and David 'The Hayemaker'

'The Hayemaker' has opened a new front in the psychological war.

Starve your opponent in a grim billet where amorous activity along the corridor will mess with his sleep. Maybe Monte Barrett's error was to expect five-star hospitality from someone who plans to knock him out.


The write idea

Donating an essay to a book to help the Great Ormond Street Hospital children's charity is no qualification for sainthood.

But more than 60 members of the Football Writers' Association have joined forces for Forgive us Our Press Passes (Know The Score Books, £19.99), an anthology of modern football writing that takes its title from an autobiography the late Frank McGhee never got round to writing.

We in the association nabbed it for a good cause and the result is a compendium that sheds plenty of entertaining light on the game and those who are lucky enough to cover it.

Credit is due to the editor, Christopher Davies, for coming up with the idea.

Now we need another one to make it a tradition.

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