Maradona reign will be fun but it'll end in tears

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The Independent Football

Back when Diego Maradona's health was a daily concern, and he was receiving just the latest in a long line of "last-gasp" medical treatments, his personal physician of 30 years, Dr Alfredo Cahe, confided that his patient could do with a long period of peace and isolation. Maybe in Tibet, or in a private clinic in Switzerland.

"He needs peace, relaxation and medication," the medic said, explaining how Maradona's complaint at the time – hepatitis – was partly a result of alcoholism. Dr Cahe cited unspecified stresses in Maradona's life as the root of his damaging habits. "It's for these reasons that he's fallen into alcoholism," he said.

That was 19 months ago – 18 months before Maradona was handed one of the most high-profile, high-pressure jobs in international management, charged with breathing new life into a team under scrutiny from fans among the most demanding on the planet.

It will end in tears, almost certainly. The only question is when. Maradona's position was already looking tenuous in the past few days, after rows about staff, ahead of a scheduled debut against Scotland at Hampden on Wednesday. So the best guess would be sooner rather than later.

Nobody disputes the talismanic qualities of the man hailed by many as the greatest player ever, or his hero status back home. But he has no successful coaching experience on his CV. His two previous posts – at club level with Mandiyu of Corrientes (in 1994) and Racing Club (in 1995) – were both short and devoid of glory.

Neither is the Argentinian sporting public hanging out the bunting in celebration. One recent poll showed 14 per cent thought his appointment was a "good" move, 60 per cent "bad", and 15 per cent "ridiculous".

Why? Probably because for all the supposed leaps and bounds made by Maradona in his ongoing recovery from various addictive illnesses, there remain serious questions about how fully he has recovered from problems more recent than the cocaine-induced heart attacks in the early 2000s.

He was hospitalised in April 2007 with a hepatitis condition blamed on alcohol abuse. He was then transferred to the Avril psychiatric clinic in Buenos Aires to be treated for alcoholism. It was around this time that Dr Cahe gave his briefing, and the following month that Maradona announced on television he had stopped drinking.

He still goes to some lengths to avoid being tempted, according to sources. On a trip last month to Tbilisi, Georgia, where he travelled for an exhibition friendly, the contractual requirements stipulated his hotel had to be "dry" for his entire stay. It is not known yet whether the same conditions will apply when he visits Scotland.

There is no doubt the Scottish public – not to mention the world's media – want him to arrive today, as planned, and lead his team out midweek at Hampden, where he scored his first international goal. That was on 2 June 1979, in a 3-1 victory remembered best as the occasion when an 18-year-old whirlwind gusted to international prominence. Maradona scored the third goal, a magnificent solo effort after a tour de force playmaker's match.

The Scottish FA received 450 media accreditation requests after Maradona's appointment was announced. His argument with the Argentina FA over his coaching staff is one cloud over his future. But then clouds have chased Maradona for almost as long as he has been running.

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