The jokes dry up as Maradona faces lowest point of career (Feature)
By Michael Logan Jul 3, 2010, 20:19 GMT
Cape Town - Gone were the jokes, the banter and the sexual innuendo Saturday as a devastated Diego Maradona faced up to what he called 'the toughest moment of his life'.
The boy who grew up in a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires has seen many highs and lows in his career - from inspiring his team to World Cup victory at Mexico 1986 to his battle with cocaine addiction.
But presiding over Argentina's 4-0 defeat at the hands of Germany during Friday's quarter-final in Cape Town represents his lowest ebb.
Maradona cut a tragic figure on the sidelines as he clutched his rosary beads and covered his eyes while watching a youthful Germany demolish his team of stars. His pain was almost palpable as he faced the media after the game.
'The day I stopped playing football could have been similar, but the sadness is really strong, it is tough,' he said, his face drawn.
'This is the toughest moment in my life, because having ... so many great players, this is like a kick in the face. I have no more energy for anything.'
Maradona, who turns 50 in October, is rightly hailed as one of the greatest players of all time, but his stewardship of the national side has faced questions.
Argentina struggled to qualify, and many doubted that the great player could become a great coach.
But once his team came to South Africa, they seemed to click and were in free-scoring form as they romped through the group stages and then beat Mexico 3-1 in the Round of 16.
But Maradona's all-out-attacking style, and his tactical naivete, were cruelly exposed by wily Germany boss Joachim Loew.
Maradona blamed Thomas Mueller's third-minute goal for ruining his game plan, but it was Loew who identified the gap between Argentina's attack and defence and instructed his young charges to hit the South Americans on the break.
But the man whose genius lit up the field of play still believes his approach was correct.
'Regardless, I realize as coach and player that the type of football people like is this one,' he said. 'I don't think Argentina can play a different style.'
Maradona was unclear about his future, initially saying 'he could go tomorrow', but then later back-tracking.
'I haven't thought about leaving,' he said. 'I have to check with my family and check with the players. There are a number of things I have to consider.'
Should Maradona choose to call it a day, many will be sad to see him go. Throughout his career, he has caused controversy and delight in equal measure.
Few will ever forget the goals he scored against England in the Mexico 1986 quarter-final: first the infamous 'Hand of God', followed up a few minutes later by possibly the greatest individual goal ever scored when he slalomed through most of the England team.
Then came his 15-month ban in Italy for cocaine use and his expulsion from the 1994 World Cup in the United States after testing positive for using ephedrine.
There followed a battle with drug and weight problems and a stint as a talk-show host before he took control of the national team.
Always the showman, his cheeky banter lit up South Africa - prior to the Germany game, he compared a linesman to blind tenor Andrea Bocelli - and his press conferences were always packed.
But it will likely be his players who miss him the most if he does go.
Maradona may have been a poor tactician, but he was passionate and clearly felt a genuine sense of love for his men, whom he was fond of kissing and hugging at every opportunity.
Even after the humiliating loss, he refused to blame his charges, saying how proud he was of them.
He saved particular sympathy for Lionel Messi - the man Argentina believed would lead them to glory.
'To see Messi cry in the dressing room and saying to me that he deeply regrets (the defeat)...if anybody says he didn't honour the Argentina colours, that would be a stupid person,' Maradona said.
Nobody could deny that Maradona brings a lurid dash of humanity, with all its flaws, to a game desperately in need of characters.
The World Cup will be drabber tournament without him.