Maradona gets winning start in Scotland
The phalanx of photographers had adopted their position long before his appearance. Several turned their backs on a garlanded group of players whose collective value could be conservatively estimated at £100 million. The target of their attention was elsewhere.
When the television director panned to the dugout during the Argentina national anthem, a spontaneous ovation followed, a section of Scots rising to applaud him. And when a chunky figure made his way to the touchline, mobile phones were held aloft to capture his presence on camera.
Diego Maradona is accustomed to adulation, but Maradona the manager is a novel phenomenon. Maxi Rodriguez took the winner, but as encouraging as Argentina's performance in possession was, they were consigned to the periphery at Hampden Park. Instead, after an absence of more than a decade, the Maradona show was back. Stomach-stapling surgery and spending time with Fidel Castro doesn't consist of the normal sabbatical from football, but then Maradona and normality are strangers.
If Argentina hope he replicates his success on the pitch now he is in the dugout, there was at least a symmetry to his return to Hampden Park, the scene of his first international goal as a player and now his first international game as a manager. He made his comeback with a characteristic blend of cheek and confrontation. "Are you Scottish?" he asked one of his compatriots, when it was suggested it wasn't a resounding win. "I don't agree; I can't agree. It was a clear victory. For the first 25 minutes we were brilliant. I'm a very proud manager tonight. It was a great experience, the lads made me feel very relaxed tonight."
Indeed, Maradona was content to stay seated while his Scotland counterpart, George Burley, prowled the technical area nervously, though it would been out of character for him to adopt a low profile. He has always had the capacity to overshadow those around him. No man has come closer to winning a World Cup single-handed and, unfair as it is to Jorge Valdano, Jorge Burruchaga and their ilk, the class of 1986 is widely remembered as Maradona and 10 other blokes.
Now he has filled the void for an icon he created. Sides have been defined by his absence and defined by his supposed successors. Every wunderkind in Argentine football has been labelled "the new Maradona". Some sides have contained three or four of them, though El Diego's first selection entailed, through necessity, more artisans than artists. Deprived of Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme, the contingent of new Maradonas was unusually slim, yet when the original is present to monopolise the spotlight, they may have gone unnoticed anyway.
His was a particularly left-field appointment, both an irresistible and incomprehensible choice, yet there is a perverse logic to it. The criticism levelled at his predecessor, Alfio Basile, was that he could not relate to players 40 years his junior. But this is the generation that grew up worshipping Maradona and they performed for him.
"The lads wanted to work," he added. "We wanted to get out of this bad run. We reached a low point against Chile and it wasn't a case of blaming anyone else. I succeeded maybe in making the players get over their fear of defeat. I've been concentrating on lifting the morale and confidence of my squad."
Their patriotism, he said, is not in question. "I can assure the Argentinean people that these people would give their lives for the shirt." That was evident when he played. Whether his charges have Maradona's other traits remains to be seen. Sheer talent is rarely contagious, but Argentina put that theory to the test. It may have been an attempt to ape the manager, and it was certainly out of keeping with the rest of his career, but the newly appointed captain Javier Mascherano almost scored with a 25-yard volley.
Nevertheless, the Maradona era began in style. Eight minutes in, a goal followed that was the product of silkily smooth passing football. Carlos Tevez and Jonas Gutierrez combined to supply Rodriguez, who finished coolly. Thereafter, Tevez's brand of headstrong dribbling and eager shooting which, like Maradona's, is as effective on the backstreets of Buenos Aires as in the upper levels of the game, could have brought a couple of goals.
At the other end, there is evidence to support the suspicion Argentina are yet to properly replace Roberto Ayala. There may be a soft underbelly to this side with neither goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carizzo nor the centre-half partnership of Martin Demichelis and Gabriel Heinze looking particularly commanding. Indeed, one chance came when James McFadden caught Demichelis dithering in possession to strike a low shot.
Indeed the home side should have levelled when Carrizo failed to deal with Shaun Maloney's corner and Lee Miller contrived to head wide from three yards which, following Chris Iwelumo's miss against Norway, appears dangerous territory for Scottish strikers.
But Scotland's search for an equaliser proved rather less diverting for many of their supporters than a final chance to photograph Maradona before he disappeared down the tunnel. He ended the evening as he began it, and as he has spent the majority of his life: the centre of attention.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Maxi Rodriguez - Tevez and Mascherano impressed but Rodriguez just shaded it, the goal providing an illustration of the difficulties he posed. At times, his clash with the outclassed Kirk Broadfoot seemed the most one-sided duel on Scottish soil since Robert the Bruce met Henry Bohun at the battle of Bannockburn.
SCOTLAND VERDICT: Argentina's greater ability was obvious, but there were other worrying signs for the Scots. Some of their passing was abject and, while the number of absentees was a factor, it is hard to shake off the impression that Scotland have regressed under Burley.
ARGENTINA VERDICT: Presumably Maradona's team will have a very different look when some of the many flair players return, because it would be difficult to shoehorn them all into this 4-4-2 formation. As it was, the excellent Mascherano personified a workmanlike outfit. The search should be on, however, for a more dominant centre-back.
TERRY WHO? Attempts to stoke the arguments about the Hand of God fell flat. "Who is Butcher?" Maradona asked cheekily. For some, Scotland's assistant manager was last spotted in vain pursuit of a slaloming Maradona in 1986.