Thursday, June 17, 2010
The Power of Diego
Andrew Warshaw, South Africa
The power of Diego. There may be empty seats around most World Cup venues but if you want to know the one oversubscribed must-see daily event, look no further than one of Diego Maradona's press conferences.
The pushing, shoving, shouting and jostling that took place when Maradona held court for the final time before Argentina's second game of the tournament was a rare insight into the kind of interest generated by the bearded wonder.
Reporters and stewards almost came to blows as all 200 seats for Diego were taken up an hour beforehand. Even though it was supposed to be open to all accredited journalists, scores of scribes were turned away at the door, with Argentinians in particular crying foul at being excluded. And this, not at some small makeshift arena, but at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld stadium.
Inside Maradona was, as usual, controversy personified, a journalist's dream. Take this gem, for instance, about South Korea's plans to try to stop Lionel Messi from playing: "If people don't agree with playing football they should go home."
And this retort to Pele after the Brazilian legend suggested Maradona only took the national job because he was out of pocket: "He should go back to the museum and stay there."
And what about this latest attack on Uefa president Michel Platini: "He's French and we all know how French people are. If they say 'hi' and 'goodbye' that's something."
Although everyone loves Messi, to suggest, as Maradona did, that no other player can even come close to his heir apparent - and he reeled out a series of names - was some public statement to make as well.
Maradona, you see, simply doesn't do clichés and platitudes. The Koreans, he says, will have to be watched carefully. "They are quick as lightning and strong at set pieces. When we played against Nigeria it was like hitting a wall. This time we are the ones who will do the same to the Koreans."
Naturally, much of the talk was about the mercurial Messi who, at last, put on a performance at national level against the Nigerians to match his regular displays for Barcelona. "He needed a game like this to show his leadership and charisma. He has not been able to do it very often with us. Once Messi got going on Saturday, the match died."
Just to make sure he cannot be accused of favouritism, Maradona didn't only single out Messi for praise. Carlos Tevez, he said, was essential to the team. "It's a privilege to have a player like this. He can play in any position, even fullback, goalie."
Since their opening against Nigeria, says Maradona, all nerves have been shed for the next hurdle. "The players are in the zone. Everyone has a lot of confidence and we'll win this next game."
But which team will he put out against the Koreans? "Don't rule anything out," was Maradona's typical reply. "In training the reserve players have have been at the same level as the first eleven. Anything is possible."