George Burley is all too aware of the abilities Diego Maradona possessed on the pitch. It was 29 years ago that the Scotland manager was part of a defence run ragged at Hampden Park by the teenage prodigy and the two will pit their wits against each other in Glasgow again next month, but this time from opposing dugouts. Maradona marked his 48th birthday yesterday by announcing with a characteristic flourish that he expects to be confirmed as coach of Argentina next week and his first task will be to oversee the friendly against Scotland on 19 November.
It was in June 1979 that Maradona, aged 19, scored the first of his 34 goals for Argentina having bamboozled a home defence that also included Alan Hansen. It accelerated an international career that peaked in 1986 when he lifted the World Cup and he remains fêted in his home country, making his imminent appointment as national coach one that, although a surprise, has been welcomed.
"We could not have a better motivation than having Diego as a coach," said Carlos Tevez last night. "I'm very happy for him. It's going to be funny. I hope I can get a seat close to him on the bus. I'm imagining myself training under him."
The Manchester United striker, though, also gave a hint of the problems that lie ahead for the new coach. "I think he'll want to come on to the pitch with us," said Tevez. "I know him very well and I'm sure it'll be that way. Managing a group like ours isn't easy, as we're all key figures for our clubs. It won't be easy when he has to tell me, Roman [Riquelme] or [Lionel] Messi that he needs us all together all weekend when we want to see our families.
"He must have an idea of how he wants the team to play. Now that Diego's the coach, he should think more with his head than his heart. I don't think it'll be easy because I know his temperament."
The appointment is still to be ratified by the Argentinian FA, but it seems certain to be nodded through at their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. Before then Maradona is expected to be in England this weekend to meet Tevez and Javier Mascherano
"We have to start working as quickly as possible," said Maradona at his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires yesterday. "We are going to play the game against Scotland with the best team we've got. I scored a goal there, on a tour with [Cesar Luis] Menotti [Argentina's manager of the time]."
Maradona, initially seen as a rank outsider in the contest to replace Alfio Basile, will take over a side that is – once again – struggling to match the sum of its parts. Basile resigned after defeat by Chile earlier this month. Argentina lie third in the 10-team South American World Cup qualifying group, ahead of Chile on goal difference. They must finish in the top four to qualify while fifth place would mean a play-off against a Concacaf team. Argentina still have to host Brazil, as well as making trips to play Ecuador and Bolivia at altitude.
It is a tough job for a man with next to no experience, let alone success, as a coach. He had two short stints in the dugout, in the mid-1990s with Deportivo Mandiyu and Racing Club. His 23 games produced three wins. "I really never expected this although I always dreamed of having the chance," he said yesterday. "I'm really looking forward to it."
Carlos Bilardo, coach of Argentina's triumphant 1986 team, is expected to become general manager, marking a return to the national team set up after an absence of 18 years, and has been involved in talks with the Argentinian FA this week.
"Maradona is going to be a big influence," said Burley. "I'm sure all the players will want to play well in front of him. It promises to be a cracking game – it's fantastic for us to pit our wits against a top team. When Scotland played Argentina in 1979, it's always a game I remember for the fantastic players they had. And, of course, somebody like Maradona, who I still think was the best player I ever played against."
The Scottish Football Association had feared that the high-profile friendly would, embarrassingly, not sell out. That is unlikely to be a concern now.Reuse content