It hurts me just to write the title, but it’s true.
Diego Maradona’s legacy in Argentina football goes beyond what any player has done and probably any player will ever do to his nation. Maradona’s incomparable genius, natural born leadership, charisma, and of course skill has gifted Argentina a world cup and a second place even when he was an injured broken man, but arguably equally important he gave Argentina the world wide access and gave Argentinean players the boarding pass to star status so that European team send scouts to search for the next talent in Argentina even before doing so in their home soil.
But that all was Diego the player, enter Diego the coach:
With the World cup nearing end, it’s safe to summarize the status as follows: Diego Maradona failed to capitalize on the most talented generation to come out of Argentina since 1994.
Much has been said about how failing to select Zanetti has backfired for Maradona. I not only agree, but was devastated to hear that a player like Zanetti will amazingly miss his second consecutive world cup when he is fully fit. But the selection problems go way beyond that. Gabriel Milito and Ezequiel Garay would have been much more reliable center backs than the once solid rock and the now an accident waiting to happen Martin Demichelis. Pablo Zabaleta is a far more natural choice to play on either wing backs than the likes of Jonas who is a midfielder and Otamendi – a center back – who may never recover from the horrible experience against Germany. Even the young Cristian Ansaldi who plays for Rubin Kazan has put impressive performances in the Champions League and would have been another option for the left wing back position.
In midfield the crime is even bigger. Argentina biggest weakness in this World Cup was not the defense – as many critics seem to indicate – it was their midfield. Yes better defensive selections were possible, but it was their midfield that failed to create plays and failed horribly to press oppositions and break up their plays. Of course the talk here is about Mexico and Germany; the only two tough teams that Argentina faced – and suffered against.
Ever Banega, Esteban Cambiasso, and Lucho Gonzalez would have given the midfield the composure and talent to build up plays while also offering the toughness and experience to kill opposition games. Javier Pastore was selected but never really used. Given 15 minutes against Greece, Argentina played its best 15 minutes in the match, then given 3 meaningless minutes against Mexcio and finally introducing him at 2-0 against Germany when the team’s spirit was done and dusted. Would it not have been wiser to prepare him against weaker teams in the group stage? Would it not have been a good idea to let him build in the chemistry with Lionel Messi preparing for the knock-out stages? If Maradona thinks Pastore is not ready, why was Veron dropped in the crucial matches when he was the only other option that actually knows how to create a play?
Another World Cup passes by for Argentina and yet again coaching mistakes cost them heavily. Only this time the crime is even bigger. Argentina had Lionel Messi in their ranks. A player who can be decisive not only by playing well himself but also by letting other players around him find the space and freedom. With Barcelona, Messi gets marked by 2 and sometimes 3 players. Sometimes his teammates help him to shake off his markers and do wonders and sometimes he does not. But ask Xavi, Iniesta, Alvez and co and they will tell you that the extra attention Messi gets helps Barca play like they do.
Sadly with Argentina Maradona failed in both: he could not build a strong midfield that Messi can connect with and he could not make other players benefit from the marking Messi got.
Slow and error-prone defense, incompetent and uncreative midfield, and the best player in the world misused; the result was yet another heartbreak for Argentina.
The biggest problem now: people in Argentina are calling for Maradona to stay as the coach!