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Maradona is Smarter Than You Think

Well, maybe he is. The contrast between Argentina and France or England is total and not simply because Argentina are winning and a winning team tends to be a happier team.

Nevertheless, keeping the players contented—and unified—helps too. And here Maradona has, I think, done well. All but one of his outfield players has now played a part in the tournament and the man who hasn't, Ariel Garcé, is, well, Ariel Garcé:

Of the lesser lights who made the plane instead, Ariel Garcé has become symbolic of Maradona's unconventional approach. The story sounds apocryphal, but it has been reported that the defender who helped Colón finish 14th in the Argentinian league was included because Maradona had a dream that his team won the World Cup and the only face he could remember being there was Garcé's. The 30-year-old has only four caps. Three came during friendlies in 2003, and one came this year against Haiti. Most supporters do not take his inclusion particularly seriously. At Argentina's farewell match at home to Canada a banner was unfurled: "Garcé, bring us some alfajores." Traditionally, Argentinians bring alfajores, caramel-filled biscuits, back from their holidays to give to friends.
Garcé had in fact bought tickets to catch some World Cup games as he intended to take a holiday in South Africa anyway. "I don't care what they say," he said. "I'm going to the World Cup and nobody can take this happiness away from me."

This may seem an eccentric selection but, given how rare it is for all 23 players to be used during a tournament, there's something to be said for choosing a player who, whether because he keeps spirits high or because the manager considers him a mascot, may have a greater impact on the group than his playing talents might warrant.

If this be madness there is at least method in it. Indeed, it's something that wise old bird Roy Hodgson recommends. So perhaps Maradona is a little more astute than he lets on.

Remember too that Argentina were in a terrible hole before Diego took control and, indeed, the idea or appeal of the Savior's return was predicated upon the depth of the predicament in which he found himself. Naturally, this makes his story even better and it also means, should Argentina win the tournament, that his successors have an almost impossible task to live up to.

Argentina are happy, however, and right now all the talk that Maradona was jealous of Lionel Messi or that Messi's "europeanness" had estranged him from Agentine footballing culture looks like so much hooey. Messi has been goal-less and the player of the tournament and, frankly, it's hard to see how you could play alongside him and not  enjoy your football.

Finally, who didn't warm to the sight of ancient Martin Palermo playing and scoring? Not me. It's always good to see your elders score in the World Cup. It permits a momentary frisson that we're not quite clapped-out ourselves...