Maradona and the meaning of wearing the albiceleste shirt

February 12, 2010

Diego Maradona is in danger of demeaning as a coach the light blue and white Argentine stripes he graced and worshipped as a player.

As Velez Sarsfield’s Victor Zapata put it recently using an in-vogue term for all things of little substance: “Now it’s very ‘light’ getting to the national team.”

Maradona brushed aside the comments of his critics after reaching a century of call-ups for 16 matches since his Argentina coaching debut against Scotland in Glasgow in November 2008.

He said he would look at as many players as he needed to, but his conclusions when the tests are over against lightweight opponents like Costa Rica, Jamaica and Ghana without their top players, end up being based on emotion not real analysis.

Maradona said he could see in players’ faces as they put on the shirt in the changing room before a match whether they had it in them to wear it or found it too heavy to bear.

Martin Palermo, prolific scorer that he is, bundled the ball home with a diving header for a late equaliser against the Jamaicans on Wednesday before debutant Ignacio Canuto, who came on in the 89th minute, scrambled a stoppage-time winner.

Maradona celebrated as if they had beaten Germany, the team he had said a young Costa Rica side looked like in a 3-2 home win last month. 

The real test comes next month away to the real Germans when Maradona will pick Argentina’s European exiles in a squad that should resemble in a high percentage the 23-man party he takes with him to South Africa. There will be one more friendly against Canada nearer the start of the tournament.

After so much testing of so many players who got one match, merely a cameo appearance of several minutes or just a place on the bench and were never looked at again, Maradona will probably depend mainly on the Argentines shining in the biggest leagues which is like returning to square one.

Maradona said before Wednesday’s match against Jamaica: “I think those of us who at some time had the dream of wearing the national shirt know what a call-up is. My soul trembled each time (Carlos) Bilardo named a squad and I knew I was picked.”

Many players have been thrilled with such a call-up to the colours but there has been a growing list of those Argentines with one cap to their name, most likely never again to wear them. 

Some would say one is better than none, others like Zapata say that it means little to have played for twice World Cup winners Argentina against a lesser footballing nation and just scraped a face-saving win.

PHOTO: Diego Maradona, coach of Argentina’s national soccer team, gives instructions to his players during a friendly match against Costa Rica in San Juan January 26, 2010. REUTERS/Javier Martino

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