Maradona Interview 24/6/’10 – Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before

Olé: You speak about the players’ potential. And people say Argentina is a great team thanks to them alone. Does that make you feel proud or under-appreciated?

M: Proud. I’d love to be the last person to kiss the Cup as the players would have won it. Let’s get that clear. I just want to be one more happy, jersey-wearing Argentinian.

Olé: In any case, can you perceive a respect for Maradona the manager that wasn’t there before?

M: I never believed what some people were saying about me. I knew what I was capable of, what I could do. And since I didn’t believe them in the first place, it’s not such a massive leap now from what they were saying about me during the qualifiers. I’ve always been the same and I knew this moment was going to arrive [yawn], that I was going to have the Mascherano I have now and not the Mascherano who had half his head in Madrid and half in Barcelona. I knew I was going to have this Messi, this Tevez…

Olé: Are you enjoying the World Cup as much as you imagined you would?

M: No, I knew it was going to be like this. For a while now i’ve been saying it to anyone who wanted to listen. We had a ten day training camp to work out certain matters, to figure out what the team would be. If that work hadn’t manifested itself on the pitch afterwards, we wouldn’t have had much to say for ourselves, but thankfully we had plenty of chances in the three games we’ve played so far. So we’re fully justified in enjoying the moment right now and can look forward with great optimism.

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Friday nights in out-patients, who said I lied to her?

Oh, who said I’d lied? – because I never, I never

Who said I’d lied ? – because I never

Pegamequemegusta has spent the last two weeks feverishly trying to think up reasons as to why the hell we’d get out of bed when there’s a tv, a bucket and a scratching post in the room. However, today’s promise of a juicy interview with Diego Maradona in today’s Olé saw us blinking and shuffling our way down the street to the local newspaper stand.

As always with Maradona there are some good lines, some silly exaggerations and some glimpses of that sublime, strategic, footballing intellect that conjured up assists like Burruchaga’s third in ’86 as well as a couple of hints of the manic media whore, subdued these days, but always lurking beneath the surface.Some of the interview appeared in the Guardian earlier today but we reckon it’s shoddy enough to leave so much out so we’ve undertaken to bring you the whole thing. Also our translation is different in several parts: if you don’t like it or have anything else to say, pegáme que me gusta.

  • Olé: Is Messi ready to be the Maradona of 1986 or should we be thinking of Maradona in ’82?

  • Maradona: Messi’s broken the mold. Enough with the comparisons. He’s proved he’s fit to wear the crown.

  • Olé: Lionel said he’s playing as he is now thanks to you.
  • M: I appreciate the comment but Lío’s where he is because he wants to be there. He looks happy, content. He’s having a good time; he wants to play. For all those who said that Messi didn’t sing the anthem, that he looked unhappy… Well, who likes losing? And we were losing games in the qualifiers. Now everything’s changed and we all take pride in making Messi happy. Even his teammates. You know, you see him around the place these days and he’s cracking jokes with Pastore, with Garcé, with lads he’d never bumped into in his whole bleedin life. Or he speaks to Verón. I spy on all of them. La Bruja [Verón] is a football intellectual: he knows a lot more about football than Lío does but they have long conversations and the chiseller talks back, you know. It’s nice to be a part of those chats.

  • Olé: You were worried about Messi and you went to Barcelona. Is that where the transformation started? Besides his position, what changed?

  • M: It never occurred to me to play Messi in one fixed position. I want him close to the ball. When he gets it there’s always the possibility of a counter attack, of keeping the ball, of creating a chance or putting another player through on goal. He hasn’t been able to score yet but don’t forget that I only showed up in the quarter finals in Mexico ’86. When he gets it we’ll all go running to embrace him.

  • Olé: Did he tell you where he felt most comfortable on the pitch?

  • M: No, no. I went to tell Messi that no-one told me where I had to play [bangs one fist on top of the other]. So I didn’t have to tell Messi where he had to play. He had to decide to play wherever he wanted [keeps on clapping for emphasis]. And anyway he was already grown up and man enough to have the balls to say ‘this ball is mine, boys, i’m the one who knows best how to sort this out’. I had to do it once and now it’s Messi’s turn.

    Messi's growing up
  • Olé: So the message to Lionel was ‘I’m going to back you but you have to rebel, to be yourself’.

  • M: Things change, you know. The 18-year-old Messi is not the same guy as the Messi who turns 23 today. He’s become more and more mature as that’s how things are; because the world makes such demands on him, because that’s what Barcelona wants, what Argentina wants, what the Arabs want, you know [laughs]. And you’ve got to be prepared, just like Lío is. I love it when he comes to me and says ‘I want to play’, as he did before the Greece match. ‘Go on, go on, go on, let me play’, he says. It’s marvelous. I was going to play him anyway [laughs]. But I want people to know how much Messi wants the ball and how much he loves the jersey.

  • Olé: Is your management style characterised by letting the players get on with it?

  • M: Yes and no – the only players you give free rein to are those capable of doing it. You don’t give Messi the same kind of freedom you give to Bolatti, Jonás or Burdisso. You have to take into consideration who’s able for it. That depends on how I see things on the pitch. And I have to know who gets on well with whom, which players understand each other, who’s up for it. Just as you have to be solid at the back and in the middle and a lightning bolt going forward.

  • Ole: Another difference with Messi these days is the expression on his face, on the pitch and in interviews. He used to speak while looking at the ground but now he goes around with his head held high.

  • M: He’s a man, he’s a man. And it’s beautiful to be by his side at this point in his life; to be able to talk to him – not to give him advice, that’s what his family’s for – but to be around him.

  • Olé: Leo said that he wasn’t himself in the qualifiers. Is it the same for you?

  • M: I’ve got more time now. And if you have time to work, things will get better. Especially with these players. You have room to invent, to let your imagination run for a free kick with Messi and Verón, for example, even though ultimately they work it out for themselves. If there are two in the wall and you’ve got two standing over it: Messi rolls it to Verón, the whole defence goes after him and Messi gets space; and one on one Messi is lethal. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?

  • Olé: You speak about the players’ potential. And people say Argentina is a great team thanks to them alone. Does that make you feel proud or under-appreciated?

  • M: Proud. I’d love to be the last person to kiss the Cup as the players would have won it. Let’s get that clear. I just want to be one more happy, jersey-wearing Argentinian.

  • Olé: In any case, can you perceive a respect for Maradona the manager that wasn’t there before?

  • M: I never believed what some people were saying about me. I knew what I was capable of, what I could do. And since I didn’t believe them in the first place, it’s not such a massive leap now from what they were saying about me during the qualifiers. I’ve always been the same and I knew this moment was going to arrive [yawn], that I was going to have the Mascherano I have now and not the Mascherano who had half his head in Madrid and half in Barcelona. I knew I was going to have this Messi, this Tevez…

  • Olé: Are you enjoying the World Cup as much as you imagined you would?

  • M: No, I knew it was going to be like this. For a while now i’ve been saying it to anyone who wanted to listen. We had a ten day training camp to work out certain matters, to figure out what the team would be. If that work hadn’t manifested itself on the pitch afterwards, we wouldn’t have had much to say for ourselves, but thankfully we had plenty of chances in the three games we’ve played so far. So we’re fully justified in enjoying the moment right now and can look forward with great optimism.

  • Olé: You’re the only manager who goes around kissing your players; you have quite a unique style. The other day an English journalist mentioned it.

  • M: I’ve always been the same. If you want we can train morning, noon and night but if there’s no connection with the players it’s useless. The players write the story. Let no-one be under the impression that there’s some kind of magician behind all this. Here the magic comes from the guys in the shorts and that’s how it’ll be until the last ball is kicked in this world. Mourinho, Rafa Benitez, Menotti, Bilardo, Basile, there are loads of managers who’ve done things in football. But they’ve all done it through their players.

  • Olé: What marks you out from those managers?

  • M: That i’m here at just the right time, and with a group of players that have come together to bring a little happiness to the people. I’m the lucky hoor who’s got all of them at the same time. Maybe other managers are missing one or two, or someone got lost along the way. Thanks be to God my group is intact and and they’re all fit. What else could I ask for?

  • Olé: The players are the ones who get the result, obviously, but there are managers who contrive to total their Ferrari. Do you feel you’re in the best possible state to avoid crashing it?

  • M: Maybe. I matured like a Formula 1 car ’cause the World Cup requires you to make quick decisions. All the same, this has been a long process. I knew that once we got it into their heads just what the Argentina jersey means, what a World Cup is, we knew things were going to work out. Just as I was saying about Messi earlier…

  • Olé: Have you seen anyone that’s come close to him?
  • M: In this world Cup I haven’t seen anyone who even approaches even one-third of Messi’s performances so far. Maybe tomorrow they’ll say i’m arrogant, but I haven’t seen anyone that’s been 30% of Tevez either. When Carlitos plays, it’s bloody moving, you know. I love my team. The favourite everyone was banging on about, with Xavi and Iniesta, lost 1-0 to Switzerland. And it’s not as if they didn’t have the ball. I’m going to steal the line el Negro Enrique used: if the goals were at the side of the pitch instead of at either end, Spain would’ve won 10-1, you know. And it’s true. They keep the ball, keep the ball, keep the ball, but when the hell are we going to attack? When I said we didn’t deserve to lose against Spain [2-0 in a friendly last year], they fell around the place laughing in Buenos Aires because they had the ball the whole match. Di María nearly tore them a new one on more than one occasion – if he had we would’ve pulled away and good night.

  • Olé: Do you say Argentina aren’t favourites in order to avoid triumphalism at home?

  • M: You’ve got to let others be the favourites and let them knock their heads together. We go from game to game. Next up, Mexico, in the last 16.

  • Ole: Who works out the free-kicks on the blackboard?
  • M: Me, Mancu and el Negro [Enrique]. We watch games and come up with ideas. Although it’s usually me who comes up with most of them [laughs]. My ideas are the most outlandish. Heinze’s goal against Nigeria came about because we saw that they liked to hold on to their opponents. So I said ‘Alright lads, if these guys think they’re so bloody strong, i’m going to put a couple of strong lads along the six yard box and they’re not going to be able to get out. I’m going to put three human barriers [lit. ‘walls’]: Samuel, Demichelis, Tevez; and the dark lads won’t be able to get out. We’ll stick el Gringo [Heinze] on the penalty spot and he’ll tear the net in two.’ We did it in training and our own defenders couldn’t handle it, they couldn’t get out [of the six yard box]. I knew we’d break the deadlock that way. That’s why when we scored I wasn’t shouting ‘Goooal’, I was saying ‘It worked! The move worked!’

  • Olé: As a player you distinguished yourself by having a particularly strategic mind. When did you make the leap from player to manager?

  • M: The thing is you have to cross that river of questions and sort them out at home, think the whole team through; forget the critics and think about what the possibilities are with this group of players. I spent the whole time watching players. That’s why it was so difficult to narrow it down to the final squad.

  • Olé: Who has influenced you most as a manager [lit. ‘Who have you taken most from?’]

  • M: I like Mourinho a lot. Apart from how [well] he treated me. We talked for hours about football. He’s the kind of bloke you’d love to have on your night-stand just to ask him things. I have his phone number so I might ring him yet [laughs].

  • Olé: Would you really ring him up during a World Cup?

  • M: Yeah, if I had a doubt about something, i’d give him a call.

  • Olé: But you wouldn’t copy his tactics from the second leg against Barça.

  • M: Nooooooo, definitely not. But grand, that’s what he needed to get the result. He won the Champion’s League, again. Think about it: we’d look like a right pair of eejits if we came out and said that. ‘Ah, those eejits say they wouldn’t do the same thing.’ He’d just say: ‘What do I care?’

  • Olé: With regard to styles, when did you change from the idea of the four centre backs to this more attacking team?

  • M: I had the idea knocking round my head for a good while but I didn’t have the players available to do it. Some were tired, the other had his own problems, some wanted to leave the clubs they were at… There were a good few obstacles that were quite serious. But when I got them together, free of all their mental baggage, I told them: ‘Go forward, you know how’. It’s not all about defending.

  • Olé: In that respect the team is quite similar to the ’94 team, as regards keeping the ball so the opposition doesn’t have it.

  • M: I repeat that premiss every single day: if we have the ball, they don’t. And this team is much more capable of keeping the ball than any other team in the world, they’re all so comfortable. They all know how to play. You see Demichelis bringing the ball out from the back and you say to yourself ‘If I play him as a striker he’s capable of turning a few defenders.’ You look at Jonás and you say ‘Check out this gangly-lookin’ rake’, but he gets to the byline and cuts the ball back.

  • Olé: Is there any team in particular you’d like to come up against?

  • M: Nooooooooooooooo, we’ll take them as they come. There’s no team in particular we’d prefer to meet.

  • Olé: Earlier you mentioned Spain.
  • M: If we have them on the edge of a cliff we’re going to push them over. In a World Cup there are no second chances. But it’s the same for them, eh: if they have us at the edge of a cliff, they’ll push us off too. They’re hardly going to stretch out a hand to bring you back up. They’re going to step on your fingers so you fall. That’s just how it is.

  • Olé: What would you give to be world champion?

  • M: An arm. I’d give an arm for that trophy.
  • Olé: You know it’s pretty cold these days to go running naked round the Obelisco. Did you think it through?

  • M: Yeah, it is, but I never said when exactly I was going to do it [laughs].

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