With the World Cup starting to heat up Lessons Learnt reflects on some of South Africa's top stories. Here, Alex Dunn talks Diego, Dunga and tearful North Koreans
Last Updated: June 17, 2010 3:15pm
Maradona: Is he the new Special One?
Diego Maradona is proving almost as entertaining a coach as he was bewitching a player. Few men can claim a history as interwoven with the World Cup's rich tapestry as the now skunk faced tactician, whose biting off-field quips have clashed markedly with much of the conservatism served on it.
As a player his virtuoso displays in leading a mediocre Argentina side to glory in Mexico '86 will perhaps never be eclipsed, but as a coach there are those that wondered whether he'd suffered a relapse in his recovery from various addictions, such was the absurdity of his decision to use nigh on 70 players in qualification and omit Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti from his final 23.
Prior to arriving in South Africa the Argentines were seen as a side heavy on talent but hamstrung by an unhinged coach, who Uefa president Michel Platini had remarked: "As a coach, he's a very good player."
There is no love lost between Maradona and the Frenchman and even less so with his long-time South American sparring partner Pele. In an entertaining press briefing on Wednesday old wounds were reopened as Maradona responded to Pele's claim that he had only taken the Argentina job because of money difficulties by snapping: "Pele should go back in the museum."
In an industry where journalists can all but write their copy before a coach opens his mouth, Maradona is a godsend; as fast with his gob as he was with his feet in his playing days. When he broke out into song to celebrate an Argentine hack's birthday he looked like a man totally at ease with the situation - maybe that's what happens when you have Lionel Messi in your side.
He's certainly not likely to be misquoted given his history for taking pot shots with his air rifle at journalists who rile him.
There are those that accuse him of being an ego-maniac, but is there not a little of the Jose Mourinho about his desire to deflect the attention away from his players? The mood in the Argentine camp seems harmonious and relaxed, with the sight of half his side in training stood on the goalline, bent over with their arses in the air while the remaining squad members spanked balls at them unlikely to be replicated under Capello's watch. Those shooting seemed to have little trouble getting the cursed Jabulani on target.
As I write Gonzalo Higuain has just added a brilliant third to complete his hat-trick, as Argentina clock up their second win of the tournament with a 4-1 defeat of South Korea. Not bad for a team with a mad man at the helm...
* Talking of the Jabulani - the most scorned inanimate object at the World Cup other than the vuvuzela and Mick McCarthy - Fabio Capello has added his considerable weight behind an ever increasing list of detractors. In an uncharacteristically candid interview the England chief claimed 'it is the worst ball I have ever seen in my life'.
The Italian went on to say: "It's good when you play short passes, but when you try to switch to long passes it's really difficult to understand the trajectory. On the floor it's good. Longer it's more difficult."
Some things don't need further comment...
* Rumours abound with regards how much DPR Korea nationals really know about their side's 2-1 defeat to Brazil on Tuesday night. Apparently Winston Smith has been sacked as a pundit for the state-run television channel for selling his complimentary tickets for blanket marketing purposes, but even Dear Leader Kim Jong Il would struggle to find much wrong with the performance of Kim Jong Hun's immaculately disciplined side.
Rare is it that a game has you fascinated before the national anthems have played out but the sight of Tae-Se Jong, aka the 'People's Rooney', breaking into tears after being totally overwhelmed by the occasion brought a lump to the throat. Born in Japan to a North Korean mother and a Japanese-born Korean father, Jong put in a shift that unsettled Lucio and co. to the extent he shouldn't be short of offers to add to the trial he reportedly underwent at Blackburn earlier in the season.
While his team-mates are said to entertain themselves with the simple pleasures of rock-paper-scissors (there's no future Power Taylors in the DPR ranks), Jong refuses to travel without his iPod, laptop and game systems. Reports that he was in fact crying because someone had stolen his Game Boy are as yet unconfirmed.
He's not lacking in confidence either having predicted he'd score in every game in South Africa, while he drives a Hummer, hero-worships Snoop Dog and dreams of bagging a Wondergirl - South Korea's answer to the Spice Girls - allegedly to fulfil his ambition of competing in skysports.com's WAG and Stag World Cup in four years' time.
* Brazil showed in patches why they're one of the tournament favourites to add to their five World Cups on 11th July but with Kaka looking a pale imitation of the player that so beguiled at AC Milan, it was Robinho that most impressed. In a game packed with Korean bodies flying into every tackle the schemer revelled in being handed a rare licence to roam in Dunga's regime of uber-conservatism, as his sublime second half pass dissected four opponents to allow Elano to slot in a brilliant second.
Dunga has been criticised recently by leftfield, bearded legend Socrates for employing a style of football that he describes as 'an affront to our culture. (There is) this focus on staying power, which is alien to us traditionally'.
The liberal chain smoking doctor, who has diversified into writing fiction, staging theatre projects and playing in a band since hanging up his boots and stethoscope, perceives Dunga's projection for Brazil to be at odds with the national character, lamenting: "Dunga is a gaucho - he is from the extreme south of Brazil - and they are the most reactionary Brazilians.
"His team is very coherent, in terms of coherence with his world view and his background. I understand why he has chosen the team that he has; it's just that I don't think it is very Brazilian.
"Being sensible isn't always the best thing. Who says that being sensible is a sign of quality? I don't think so," he concluded, before shrugging nonchalantly, lighting his roll-up and riding his Harley into the Rio sunset.
For all Socrates' criticism, Dunga looks a man at ease on the touchline. Against the Koreans I couldn't decide whether he had an audition for the new Birdseye ad or was off to a night at G.A.Y straight after the game. There may well be more flair in Dunga's wardrobe than in his side, but few will be surprised if he becomes only the second man to win the World Cup as both a captain and coach.