When Diego Maradona announced his choice for captain of Argentina today I must admit I was more than a little skeptical.
Although Javier Mascherano is, in my opinion, the best defensive midfielder in the world, I do not think he is anymore capable of captaining Argentina than George Bush is at winning a freestyle rap battle, or being president of the United States, for that matter.
Maradona has long been a fervent admirer of Mascherano, at one time even referring to Argentina as a team of "Mascherano and 10 others," so it came as no big surprise when El Diego offered him the captain's armband.
I was, however, taken aback when Mascherano refused to take up the role at first, saying that, "I just don’t feel that I’m right for it. A leader is someone that everyone listens to and that doesn’t happen to me because I don’t talk so much in the dressing room."
What bothers me so much about Mascherano's refusal is that he knows himself better than anyone else could possibly ever know him, and if he knows deep inside himself that he is not cut out for the job then in all likelihood he is right. A reluctant leader is not a very good one, and someone unsure of himself is even worse.
Even if Mascherano had embraced the role with arms wide open, I still would strongly doubt that he has the right temperament for the captaincy.
He showed this last year against Manchester United in one of the biggest games of the year for his club, Liverpool. Mascherano was sent off after 44 minutes for arguing with the referee about an incident that didn't directly concern him at all, and added insult to injury by refusing to leave the field until his manager, Rafa Benitez, was able to calm him down.
Without Mascherano holding down midfield, Liverpool's defense imploded and lost 3-0.
Another fault I find with Maradona's choice has to do with the player from whom he stripped the captaincy. Javier Zanetti is a sterling example of all a captain should be: classy, consistent, and a born leader. Zanetti is a living legend at Serie A champions and the most capped player in Argentina's history.
The only case you can make against Zanetti is his age, but he is one of the most well-conditioned players in Europe and I'd bet on him making the squad for South Africa in 2010.
Mascherano is an integral part of the Argentine squad, possibly more important than Lionel Messi or Sergio Aguero. His bone-cracking tackles and reading of the game are vital for an Argentine side that is currently lacking in truly world class centre backs. He can make a huge contribution towards Argentina's campaign for World Cup 2010 but he should not be the one leading them out onto the pitch.
It is my belief that Diego Maradona is the best player there ever was, but he still has a lot to learn as a manager.
Choosing Mascherano for captain is a mistake. Learn from your mistakes, Diego, before it's too late.