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Maradona denies rumors, says not resigning

sports Updated: Nov 14, 2008 09:56 IST

AP
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Diego Maradona will remain Argentina coach after denying speculation on Thursday that he planned to resign because of a dispute over his assistants with his boss.

"I'm still the coach. There's been no changes, no resignations, nothing," Maradona told journalists in Mar del Plata, where he was visiting the Argentina tennis team preparing for next week's Davis Cup final against Spain.

"Things are the same as they always were," Maradona added. Officially appointed coach only last week, Maradona, reportedly said he would quit before or after his first match in charge next Wednesday, a friendly at Scotland, as he was furious at Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona for now allowing him to freely appoint the remaining members of his coaching staff. Team manager Carlos Bilardo had assured reporters on Wednesday that the football great would remain coach, but he acknowledged there was tension between Maradona and Grondona over the coach's appointment of Oscar Ruggeri as his assistant.

"The president of the federation is in charge and the head of the coaching staff is Maradona," Bilardo said. "Maradona has to choose the coaching staff. These things are always discussed to try and reach an agreement."

Maradona made no mention of the disagreement on Thursday. Ruggeri was Maradona's teammate when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup but Grondona has publicly expressed his disagreement with Ruggeri as Maradona's assistant, saying he prefers Sergio Batista and Jose Luis Brown _ the coach and assistant of Argentina's Youth side.

Batista and Brown were initially named as the assistants by Grondona, but Maradona said when he was confirmed as coach on Nov. 4 that he would pick his own staff

Maradona said Ruggeri can teach the players the expertise he gained as a leading defender during three World Cups. Grondona has made no attempt to hide his disdain when asked about Ruggeri, saying late Wednesday that he didn't want him on the staff because "I don't like the looks of him."

Ruggeri has publicly criticized Grondona, also a FIFA vice president.

In October 2007, Ruggeri said Grondona should "leave the Argentine federation and just go home," and recently called him an "old man" unfit to run the powerful organization. AFA member Noray Nakis echoed Grondona's doubts on Wednesday. "After the statements by Ruggeri, coming to work with us here, I don't know," he told Buenos Aires-based Mitre radio. The headline across the sports section of the daily Clarin read "The House is in Disarray" over a picture of Maradona and Bilardo, with Grondona out of focus in the background.

But the dispute wasn't raising many eyebrows. According to an unofficial poll by Clarin, 90 percent of 9,100 online voters said they weren't surprised. Maradona has long lived more like a rock star than a former star athlete.

The daily La Nacion placed a photo of Ruggeri between a photo of a stern-looking Grondona gazing at a happy-go-lucky Maradona, above the headline "Ground Turbulence."

Ruggeri tried to rise above the controversy on Thursday. "I don't have words to thank Maradona. I'm dying to be there on the inside," Ruggeri told Buenos Aires-based radio station La Red. He said he wouldn't back down from the heated dispute, confident he would be able to convince Grondona he's the right man for the job. But Ruggeri said his pending appointment would be decided after Maradona returns from Scotland.

"Diego has to be able to work calmly, so things go well in Scotland and so the players begin to understand his message. There will be time to speak with him later," said Ruggeri, a former coach for San Lorenzo and Independiente, and Mexican club America. Alejandro Mancuso and Miguel Angel Lemme were confirmed on Thursday as Maradona's assistants for the friendly against Scotland. Argentina's next match will be in February against France, followed by a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela in March.