LOCH LOMOND // The riotous life and times of Diego Maradona will not so much turn a page in Scotland this week as gallop into a new chapter, and much of his readership are already salivating over this zestful and often manic character's latest escapades in rising to the role of Argentina's national manager.
Maradona, now 48, tends to wash up in the most unusual of outposts, whether meeting Fidel Castro in Cuba or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and a global media cavalcade has followed him to these parts for a friendly match against Scotland tomorrow that is suddenly attaining fresh meaning. There seems to be enough interest enveloping the tubby Maradona to construct a ticker-tape of newsprint from Hampden Park in Glasgow to La Bombonera in Buenos Aires - 450 media outlets sought access to this match.
It is an adventure that could well peter out before it begins to gain credence, but one which should be viewed with some relish. Having survived some predictably chaotic scenes at Glasgow airport on Sunday, Maradona, far from the madding crowd, oversaw his first meaningful training session at Celtic Park last night, his first venture into the unforgiving realms of running a country that has won two World Cups.
As a figure, he continues to prompt reaction. The Scotland assistant manager Terry Butcher yesterday discussed why he feels Maradona's reputation plummeted during his finest times. At a hotel on the banks of a languid Loch Lomond, Butcher, a former England captain of all things, regaled us with tales of playing against Maradona in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico. He recalled the moment when Maradona beat England goalkeeper Peter Shilton with his hand to swat the ball into the net for Argentina's opener.
If the first goal bent the rules, a second was pure genius as he swept past Butcher and several of his teammates for an individual strike that continues to prompt widespread affection. Butcher admitted he considered punching his detractor in the immediate aftermath of England's demise. For Argentina, victory had connotations of revenge after the United Kingdom's winning of the Falklands war. "I'll never forgive him, because it is not nice to lose under those circumstances," said Butcher.
Butcher and his England teammates Gary Stevens and Kenny Sansom found themselves in a room alongside Maradona afterwards to undergo a routine drugs test at the Azteca Stadium. England apparently discussed the possibility of 'filling in' a celebrating Maradona. "I would pay a few thousand pounds to be in that drugs room with him again," commented Butcher. "He was the last person we wanted to see. It was his attitude long after the game that was my problem."
Maradona and Argentina won the World Cup in 1986. Butcher remains an admirer. "He's the best player I've played against, even if the best player I've seen is Pele." Butcher joined the Scottish club Glasgow Rangers only months after facing Maradona in Mexico. "When I came up to join Rangers, I saw more Argentina shirts in Scotland than in Mexico. He is a hero here, which is a bit strange for me, but that is football."
Maradona debuts as coach at the venue where he scored his first goal for Argentina in a 3-1 win in 1979. Butcher is not after retribution, but a figure who won over 70 caps for England and 40,000 of his Scottish fans will rejoice if the home side smuggle a sense of pride out of such an evening. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org