Mexico braces itself for Diego Maradona's Dorados coaching debut
Necaxa ending Cruz Azul's undefeated start to the 2018 Apertura on Saturday was the major story in Liga MX this past weekend, but Mexican soccer's big talking point over the last couple of weeks has been centered around Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico's second division.
In case you've been hiding under a rock, Argentina legend Diego Maradona was named head coach of Ascenso MX side Dorados during the international break and will take his spot on the bench for his debut in Mexico on Monday evening as his team faces Cafetaleros de Tapachula.
Now that the dust has started to settle from the shock announcement, it's time for the real questions to be answered about Maradona at Dorados.
It will not be an easy job for the 57-year-old, who is taking over a club that isn't in the best shape. The team started this weekend's games down in 13th place in the league -- two places off the bottom -- and has only netted twice in six games all season.
But Maradona, who left United Arab Emirates side Al Fujairah last April after a year in charge, is adamant that he can resurrect his coaching career after well-publicized troubles with addiction and lawsuits and a reported health scare during the World Cup in Russia.
"I want to give Dorados what I lost when I was ill; I was ill for 14 years," said Maradona last Monday in a news conference. "I want to see the sun and go to sleep at night. Before, I didn't sleep and didn't know what a pillow was. That's why I accepted the offer."
His slurred speech and history of problems has led some to ridicule the appointment, even if he did stress he'd watched videos, planned to stay a long time and had spoken to current Celta Vigo coach Antonio "Turco" Mohamed about Mexican football.
Maradona says he is in the "best moment of my life emotionally" and comes with respected assistant Luis Islas, a former goalkeeper who was part of Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning squad with Maradona and has experience working in Mexico with Toluca and Leon.
One gets the feeling that Islas will be an important factor if Maradona's reign is to have any success. The appointment, however, has split opinions ahead of the debut.
Maradona's footballing father-figure, Cesar Luis Menotti, told Fox Sports of his happiness at seeing "El Diez" working and stressed he is "sick for the game." And there are others that think bringing Maradona in has handed Mexico's second division some much-needed publicity.
But some of the press hasn't been as kind.
"Of course he isn't going to do anything and not because he doesn't know how, but because he can't," Mexican coach Jose Luis "Chelis" Sanchez Sola told ESPN. "He's a human being that is ill, and those who hire him, and his associates, don't realize he is a human being, beyond what he may have done as a footballer."
There has been plenty of international attention, with over 100 journalists from all over the world at Maradona's presentation. But a lot of the reports have tended to focus on Culiacan and the state of Sinaloa's relationship with narcos and drug trafficking, especially with a recent television series based on the subject proving popular.
It certainly was a surreal image to see Maradona -- his Ernesto "Che" Guevara tattoo poking out from underneath his Dorados shirt -- being presented, but the signing has made people sit up and take notice, not least the Dorados players.
"In the first training session I almost didn't train because I was just looking at him, absorbed by his name and thinking about what he was like as a player," Argentine striker Facundo Juarez told Marca. "But I believe that it wasn't just me that was like that, it was the whole squad."
The hiring basically represents a rolling of the dice from both sides. That can be seen with Maradona's contract only running until the end of the 2019 Clausura and containing, according to L'Equipe, a provision to evaluate Maradona's performance every two months.
"If I'm proud of anything about working in football, it is that we try to think outside the box, we try to dare to do different things," club president Antonio Nunez told ESPN. "You can see the crazy things we have done, but sometimes it is the crazy ones that open the path that the wise follow. I'm thinking about a winning Dorados, I'm thinking about Maradona coming in to help to win, and if that happens, then great."
On Monday evening, in a humid and quite possibly stormy Culiacan, we'll get the first glimpse of what promises to be a story that is unlikely to get stale.