The Maradona Makeover (Feature)
By Cecilia Caminos Jun 14, 2010, 16:31 GMT
Pretoria - So often the wild man of football, Diego Maradona is wining over local fans and foreign press alike with a World Cup charm offensive not previously seen from the Argentine coach.
Every training session and every press conference is being turned into the Maradona show at Argentina's World Cup headquarters and it seems the protagonist is a changed man.
Still not very forthcoming when it comes to giving any clues about team selection, Maradona is the source of most of the enduring images from training sessions whether it be with a fatherly arm around Leo Messi or ordering the winners of a practice match to pelt their defeated opponents with shots at their backsides.
Maradona never shies away from the political either. Whether it be smoking a Cuban cigar gifted him by Fidel Castro after every training session, or Tuesday, meeting with the president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto.
The human rights group has campaigned for the return of babies stolen by the dictatorship that governed Argentina from 1976 to 1983 and Estela de Carlotto will hold a press conference at the University of Pretoria, which Maradona will attend.
The 49-year-old Maradona was close to death during his worst periods of ill-health and his last appearance in a World Cup as a player ended in shame with a ban for a positive drugs test in 1994.
He took over as coach in November 2008 with his critics arguing he had done so thanks to a conspiracy and then suffered in qualification, seeing his side lose 6-1 to Bolivia in one particularly humiliating defeat.
Then came the crude outburst at the press conference that followed his side's qualification for the finals and the promise that he would run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if they ended up winning the tournament.
In Pretoria he has turned over a new slate. He arrived on the same plane as some Argentine hooligans but then gave an impromptu press conference condemning fan violence.
Then he enclosed his players in the now famous Bunker and set about getting the best out of his star performer Leo Messi, playing the number 10 in the same position he occupies for Barcelona.
Under the watchful eye of up to 300 journalists, Maradona has gesticulated, encouraged and fired-up his players in every session.
And in press conferences he has been charisma personified swapping an Argentine tracksuit top for a South African shirt with local journalists.
'He is a born motivator' said striker Gonzalo Higuain. 'He is one of us' added Messi.