For the Church of Diego, he is god. Even to the rest of the world with drastically different religious bent of mind, he is perhaps more than a mortal. One whose abilities with a football will be talked about so long as the game exists. One who looked death in the eye and got it to blink first.
For him, thousands braved a December night in Kolkata and filled up the 120,000-seater Yuba Bharati Krirangan, the stadium heaving in excitement as he stood on top of a car and waved to all corners. And because of him, bandits let go a group of Argentine tourists in Egypt. When, like on Saturday, he said, “I fear no one,” you believed him.
But there are moments when even Diego Maradona is overwhelmed. Debuting as Argentina coach on Saturday evening was one such. “I went through a lot of emotions today. I met my grandchildren, my daughter and kissed her. I went to the 2006 finals as a fan and to be at the World Cup as coach, it is truly an incredible feeling. I want to thank everyone who supported me and thank them for remembering that I too once scored a few goals for Argentina,” Maradona said after the 1-0 win against Nigeria.
Gone was the corporate-type suit and matching tie in which he made his first public appearance in a World Cup match. Maradona met reporters in the more-familiar training overalls and, for the second time in as many days, showed the kind of composure not associated with a man who once fired an air gun at the paparazzi.
In fact, he seemed to be enjoying it. Asked whether he sees himself like Franz Beckenbauer (winning the World Cup as captain and coach), Maradona rolled his eyes and smiled once the translation sunk in.
“I don't think I look like Beckenbauer. I don't think I ever will. We are two different people. Let's just remember that we won an important match today. We need to improve a lot to win the next six. That's what I told the boys after the game.”
And though he put down the missed opportunities to a “lack of concentration in front of goal”, Maradona stoutly backed himself and his team. “Nobody misses goals on purpose. We have practiced over the past few days, all our targetmen have practiced, but it didn't happen today. That's football. We played interesting passes but I think we couldn't show on the scoreboard what we did on the pitch.”
To questions whether he was right in using a 4-3-3 formation and whether Jonas Gutierrez, who didn't look too sure as right back, would have been more effective in central midfield instead of Juan Veron, Maradona said: “We used the formation because it was appropriate. And no, Veron had no problem adapting."
For a debutant, one whose reputation as coach is totally at odds with that as player, the point was made. Firmly, but politely.