Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman – Network
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’ – Lewis Carroll
What frequently gets pegamequemegusta’s long-suffering goat by the hind legs and dips it in barrels of goo is that if Maradona is so utterly insane as everyone says he is, why do people still have to exaggerate and even make things up to explain that insanity? The usually excellent Amy Lawrence has a piece in the Observer today wondering if there is method in Maradona’s ‘madness’. Despite that being so clichéd it made pegamequemegusta’s cat cough up a floorful of corn, the piece, while well-written as always, has more inaccuracies than pegamequemegusta’s poor incontinent dog.
Speaking of which, most of the second paragraph is wrong: Maradona didn’t fight with his dog, he didn’t run over a reporter and he didn’t call him an arsehole. He should have called him an arsehole for being such a dope, but he didn’t. A boludo is not an arsehole.
In the third paragraph, while there does seem to have been a change alright once Diego was on the road to superstardom, this was surely clear from his time at Barcelona. For example, when Barcelona refused to give him his passport so that he could travel to Argentina for a friendly, he went down to the trophy room in the Camp Nou and began throwing said silverware about until they saw his point of view. It was also at Barcelona, not Napoli, that his problems with drugs began – while he was recovering from his broken leg.
Neither is it true that Maradona was crowned coach of the Selección because of the ‘irresistible will’ of the people of Argentina. On the contrary, Maradona was nowhere in the running: at various points in the weeks following Basile’s resignation, Carlos Bianchi had somewhere between 50 and 70% of the popular vote according to various online polls. The second highest number was about 11-15%, and I think that was Batista, after his successful run in the Olympics (where a young, mobile defence looked more than capable behind an impressive attacking line-up of Messi, Riquelme, Di María and Aguero). Once Maradona was confirmed by Grondona, more polls showed that almost 74% of 50,000 voters reckoned Maradona was the wrong choice with a further 11% regarding it as ‘questionable’. There was a general will alright but don Julio had no problems resisting it.
People keep talking of fireworks and madcap circuses. Yet so far almost every other team going to the World Cup has spent the last few weeks flying from their home countries to the mountains and back again for a series of debilitating and at times even morale-sapping friendlies, which have only seen many of their players get injured. Meanwhile, behind the great big screens keeping all non-staff away from their bunker, Maradona’s Argentina have been training together in silence, spending the time together that all the players insisted was necessary to form the group and really get to know each other. Pegamequemegusta might even cry, jaysus.
Mascherano, Tevez, Verón have all said this week – once the doors were finally opened (for 15 minutes) – that they’ve never seen Maradona in such good form. “Diego is in great shape […] he’s surprised me, to be honest, i’ve never seen him so focused all the time,” revealed Carlitos Tevez, traditionally an arch-critic of his managers’ training methods. Indeed, great shape is quite literal: Maradona is said to have lost 15 kilos in preparation for the World Cup, and that unfortunate accident with his dog has left us with that magnificent beard.
Of course if things don’t go well it’s quite possible there’ll be some, er, harsh words from Maradona and he might even lose his cool. In the meantime, however, whatever about many of his questionable selections for the squad, he at least set his stall out early and this does appear to have had a decent effect on the group.
As for the team, that is not entirely certain so far, and Diego does seem to have rowed back somewhat on his initial Trapattonian plan of playing four centre backs with two wingers and somewhat isolated strikers. Pegamequemegusta doesn’t want to get into such a nerdish soap-down on a Sunday morning but suffice it to say it could be a useful enough strategy at later stages in the competition.
For the moment, the gruel-munching poverty of Argentina’s opponents in group B means that the catenaccio practised against Germany is likely to be foregone for a more attacking approach: Jonás may well play as a right wing-back, pushing up Evra-style when his team are in possession, thus allowing Tevez to link up with Di María (as he did to great effect this season with Bellamy) and join Higuaín in attack. This will also have the positive effect of giving Messi more options. There’s nothing mad in this at all: if you don’t have full backs, don’t play em; if your defence is slow, have them stay back and protect them with a couple of holding midfielders; if your strength is attack, go for it.
Who really knows about tactics: in 2006 against Germany, Pekerman took off Crespo for Cruz to play on the counter. Riquelme’s substitution didn’t help with the matter of getting the ball to Cruz but the manager’s lack of shrewdness only became apparent in hindsight when Italy beat Germany. Lippi is generally regarded as being über-shrewd etc and his delightful attacking substitutions against Germany in the semi-final won them the game and were the highlight of the competition in pegamequemegusta’s opinion (mainly because of what had happened in the quarters, igual). Yet how shrewd was it? Surely these things are always a gamble? Going back in time, Passarella took off Batistuta for Crespo in ’98 against England and they suffered horribly and should have lost several times over before going to penalties. If Maradona did any of those things he’d be crucified as a ‘madman’.
He is mad, of course, and terribly unstable. He should never have been given the job and despite talk of getting to the semi-finals being a good return and a massive improvement on previous showings in the world cup finals, given the relative strengths and weaknesses of many teams at the World Cup, and the injuries that so many are suffering, this would be an awesome chance to win the bloody thing again. Maybe another manager would do better: he’d bring more and better defenders, Cambiasso and Banega might play, the bench would be more experienced, Heinze would be off doing what he does best, challenging Marseille longshoremen to headbutt contests, etc.
But it’s wrong to say we’ve seen lots of madness from Maradona in recent times. On the contrary, he’s given precious little away and even the headline-grabbing obsession with his toilet seats only suggests an admirable attention to detail of the kind lacking, say, in Mad Mick McCarthy’s Saipan Odyssey, by far the maddest thing to ever happen at a World Cup.
In an interview with Enzo Francescoli last week, Pablo Forlán, Diego’s dad, said that it was “easy to to win a World Cup: you get out of your group (where you’re even allowed to lose and draw a game), and then you’ve got four finals. It’s much easier than a league, say.” On pegamequemegusta we’ve talked plenty in the past month or so of Maradona’s pressure-cooker conception of a World Cup, that it’s the time when the chrysalis chamber opens and for a brief time the butterfly buzzes about and scores a great deal. Given what has transpired so far and compared to the injuries (Holland, Spain, England), infighting, uncertainty (Holland, England) and general incompetence (France, Italy) evinced by many other teams, you’d be mad not to believe him.
Then again, this man was also a keen lepidopterist: