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Maradona answers his critics
Glasgow, Nov 19 (Agencies):
Published on 20 Nov. 2008 12:35 AM IST
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Controversial football icon Diego Maradona will coach his first game in charge of Argentina in a friendly on Wednesday night against Scotland - where the focus of attention has been shifted from the present to his much-deliberated past. Maradona was showered with camera flashes as he arrived to conduct his first training session with Argentina in Glasgow. A fixture that would usually only draw domestic media coverage is now attracting attention from around the world. There has been such fervour for access to the new Argentina coach that police were brought in to guard the pitch, a move unprecedented in recent memory that demonstrates the allure of Maradona. The World Cup winner is idolised in his homeland and believes his following within the game can compensate for his lack of managerial experience. Before being appointed national coach, Maradona had only coached for a total of 23 matches at two provincial clubs in Argentina. "I'm sleeping very well because I'm confident in the ability of my players and I'm happy with my squad," he told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. "As a coach I'm fortunate to have players of the highest calibre to call upon. "I remind you that Johan Cruyff, who was a great player at Barcelona, went on to be a great manager." The 1986 World Cup cemented Maradona's legend. He scored what was later voted the Fifa goal of the century to help Argentina win the trophy. But he drew equal attention for his illegal - but overlooked - handball goal in the same quarter-final knockout, which dumped a furious England out of the competition. Maradona later claimed the goal, the first of a 2-1 victory, was scored by the Hand of God. Terry Butcher is Scotland's assistant coach but the former England international played in that now-famous match, in which Maradona also dribbled past the entire English defence to score his indisputable and spectacular winner. The ex-defender admits he still can't forgive Maradona 22 years on - and will not shake his hand at the friendly. Maradona was informed of the proposed snub during a press conference on Tuesday and said he couldn't understand such behaviour. Pressed by Al Jazeera on how he would respond if he'd been knocked out of a World Cup quarter-final by a handball, the Argentine said: "England won a World Cup with a goal and it was plain to see with everyone it never crossed the line. "And so I don't think it is fair that anyone judge me when stuff like that went on." Maradona was alluding to England's World Cup win in 1966, when the linesman allowed Geoff Hurst's second strike despite it being unclear whether the ball had crossed the line after bouncing down from the crossbar. On Tuesday the press room erupted into fits of laughter as Maradona held his arms 40cm wide to describe how far he thought the ball had been from the line. Maradona proved he can still entertain off the pitch, but now he must lead Argentina to entertain on it. Hampden Park will hold fond memories, as he scored his first international goal here. A good omen, but there was little indication of his coaching style in training. The most notable event came when Maradona prematurely halted the training session to hunt for an item of lost jewellery. Scottish youth player Adam Brown found the St Christopher's medallion and was the toast of the evening. Maradona hoisted him into the air and then handed the boy his gloves and hat. Concerns have been voiced that Maradona, arguably the most talented player in history, will be unable to relate to players struggling to realise their potential. English Premier League coach Harry Redknapp has been lauded for turning around Tottenham's confidence-sapped players this season, and believes empathy is a crucial asset to management. "There are lots of great players, who've played well but really don't know what they do and why they are good at what they are doing," Redknapp told Al Jazeera. "Apart from what they can do they don't understand too much about the game. "But maybe, hopefully, in his case he does and to have him in there dressing room I'm sure they'll respond to him." Maradona's career has been dominated by dramatically-contrasting turns of fortune and this, what could be the final chapter in his football career, is likely to be judged as starkly. If Maradona can replicate his previous wizardry within the Argentina side he'll be considered one of the greatest exponents of the game. But despite the backup of 1986 World Cup coach Carlos Bilardo, he's gambling on his stature overcoming a clear lack of experience.

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