It should have been a good week for Diego Maradona. His first competitive squad is due to be unveiled on Saturday for the upcoming World Cup qualifying double-header with Venezuela and Bolivia. After the warm-ups against Scotland and France, it's his chance to name a serious team at last.
But Juan Román Riquelme's international retirement on Tuesday probably rather spoiled it somewhat for El Diego.
Shortly beforehand, when asked in a press conference how he'd react if (hypothetically) his playmaker were to step down from the national team, Maradona had responded: ''It's not crossed my mind, but anyone who retires from the selección won't play again whilst I'm the boss.'' Cue Román, who told different cameras shortly afterwards that ''we don't have the same codes of practice, so we can't work together'' and that he was retiring from international football.
Maradona's appointment as Argentina coach, of course, was supposed to galvanise the team behind a common cause. Some of the world's most talented players playing under the one man they've all grown up referring to as ''God''. But Riquelme, a player who's been called football's last ''old-fashioned'' playmaker, wears the number 10 for Boca Juniors - as Maradona once did - and perhaps felt a little more overshadowed by his new boss than did his team-mates. There was also the small matter of those ''codes of practice'' he spoke of, which smack of an excuse more than anything.
Last week, Maradona gave an interview to Argentine cable broadcaster TyCSports, and aside from sharing his fear that his new grandson, Sergio Agüero's son Benjamín, will do as his mother wants and grow up to be a dancer rather than a footballer (''I'll burn down every dance academy in Argentina!''), he also explained that he wanted the number 10 shirt to go to a Riquelme who looked fit and capable.
''I need to see him going past a tackle or two, and then combining with the strikers,'' Maradona explained, saying he wanted Riquelme to be deadly ''in the last twenty yards'' rather than back down the pitch. It's worth pointing out at this juncture that since a glorious performance in leading Boca to the 2007 Copa Libertadores, Riquelme has looked distinctly off his best for the last year or so.
Maradona said the number 10 at the World Cup next year in South Africa will be given to a star capable of carrying the team if needs be, and pointed out that when he next saw Riquelme, he planned to talk to him man-to-man about his expectations for his playmaker.
It's worth remembering that last point, because one of Riquelme's gripes when he stepped down from international duty on Tuesday was that: '''I've heard more [from Maradona] on the TV and radio than I have by way of them [the boss or one of his team] calling me.''
Riquelme also claimed that he was ''dying to play for Argentina, and it will hurt to watch the World Cup on TV''. An odd thing to say when you're withdrawing of your own free will from the squad a few days before meeting up with a manager who wants to speak with you personally about your role.
But then Riquelme, for all his undoubted - perhaps unique - talent and style, for all the assists and goals he's furnished his country with, has previous in this field. In September 2006, following a plea from his mother, saddened at criticism of her son after Argentina's exit to hosts Germany at the last World Cup, he first announced he was retiring from the selección. He was talked back for the qualifiers, but it would seem that the team's struggle for form, leading to Alfio Basile's resignation and Maradona's subsequent appointment, has rubbed off on the playmaker.
It's a shame, though, that Riquelme - never shy of controversy in front of the microphone - used such barbed terms to announce the decision. Noting an undertone of venom towards the manager, there are some in Argentina who've pointed out that, whatever personal faults and self-destructive traits he had during his playing days, Maradona never walked out on his country as Riquelme now has done twice.
For his part, Maradona offered a chance of reconciliation late on Wednesday. In spite of his pronouncements on Tuesday, he says he'll talk to Riquelme if the player decides he wants to reverse his decision. He surely won't be holding his breath, though, and to that end he's identifying possible replacements for the playmaking role.
One idea would be to send out a (potentially terrifying) front three of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tevez, and tell them to have some fun and create for each other, with Fernando Gago perhaps given a slightly more advanced role than he's previously enjoyed in the midfield. For Argentina, though, an abrupt departure from a system utilising a dedicated playmaker would be a radical change, and it would seem even more so were it to come about under the auspices of Maradona, of all people.
Maradona's already named names regarding the identity of a new enganche (literally 'hook', in this context the link between midfield and attack). Andrés D'Alessandro, currently at Internacional in Brazil, is in contention, but Daniel 'Rolfi' Montenegro of Independiente heads the list. Fittingly, he scored twice against Riquelme's Boca on Sunday as Independiente won the clásico 2-0.
A call-up would be a nice birthday present - he turns 30 on March 28, the day Argentina play Venezuela in Buenos Aires - and constitute something of a delayed arrival for a player who's impressed in the domestic league after failing to break into Olympique Marseille's first team during six months in 1999. Rolfi's been in a couple of Argentina squads before, but this might be his chance to really show what he can do.
Although, as Maradona told the press, tongue in cheek, after revealing Montenegro was in his thoughts: ''I hope he doesn't withdraw.''