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Maradona named as Argentina coach

Carlos Bilardo, Diego Maradona and Julio Grondona
Maradona jokes with his new boss, AFA president Julio Grondona (right)

Diego Maradona has been confirmed as the new head coach of Argentina.

The Argentinian Football Association executive committee met in Buenos Aires to finalise the 48-year-old former World Cup winner's appointment.

Carlos Bilardo, who was coach when Maradona lifted the World Cup in 1986, will assist him as general manager.

Maradona replaces Alfio Basile, who stepped down on 16 October, and immediately pinpointed Liverpool's Javier Mascherano to be his captain.

"I want Mascherano to be my captain because I believe he is the Argentinian player who is closest to the idea I have about the Argentinian shirt - sweat for it, sacrifice for it, being a professional, being close to the team-mate," hesaid.

"I will convince him. He will be my captain."

The new coach's first squad also includes Newcastle pair Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez, but Internazionale midfielder Esteban Cambiasso and Getafe goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri are not included.

Playmaker Lionel Messi has not been selected as part of an agreement with Barcelona, after they released him to play in the Olympics.

Maradona, whose official title is technical director, had been expected to visit Britain ahead of Argentina's match against Scotland at Hampden Park on 19 November.

It was thought he would attend Liverpool's Champions League match with Atletico Madrid to meet Mascherano, followed by Manchester United's Carlos Tevez at the weekend, but that trip has been abandoned.

"We are going to play the game against Scotland with the best team we've got," said Maradona, who will stay in Argentina and formulate plans for his first match in charge.

"Being the coach of the national team coach and being alongside Carlos is an honour for me. I will do my best to succeed. We will work every day to make Argentina have a better national team day by day.

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"It comes in the best moment of my life. My daughters are very well, I can wake up every morning and see sunshine. I am coming into a very beautiful dream.

"My spirit is calm. I cannot ask for more. This is the best moment in my life."

Maradona, who has had two brief spells as a club coach in Argentina, scored his first goal for Argentina in their 3-1 friendly win over Scotland at Hampden in 1979

One of the infamous episodes in his playing career saw Maradona score with an outrageous handball against England in a World Cup quarter-final in 1986.

He later described it as the "hand of God" and believes this will endear him in Scotland.

He added: "I'm going to a country where they adore me because of the goal against the English.

"The English and the Scots get on horribly - serious bad blood.

"But now we are going to play a game against Scotland, where they are going to treat us well."

Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi will not play against Scotland next month as he was allowed to go to the Olympics by the Spanish club.

But Messi has welcomed Maradona's expected appointment, despite being recently criticised by the Argentine legend for his attitude on the pitch.

"Those are things that you say at the time. I know Diego appreciates me and I don't hold any grudges," Messi told Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.

"There's no problem. He's a great and I admire him for what he gave to Argentine football."

Maradona spent seven seasons at Italian Serie A side Napoli and the club's former president, Corrado Ferlaino, insisted the Argentine was effectively the coach on the pitch.

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"There was a time when (Ottavio) Bianchi was the coach but from his second season the players didn't talk to Bianchi, Maradona was the true coach," said Ferlaino.

Widely regarded as one of the best players in the history of the sport, Maradona is an iconic figure in Argentina.

In his remarkable 21-year playing career he hit new heights of brilliance on the field, yet plumbed depths of despair away from it.

His most memorable achievements came with the national side - the 1986 World Cup tournament becoming synonymous with his name.

Maradona captained Argentina to a famous triumph, playing every minute of the tournament and scoring five goals.

And, while his first against England in the quarter-final was with his hand, his second in the 2-1 win is said by many to be the best goal ever scored; Maradona danced past five England players before poking the ball past keeper Peter Shilton.

DIEGO MARADONA FACTFILE
Diego Maradona
Born: 30 October 1960, Buenos Aires
Clubs: Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, Newell's Old Boys
International debut: 27 February 1977 (aged 16)
International career: 91 caps, 34 goals
Major honours: 1981 Argentina title; 1983 Cope del Rey; 1986 World Cup; 1987 Serie A title; 1987 Copa Italia; 1989 Uefa Cup; 1990 Serie A title

But Maradona's life away from football has been anything but straightforward, with a long-running addiction to cocaine undermining his genius.

The second failed drugs test of his career saw him sent home from the 1994 World Cup in disgrace, and since retiring at the age of 37, he has suffered numerous health problems.

Battles with his drug addiction, alcoholism and obesity saw him suffer a heart attack in 2004, which put him in intensive care, while a later stomach-stapling operation saw him lose 30kg (66 lbs) of excess weight.

Maradona is a virtual novice in coaching terms, with only short spells with Argentine clubs Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club in the 1990s on his CV.

Bilardo was involved in the talks with AFA president Julio Grondona Pedro Troglio, who coaches Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno, has also been linked with a role in the new regime, but no assistants have yet been announced.

Meanwhile, Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith says a friendly with Brazil could be in the pipeline depending on the success of the Argentina fixture.

"This Argentina game gives us a chance to test the water and see if there's an appetite for such fixtures," Smith said.

"If the fans respond positively by turning out in large numbers to see Argentina - then my next step is to pull out the stops to try and get Brazil to Hampden.

"Argentina is a famous name in football and now with Maradona coming as coach there is extra spice to the fixture. But Brazil is the number one country in world football because of what they have given the game."

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see also
The Maradona Diaries
04 Nov 08 |  Football
Argentina brave heat to take gold
23 Aug 08 |  Football
Maradona in Bolivia charity match
18 Mar 08 |  Americas
Maradona leaves alcoholism clinic
07 May 07 |  Americas
Maradona to hold Honduras talks
26 Oct 06 |  Internationals
Maradona coy about Argentina role
03 Jul 06 |  Argentina
When Lineker met Maradona
27 Apr 06 |  Football
Maradona's fall from grace
19 Apr 04 |  Football
Diego Maradona timeline
19 Apr 04 |  Football


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