Reuters Soccer Blog
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When Carlos Bilardo began his job as Argentina coach in January 1983, the first thing he did was to visit Maradona in Spain where he was playing for Barcelona.
Bilardo told Maradona he wanted him as Argentina’s captain, that he was the only player sure of his place and that he would build a team around him to win the World Cup.
Maradona, who had had an unhappy first World Cup in Spain six months earlier, reacted by promising himself nothing would stand in their way.
“The first thing I resolved in that moment was to create something, a conscience: to play for the national team had to be the most important thing in the world,” he said many years later in his autobiography.
“We’re in the hands of God,” some Argentine newspapers said after Diego Maradona was appointed coach of Argentina, a move that has just been confirmed.
Much has been made of Maradona’s lack of experience as a coach but, as former Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino pointed out last week, Maradona was a coach on the pitch during the Italian club’s glory years.
Amid all the furore over Diego Maradona’s imminent appointment as Argentina coach, an equally surprising and significant development has been all but overlooked: the return of Carlos Bilardo to the national team set-up at the age of 69, and after an 18-year absence.
Affectionately known as Narigon (Big Nose), Bilardo is one of the most controversial figures in Argentine soccer.
Take a look at the standings in the South American World Cup qualifying group and it seems that Argentina are making steady progress towards South Africa. After seven of the 18 games, Alfio Basile’s team are third with 12 points, two points behind the leaders, and only four goals conceded.
On paper, Argentina and their elegant playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme are a purist’s dream, weaving neat patterns around the field with their passing and refusing to resort to the long ball or the physical approach.