MEXICO CITY—The arrival of a soccer legend with a reputation as a troublemaker has thrust a second division Mexican team into the spotlight.
Wherever Diego Maradona goes he is guaranteed to attract attention and his latest attempt to resurrect his coaching career has certainly brought that to Los Dorados. The team, named after the Mexican term for a type of golden dolphinfish, is based in Culiacán, the capital of the north-western state of Sinaloa.
Long the cradle of illicit drug production and trafficking in Mexico, Sinaloa is home to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the largest and most feared criminal organizations in history. After the announcement on Sept.6 that Maradona would be taking over as Los Dorados’ technical director, the state is also home to one of the greatest soccer players to have ever graced the game but also one of its most divisive figures.
In his homeland of Argentina, the 57-year-old is still revered as a hero for his performances in the country’s 1986 World Cup-winning team, which won the tournament hosted by Mexico.
The diminutive forward is credited with inspiring an unfancied group of players to glory with his brilliance, culminating in victory over West Germany in the final at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
“His reputation in Mexico is generally good,” said Tom Marshall, a journalist based in Guadalajara who has covered Mexican football for eight years.
“Mexico is where he crowned his career, playing in 1986 like he did….Even at the recent World Cup he was saying he loved Mexican football and Mexico was his favorite team and that he was a Mexico fan.”
But that great victory in 1986 also showed Maradona’s dark side when he deliberately used his hand to score a goal in a quarterfinal game against England. The man himself later dubbed it the “mano de dios,” or “hand of god” goal, and it remains probably the most infamous example of cheating in the history of sport.
Off the pitch, Maradona has spent years battling life-threatening obesity and drug and alcohol addictions.
He was banned from playing at the 1994 World Cup in the United States after testing positive for cocaine and was criticized for his close relationship with the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
After retiring as a player, Maradona’s coaching career has been mediocre at best, with an unsuccessful three-year spell in charge of the Argentinian national team being the highlight.
During this summer’s World Cup in Russia he was rushed to hospital after being filmed in the stadium wildly celebrating Argentina’s winning goal against Nigeria and making obscene gestures towards their fans.
He is also alleged to have made a racist gesture towards South Korean fans at the same tournament.
All this is too much for Los Dorados supporter Victor Cordero, who said Maradona’s appointment has little to do with soccer.
“The reality is the directors of Dorados wanted to bring Maradona here more than anything so the team would balked about, not for footballing reasons,” the 24-year-old said.
“He was a great football player, considered among the two greatest in the world along with Pele, but as a coach—I don’t know.”
‘Not a Good Example’
Cordero is concerned that Maradona will not be the best role model for the young members of the soccer team he supports.
“A lot of the Dorados players are between 22 and 26 years old, young players starting out in their careers, and Maradona is not going to be a good example for these youngsters who want to succeed in football,” he said.
“Maradona, for everything that he represents, I believe is a very bad appointment.”
There are plenty who agree, not least the residents association of the exclusive gated community in Culiacán where Maradona is said to be looking to move in, who according to local media have baulked at having him as a neighbor.
But not everyone is unhappy at Maradona’s arrival. In the press conference announcing his new role, Maradona himself called it a “rebirth” and while acknowledging he had made “missteps” in his life, added that he was “here to work.”
A corrido, a type of traditional Mexican ballad well-known for being used to lionize drug traffickers, has already been written in honor of Maradona, entitled “El Diego de Sinaloa”.
And the Los Dorados team themselves appear to have reacted positively, if their 4-1 win against Cafetaleros de Tapachula on Sept. 17 is anything to go by.
Luis Miguel Verdugo Castro, 24, has been a Dorados fan since 2003. He was at Maradona’s debut and said a stadium which normally welcomes between 6,000 and 8,500 fans for a game had between 17,000 and 18,000 watching from the stands.
This is still short of the Estado Banorte’s capacity of 21,000 seats, meaning Maradona’s first match was not quite a sell out.
Among fans, “there was a lot of speculation about his job and hope it is something that will work out,” said Verdugo Castro.
“There’s been a lot of criticism in the media but he’s a legend of football and any person would like to have Maradona on their team,” he said.
“There is not a very strong football culture here in Culiacán but after a while, if the team can improve and if Maradona can gain the trust and affection of the people of the city, then maybe that can grow.”