BUENOS AIRES: Diego Maradona was removed as coach of Argentina’s national team on Tuesday, ending an erratic 21-month stint that mirrored his own long history of unpredictable behavior and culminated in a humiliating exit in the World Cup quarterfinals.
The Argentine Football Association, following a unanimous vote of its executive committee, said that his contract would not be renewed after Maradona had said he would only accept the AFA’s offer of a new four-year deal through to the 2014 World Cup if his entire staff also remained.
That was unacceptable to Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona. He had asked for several assistants to be replaced. One of them is Maradona’s close friend, Alejandro Mancuso.
The federation’s executive committee sided with Grondona, a little more than three weeks after Argentina was eliminated in the World Cup in South Africa with a 4-0 loss to Germany.
AFA spokesman Ernesto Cherquis Bialo called the decision “very painful for the AFA” but said there was no way to solve the impasse.
“The president said that there was a significant difference between what AFA wanted to achieve and Maradona’s aspirations for the future,” Cherquis Bialo said. “There was a wide gap, and it was impossible to narrow it.”
The AFA said youth team manager Sergio Batista would be the interim coach for the friendly against Ireland on Aug. 11 in Dublin.
Despite Maradona’s contract not being renewed, Cherquis Bialo hinted there might be a role in the future for him.
“This marks the end of a first chapter with Mr. Maradona,” Cherquis Bialo said. “The doors to this house, as always, will be open to him.”
Possible successors include two club coaches in Argentina: Alejandro Sabella of Estudiantes and Miguel Russo of Racing. Former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa has also been mentioned as an option. Bielsa led Chile to the final 16 of the World Cup.
Asked who will be the new coach, Cherquis Bialo offered nothing. “The people who were in the meeting have no name in their imaginations,” Cherquis Bialo said. “It has just been announced that the contract with the coach will not be renewed, and so, a new stage begins.”
Maradona tried to do it his way, a style which brought him glory in leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title.
“Diego shut himself off to any change,” executive committee member Luis Segura said on Argentine television. “Diego has all the right to do what he wants. But so does AFA.”
Maradona was also at odds with Carlos Bilardo, the current director of the national team who coached the 1986 World Cup side. He also lobbied to have Oscar Ruggeri on his staff. Ruggeri was a defender in the 1986 team but has fallen out with Grondona.
The 49-year-old Maradona became Argentina’s coach in November 2008, replacing Alfio Basile and taking over a team he led to Argentina’s second World Cup title. His results were mixed. He had little coaching experience, and the team suffered two of the worst losses in history: a 6-1 hammering at Bolivia in World Cup qualifying, and the recent World Cup defeat to Germany.
Argentina played with flair in South Africa, notably Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez. But Maradona’s inexperience was obvious in the loss to Germany, which exposed Argentina’s defensive frailties and lack of midfield speed. Dressed in a gray suit, Maradona’s enthusiastic and demonstrative antics on the sidelines simply failed to mask his tactical deficiencies.
Messi, widely regarded as the sport’s best player, left the World Cup without scoring a goal. Maradona never explained why Messi, who had a roaming role on the pitch, failed to score and he had no answer for the piercing attack of Germany coach Joachim Loew.
“Nobody ever told me where to play. So I shouldn’t have to tell Messi where to play either,” Maradona said.
Maradona is a larger-than-life icon in Argentina who beat cocaine and alcohol addiction. He grew up in a Buenos Aires slum and his escape from poverty has endeared him to many. But he has worn out his welcome in other quarters.
Maradona got offside with the government of President Cristina Fernandez, who twice invited him to meet with her. She had been openly supportive of keeping him as coach, while one legislator has even proposed building a monument to honor him.
Cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez said Maradona failed to respond or answer the phone, forcing the president’s secretaries to leave messages.
Two weeks ago, the AFA offered Maradona the chance to renew his contract for another four years. But Maradona put off meeting with Grondona to travel to Venezuela at the invitation of his friend, President Hugo Chavez.
Maradona’s relationship with key figures in Argentine football was also tense. He denied the leaders of AFA and businessmen with commercial ties to the organization any access to practice sessions in South Africa but allowed reporters to attend.
Still, Maradona had many loyal supporters. “I want Maradona to stay,” Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo said Tuesday in an interview on Argentine radio. “We will support his decision. If he leaves, we will miss him.”
Team trainer Fernando Signorini added: “I have no doubt they didn’t want him. Maradona is like a stone in the shoe of power.”
During his tenure, Maradona called up over 100 players. The 23-man World Cup squad he announced in May excluded veteran defender Javier Zanetti and midfielder Esteban Cambiasso, who both play for Champions League winner Inter Milan. In a shock move, he picked Ariel Garce in his squad despite the defender only playing his first international for Argentina in May against Haiti.
Maradona’s most controversial moment came nine months ago when Argentina defeated Uruguay, finally ending a struggle to reach the World Cup. Maradona erupted with a stream of sexually graphic profanities at his critics on live TV. He was given a two-month ban by FIFA.