2010 FIFA World Cup: Has Diego Maradona Lost the Plot?

Sports WriterCorrespondent IMay 13, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 18:  In this handout image provided by the 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa, Argentina head coach Diego Maradona attends a football clinic at the High Performance Centre on January 18. 2010 in Pretoria, South Africa.  (Photo by 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa via Getty Images)
Handout/Getty Images

Argentina coach Diego Maradona recently named one of the most extraordinary squads in World Cup history, including a significant number of untried domestic players at the expense of some established world class footballers.

When Maradona expressed his eccentricity on the football field it was quite frequently brilliant, most notably when he led his country to victory in the 1986 World Cup.

When Maradona's eccentricity has manifested itself away from the pitch the results have often been a little less pleasing. In the past his problems with over eating forced him to undergo a gastric bypass operation and he has also been hospitalized following a cocaine overdose.

The man who used to do damage to opposition defences seems to have done little damage to anyone except himself since retiring from the game. The reporters he once fired an air rifle at might disagree with this though, as might the Italian tax man to whom Maradona owes around 37 million Euros.

As Argentina manager, Maradona is responsible for a lot more than his own personal health and finances. He has the hopes of a great footballing nation resting on his shoulders and he has at his disposal the necessary calibre of players to make winning the World Cup a realistic proposition.

Unfortunately he seems intent on leaving half of them at home. As a player Maradona did things no other player could dream of. As a manager he seems intent on making decisions which no other manager would dream of making. Decisions such as the one to exclude Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti from his squad.

In modern football the best players inexorably end up at the best clubs.  Robinho is an obvious exception to the rule but it was question marks over his character and commitment rather than his quality which saw him return to his native Brazil earlier this year.

Cambiasso and Zanetti are both regular starters for Inter Milan, the best club side in world football. This in itself should be enough to guarantee their inclusion in any international squad at the World Cup. Furthermore Zanetti is highly versatile and can play in either of the full back positions or as a defensive midfielder. Cambiasso himself is one of the best holding midfielders in the world and has helped Inter develop into a defensive unit currently unrivalled in contemporary club football.

Their exclusions are extraordinary, particularly when you look at the players Maradona has selected. Some of the more bizarre inclusions include:

Jose Ernesto Sosa—a midfielder who belongs to Bayern Munich but is not deemed good enough for the first team and was loaned back to Argentinian club Estudiantes this season.

Juan Mercier—a 30-year-old midfielder with two caps who has never played football outside of Argentina.

Juan Sebastian Veron—a fine midfielder in his day but he is now 35 and his heyday was a good 10 years ago.

Ariel Garce—a 30-year-old journeyman defender without a single cap. He has been plying his trade all over South America without ever coming to the attention of the international selectors until now.

Juan Manuel Insaurralde—a 30-year-old defender who has never been deemed good enough to play outside of his native Argentina. His only cap to date came late last year under Maradona.

There are other notable absentees besides the Inter Milan pair. Striker Lisandro Lopez was good enough for Lyon to splash out 24 million Euros for his services last Summer. He was also good enough to be named the French Ligue 1 player of the year. He is not, apparently, good enough for the Diego Maradona's squad.

In Maradona's estimation he is not even as good as Boca Juniors forward Martin Palermo. The man who once missed three penalties in an international match and will be 37 later this year has been included in the provisional squad.

Playmakers Lucho Gonzales and Pablo Aimar were also somewhat surprisingly omitted with Maradona obviously feeling he can do without the creativity either of this pair of exceptional midfielders would have provided.

It appears as if Maradona is intent on travelling to South Africa bereft of many of his better players. Perhaps he is a genius and can see something in these players that the managers at all the major European clubs cannot. This will gain credence as a theory if Argentina do go on to win the World Cup. Given that the squad will be blessed with such prodigiously talented players as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Gonazalo Higuain this is a more than remote possibility.

If they fail he will be rightly ridiculed for his squad selection but as the old adage goes, and Maradona himself will be only too aware, " the distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success."