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Maradona, Mascherano and philosophy

Diego Maradona
"Nature endowed Maradona with extraordinary abilities," says Valdano

Sometimes nicknamed the Philosopher of Football, Argentine legend Jorge Valdano is probably best known for scoring the South American nation's second goal in their 3-2 win over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final in Mexico.

Here Valdano gives BBC Sport his views on Diego Maradona, who is taking over as Argentina coach, and his two compatriots Manchester United striker Carlos Tevez and Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano.

He also discusses his future and that of football before answering questions posed by website users on the 606 forum.

Valdano's career started in 1971 with Newell's Old Boys before he moved to Spanish side Deportivo Alaves four years later.

In 1979 the striker joined Real Zaragoza, where he scored 46 goals in 143 matches, and that form earned him a transfer to Real Madrid, the club he eventually ended his playing career with in 1987.

After a spell coaching the Spanish giants' youth team, he took over at Tenerife before going on to guide Real Madrid to the Spanish title in 1994/95.

He spent one year at Valencia before returning once again to the Bernabeu where he became sporting director until his resignation in 2005.

The 53-year-old is the author of five books, including Suenos de futbol (Football Dreams).

You have said of Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup: "I am certain I can describe it much better than he could. But I could never have scored it." How would you describe it? What is your abiding memory of Maradona, both as a player and a person?

Jorge Valdano and Diego Maradona
Valdano congratulates Maradona during World Cup semi-final in 1986

With that sentence I only wanted to establish the difference between narrative intelligence and footballing intelligence. The first has more prestige but the second has more complexity.

I wrote various articles about that goal and I stand by what I said then. Great football, to me, is the art to improvise, to find solutions, and that goal was the perfect demonstration.

As for Maradona, he was a genetic miracle, a man whom nature endowed with extraordinary abilities and who, moreover, grew up in the right place to achieve his potential.

On the field he demonstrated an ability to be a generous man, both committed and brave.

The people who said terrible things about Maradona are the same people who forget that it is necessary to judge geniuses by their deeds and not by their life.

Do you see yourself remaining as a commentator on football or would you like to return as a coach or a sporting director? How does writing about football compare with playing football?

Jorge Valdano
Valdano celebrates after scoring in the 1986 World Cup final

I like to come in and out of football, so I never rule out a comeback. I believe this game, when you live it with so much intensity, can make you deranged.

It is vital to take time out now and then to recover perspective. From that point of view, writing helps you reflect. The differences? When you write you can make changes until you are happy with the result; football, like music, does not allow corrections.

My best memory, and at the same time the greatest achievement, is winning the World Cup in 1986. That is the only thing which gives an idea of reaching the summit.

I am a good reader but find it very difficult to choose between Argentine writers Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar and the Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What has given you the most pleasure in your career - playing, coaching or writing?

My love for football began as a player. That is my vocation. The trouble is that every player has his sell-by date. Everything else is compensation for the nostalgia that the player feels.

Do you remain pessimistic or optimistic about the future of football?

I am a realist. Football is a metaphor for the time and place you are playing in. He who does not agree with the evolution of football does not believe in the evolution of the world.

What is your assessment of 20-year-old Argentina and Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero as a player?

Sergio Aguero
Sergio Aguero made his professional debut at the age of 15

Sergio Aguero is a fascinating player with a wide repertoire - technical, creative, powerful, daring and destabilising. His well-above-average strength is a particular talent.

His weakness is that he forms part of a collective who do not exalt him. Anything that Cristiano Ronaldo achieves at Manchester United, or Lionel Messi does for Barcelona, has more market value that anything Aguero does for Atletico. That's life… and business.

In any case, Aguero is still a boy and perhaps it would be good for him to mature at a club who hold him in the highest regard.

Why does Argentina have such a good record in producing such skilful players - from former players like Maradona and Fernando Redondo to now Aguero and Lionel Messi?

Argentina has a clearly exaggerated relationship with football. The Spanish philosopher Jose Antonio Marina says that in order to teach a man you need the whole tribe. It is the same with educating a footballer. Anyone who shows a certain amount of natural talent in Argentina is immediately feted by a knowledgeable but demanding public.

What is your current view of the English game? Do you think Argentine duo Tevez and Mascherano have improved as players since they came to England?

The Anfield fans are the best player on the side and they drive the team's intense, unstoppable style. I believe Liverpool are very competitive but it is all done so rapidly that I get tired just watching it. My interest, above all, is when Xabi Alonso is at the controls.


Tevez is very intelligent and gives the English fans what they ask for. He is a player of great skill, who has gained in aggression, although at times he runs too much for my liking. I do not like it when a defender seems to be playing in attack.

Mascherano is, possibly, the best central midfielder in the world. With him on the pitch a coach can sleep easily.

Why have England not won a major tournament since 1966 and can England win the World Cup in 2010?

England pose some very pragmatic questions for foreign coaches but they still fail to get the results. It is a great contradiction where teams often fall down in that they look for results before they have the game.

For me, they are not among the favourites for 2010. A lot of things have to change.

Is it justifiable the way Real Madrid have pursued transfer targets in recent years? Is it as much a marketing strategy as a way of improving the team on the pitch? Has it damaged the club's image?

Real Madrid needs great players to keep leading world football with the same authority it did in the 20th century. The trouble is that each day there are more teams with the same ambition and fewer remarkable players around like Cristiano Ronaldo.

As for the image of clubs in modern football, they live and die only by what they achieve on the pitch. Market forces play as relentless a role in football as they do in the world of commerce and that is no longer a scandal for people.

Argentine legend Jorge Valdano answers your questions posted on 606.

Diego Maradona scores against England in the 1986 World Cup
"A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God," Maradona has said of his controversial goal against England in 1986

Could you see it was handball in the England v Argentina match in 1986? the 'hand of God' I mean?
From TheWestley on 606

During the game, I didn't see it but I imagined it. I was 10 metres away and knew that Diego could not reach the ball with his head but I saw neither the hand of God nor the hand of Diego.

You once famously said "Football is beginning to be a lie well documented by the media". Explain this quote?
From ryanthemadgeordie- WISE OUT!!!! on 606

There is a football that happens on its own terms and there is a football that is documented. The perversion is that, at times, the football that is documented is more important than 'real' football. This speaks volumes about the power of the media who, on many occasions, instead of defending the truth defend economic interests.

Lionel Messi
Messi is Valdano's favourite player
Who is your favourite player now and can you give us the name of one to watch for the future?
From Warncken on 606

My favourite player is Lionel Messi for his physical and mental pace and technique. Remaining within Spain and Barcelona, I am a great admirer of Xavi and Iniesta.

How has the world of football changed since you were a player? Would you prefer to be playing now - what with the vast amounts of money being thrown about? Or are you a firm believer in playing for the sheer passion and enjoyment, rather than the financial rewards?
From Fiiiiive Cantona's! on 606

I was a professional and aspired to be as successful as any other human. I live in the world and not outside it. Football has changed much more off the pitch than on it.

The main difference in the game is that, with each passing day, the coach has more power over the details. That power he is taking away from the player, who each day has less freedom to think about the game.

Fernando Redondo
Redondo won two Champions League finals with Real Madrid
You pulled off a master stroke when Fernando Redondo followed you from Tenerife to Real Madrid. Was he your best player signing and where does he rank in the best defensive midfielders of all time?
From marazico1 on 606

Fernando Redondo was a player with personality, conviction, fine technical skill and a predominantly short game. He was a multi-dimensional central midfielder who saved me many words as a coach. His game gave rise to a trend in touch football and he also raised the aesthetics of the game but he was not so much a stylist as a winner.

Do you regret the fact that you never had the opportunity to play in England? And if you could manage any Premier League team right now, which would you choose?
From united4ayo on 606

I deeply regret not having played in England. I have always admired Liverpool.

Jorge Valdano
Valdano played for Real Madrid as well as coaching the club
How does it make you feel when commentators refer to your World Cup win in 1986 being down solely to Diego Maradona, ie when it is said '86 was the only Cup to be won by one man? Is there a jealousy amongst the former players or do you think it is justified?
From incred_d on 606

Among the favourite vices of sports journalism is the need to individualise success and failure. It is inevitable that has applied to Maradona. You cannot compete with genius. You must embrace it and enjoy it.

Maradona was the great reference point of that team and it is true that the memory enhances his image at that time while reducing that of the collective unit but it was a great team of mature players who could live, on and off the pitch, with the genius of Diego.

Once while being the CD Tenerife manager, you said you were only interested in having in your team good footballing players even if they were not level-headed or a good person. Now a good number of years have elapsed, are you still of the same opinion?
From Spanishjag on 606

Intelligent always. Whether you need to have good people is arguable. Football is a primitive game and I always liked my players with raw, unbridled talent, something rebellious, capable of defying the norm but to be around good people is always more pleasant than to be with bad people.

Juan Roman Riquelme
Juan Roman Riquelme has been a key player for Argentina
What do you think is the problem behind Argentina's unsuccessful run in the top competitions like the World Cup or Copa America? Why are they choking in the finals, despite having all the qualities to be the Champions? Is it a psychological problem?
From realMir on 606

No. Argentine footballers are always psychologically very competitive. To win a World Cup you must adapt to a number of variables and it is not always possible. There is no single explanation.

What do you think about the current salary top level footballers recieve now compared to the 70s and 80s?
From ToonBurger on 606

Players' earnings are related to what they produce and they now produce more than they did in past decades. Capitalist justice.

I've read some of your writing about football and it seems to capture the artistic side of the game brilliantly. I was wondering if you were able to appreciate the aesthetic side of the game while you were playing and managing (such as Maradona's second goal against England) or if you had to be removed from it to write about it?
From leenash_1981 on 606

I do not concentrate my vision on the aesthetic aspect. It's simply that I never discount it and it seems to me an important part of the game. The 'hand of God' does not commit an outrage against aesthetics but against sporting morals. From that point of view you cannot defend it.

You clearly have a low opinion of how football is played in the UK, even with foreign players. What is the solution to this death of football?
From jarijari on 606

I like Arsenal's style of play and sometimes Manchester United's. There seem to be extraordinary players in England who I watch with great admiration. I have also spoken well of English football but it seems that more attention is paid to the controversial opinions rather than the favourable comments.

What's to change? Every day players are more controlled and control kills life but, rest assured, the problem is not confined to England.

Vincente del Bosque
Vicente del Bosque is coach of the Spanish national team
Real Madrid have not won the Champions League since the release of Vicente Del Bosque, who in my opinion was perhaps the most or one of the most sucessful coaches at RM. Since his release RM have underperformed at CL level, not withstanding the fact that they have spent millions on recruiting players. Do you think in restrospect this was a poor decision?
From pinkyhasthebrain on 606

I think Vicente del Bosque is a great coach but if Real Madrid have not won the Champions League since it is more because of the make-up of the squad than a problem with the direction.

Do you think you would be a better player if you were coming through now, what with the changes to rules, balls, boots etc? From slightly_you_know on 606

Science brings progress but it has its limits on the world of sport as much as art. I would be the same player. Nothing more, nothing less.

Translation by Oliver Brett

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see also
Maradona named as Argentina coach
04 Nov 08 |  Internationals
The rise of Sergio Aguero
07 May 08 |  Europe
Sergio Aguero - Readers Q&A
07 May 08 |  Europe

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