Maradona angles for Argentina role in football crisis

Buenos Aires (AFP) – Argentine football was in crisis Wednesday after the national coach followed star striker Lionel Messi in quitting weeks before the Olympics, with legend Diego Maradona eyeing a return to a role with the squad.

The country’s President Mauricio Macri himself slammed the way the sport was being run by the Argentine Football Association (AFA), branding it corrupt and badly managed.

Legendary ex-player and former national coach Maradona wrote on Facebook that he was heading for a meeting at the AFA on Wednesday with Primo Corvaro, head of a team of FIFA inspectors working to overhaul the association.

“I have high hopes for this meeting,” Maradona wrote.

“I cannot believe our participation in the Olympics is in doubt, because we are a footballing power.”

The AFA late Tuesday named women’s team coach Julio Olarticoechea to lead the men’s squad at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21.

The AFA’s acting head Luis Segura insisted there was currently “no candidate and Maradona is not there to be Olarticoechea’s assistant.”

Announcing his resignation on Tuesday, Gerardo Martino complained of power squabbles in the AFA and of clubs not releasing players for next month’s Olympics.

“It is also part of the bad treatment received due to the poor organization of Argentine football,” Macri, himself a former football executive, told reporters during a visit to Germany on Wednesday.

“We cannot carry on with a system full of bad habits and corruption.”

The courts last month started auditing the AFA’s accounts to determine how it used its state funding over recent years.

A commission from football’s international governing body FIFA is meanwhile investigating the disarray in the AFA.

“I hope that the reforms proposed by this commission will go ahead,” Macri said.

– Football and politics –

Segura ended his mandate last week and said he was quitting. But he has been forced to stay on as a caretaker administrator until a successor is found amid internal squabbles.

Major clubs in the AFA want to break away and form a “super-league” to get bigger broadcasting revenues.

Smaller clubs fear they will get squeezed out by their bigger competitors.

Macri, a businessman and formerly president of top club Boca Juniors, favors the proposed European-style “superleague” system.

He opposes Hugo Moyano, leader of Argentina’s biggest trade union, who wants to bid to become the next head of the AFA.

Moyano is a political opponent of Macri and has reservations about the super league plan, although he supports it in principle.

Another candidate to lead the AFA is television presenter and San Lorenzo club vice-president Marcelo Tinelli — also an open critic of Macri.

To replace Martino, Argentine media have mentioned possible names including Diego Simeone of Atletico Madrid and Jose Sampaoli of Sevilla.

After Martino’s whole coaching team quit, Olarticoechea was the only Argentine national coach with a current contract.

Former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa was named by Italian side Lazio as their new coach on Wednesday.

Meanwhile the Argentine rated the best footballer in the world, Messi of Barcelona, suffered a fresh blow on Wednesday when a Spanish court handed him a 21-month jail sentence for tax fraud.

Messi said he was quitting the national team following its defeat to Chile in the Copa America Centenario on June 26.

That was Argentina’s third consecutive loss in a major international final.

Fans begged Messi stay.

The football-mad country and its demanding fans have gone 23 years without a major title — not counting Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

The Olympics run from August 5 to 21 in Rio de Janeiro.

After that the country will look to the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

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