Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - Page 19 News List

Argentine FA offers Diego Maradona a new deal

REUTERS , BUENOS AIRES

Diego Maradona could decide his future when he meets Argentine Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona where he will be offered a four-year contract, the AFA said.

As he walked off the pitch after Argentina’s crushing quarter-final World Cup exit, Maradona hinted that it was time for him to quit as national coach. His jubilant welcome home might have made him think twice.

In stark contrast to the frosty reception given to coaches from Brazil and England after their disappointing early exits, Maradona got a hero’s welcome, despite a 4-0 loss to Germany.

More than 20,000 fans greeted him at Buenos Aires Airport, a lawmaker proposed a statue in his honor and he was urged to stay on by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who took over broadcast rights to soccer games last year.

“Hang in there, Maradona,” Fernandez said last week in a speech to supporters. “No Argentine has given us so much happiness on the soccer field as Diego Maradona.”

During the World Cup, pundits hailed Argentina’s attacking style, the majestic dribbling of Lionel Messi, and the striking force of Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain.

It was Maradona who stole the limelight, however, prowling the sidelines in a shiny gray suit and inspiring hope that he could again propel Argentina to success in soccer’s most coveted trophy, this time as a coach.

Maradona has been keeping a low profile since returning from South Africa, staying at his home to reflect on the loss away from the glare of media and fans.

AFA spokesman Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, who helped to write Maradona’s autobiography, said the decision was down to Maradona.

“If Maradona wants to ... he will continue. People have unconditional support for Maradona — other coaches who made the same mistake as him [losing in the quarter-finals] have had to resign.”

Late on Wednesday, Cherquis Bialo told reporters Maradona would be formally offered to stay on until 2014 and specified there was no “Plan B” in place should the famed player and coach decide not to continue.

A close friend said Maradona has been feeling down since the World Cup defeat, despite receiving the support of players, including Gabriel Heinze, captain Javier Mascherano and Messi.

“He’s dealing with the blow in his own way,” the friend said, asking not to be named. “He’s always said he wanted to be the team’s coach for the rest of his life, but you always have to consider whether it makes sense.”

Maradona struggled with drug addiction, obesity and alcoholism for years, making his comeback at the helm of the national squad an even more remarkable personal achievement.

Whether or not he takes the reins of the team for the Copa America later this month or retires to spend time with his family, fans are likely to stay loyal.

“I wanted him to be champion again because he deserved it,” Alberto Blanco, 39, said in front of a giant Maradona inflatable in the center of Buenos Aires. “I know he’s not the best coach, but the team also needs courage, heart and mystique, and he offered that to his players.”

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