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The Collapse Of A Legend: How Maradona Passed From Hero To Villain

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When Diego Maradona was appointed the coach of the Argentine national team one year ago, the most critical of observers asked themselves, but is Maradona qualified for such a responsibility, will he be able to steer Argentina in the right direction? Maradona was without doubt one of the greatest players to have ever graced a football field, but as has been repeated over and over again, great players don't always make good coaches.

To the blind Argentine people Maradona had an impeccable imagine, but over the past twelve months this has changed somewhat. Despite having endured plenty of heartache, Argentines haven't turned their back on Diego as of yet, but World Cup elimination could bury his legend forever.

On The Path To Greatness

Maradona's reign as national team coach started perfectly, and many believed that 'El Diez' would achieve greatness with the side, particularly because of his history and with the World Cup just around the corner. Maradona was as confident as ever, and didn't feel that the resignation of playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme would put his side at any disadvantage.

But after the 6-1 humiliation at the hands of Bolivia in La Paz last April, it was clear that Maradona still had a lot to learn in his new role. The results continued to not go his way, but Maradona refused to listen to the advice of the likes of 1986 World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo. A stubborn Maradona didn't choose to modify his "innocent" way of thinking despite the poor results, and this explained three successive defeats, against Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay.

Coming into Saturday's crucial World Cup qualifier against Peru Argentina find themselves in fifth-place of the South American qualifiers, and will be forced to claim the three points in order to remain with chances of qualifying directly for the World Cup. If Argentina were to lose or even draw the match they could be eliminated from the World Cup altogether (Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela and Colombia all have chances of securing the final two automatic World Cup berths).

Argentina haven't missed out on World Cup qualification since 1970, but could well miss out this time. Due to the abundance of talent in the Argentina squad they should not be in this desperate position, but results haven't gone their way, and this is much in due to the influence of Maradona.

Maradona has yet to find a consistent game plan, and this has meant that extraordinary players like Lionel Messi haven't been able to make any kind of impact with the national team.

Had Alfio Basile stayed on, or had the likes of Diego Simeone, Miguel Angel Russo or even Sergio Batista been appointed instead, there's no doubt that Argentina would have already booked their ticket to South Africa. But now almost one year into Maradona's reign, AFA president Julio Grondona would be kicking himself.

The End Of Maradona's Legend?

If Argentina were to miss out on the finals it would be a major setback for the football-mad nation, especially because if they were coached by somebody who knew what he was doing they would surely be contenders for the World Cup title.

Maradona took charge of the side with little to no coaching experience, and not only has this affected the Argentine national team, but also his imagine. Once the divine one, referred to as God by the masses in Argentina, over the past year Maradona has lost a great deal of respect from the people that once adored him.

'El Pibe be Oro' was forgiven for being a bad role model for his use of illegal absences, which got him kicked out of the 1994 World Cup, essentially denting his team's chances in the tournament. But if Argentina were to miss out on qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, it is unlikely that Argentine fans would ever be able to forgive him.

"We [the Argentine people] forgive Maradona for everything in the past, his drug addiction, the bad name he often gave to the sport in Argentina, but we will never forgive him if he fails to get Argentina to the World Cup. Maradona has no clue how to coach a team, all he does is pressure his players, and this is why we find ourselves in this complicated situation," said Santiago Rodriguez, a furious Argentina fan from Buenos Aires.

"Maradona knew that he wasn't up to the challenge, but he still accepted the job. He may have won us the 1986 World Cup singlehandedly, but he might eliminate us from the 2010 World Cup singlehandedly as well. It's ridiculous to think that we could actually miss out," he added.

Many Argentine fans feel the same way as Santiago, as they believe that Maradona had no right to accept such a position, knowing that he wasn't up to the challenge. No matter the amount of success Maradona achieved with Argentina as a player in the past, it seems that if Argentina are unable to qualify for South Africa, the Argentine public will turn their backs on him.

Will Maradona's legend come to an abrupt end? Essentially, this will depend on the outcome of Argentina's last two World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Uruguay.

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