Coming to Maradona's defence
Dante - or it may have been Silvio Dante from the Sopranos - is supposed to have said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality.
Many posts from English readers attacked Maradona as a cheat, which I think is an injustice. I don't recall a player being cheated against as much as Maradona.
When his career began in the mid-70s it is calculated that players were running an average of around 5,000 metres per game. Twenty years later this figure had doubled. This is effectively the span of Diego's playing days. He was active at a time of intense physical development - but played almost his entire career before the mid-90s clampdown on the sliding tackle.
Maradona played the game without the protection from referees that today's stars take for granted. Some of the tackles that were aimed against him would nowadays be worth not only a red card, but a jail sentence as well. Virtually every time he took the field he was on the end of intimidation and violence, as opponents sought to reduce his effectiveness by any means possible.
It is hardly surprising that those who are on the end of constant cheating develop a cynical side. Older Brazilian referees recall that Pele was a master of conning them into giving free kicks, linking arms with a defender and bringing both of them down while making it appear that he had suffered the foul.
Certainly I think that if I spent years being kicked, jostled and elbowed I might feel within my rights to punch one into the back of the net in the heat of the moment.
It is true that different cultures approach these things in different ways. Bobby Charlton tells the story of how at a Fifa meeting of former players he called for a crackdown on diving.
Someone he calls "an old South American international" apparently replied; "Don't you think, as a professional, that if we can get away with creating an advantage for our side, we really should be applauded?"
I believe there is more tolerance of this type of behaviour in South America, where showing the cunning necessary to get away with something is widely praised. In Brazil it is often said that beating a big rival with an illegal goal adds extra pleasure to the victory.
But before we English try to claim the moral high ground we should forget any notions of perfection.
In his autobiography Martin Peters writes about the game at home to Poland in 1973, which England had to win to qualify for the following year's World Cup. Peters was a magnificent player, and though I've never met him personally, has always come across as an upstanding man.
But 35 years ago, with England a goal down and time running out, he confesses that: "It was looking desperate, and in such circumstances desperate measures are sometimes required." He was tackled inside the area by Poland's left back, "He barely touched me but I went flying. I dived. It wasn't a penalty, but the referee didn't see it that way."
The resulting goal was not enough to qualify England for the World Cup. But Peters' frank admission should be enough to destroy any illusions about England having some natural monopoly on the concept of fair play.
It is unjust, then, to throw the label of cheat at Maradona - just as it is unwise to view him as a god. He is a human being, with remarkable talent, but also with flaws. Indeed, just as with Pele, it is probably the case that his flaws were part of his drive towards greatness.
On the field Maradona gave so much pleasure to so many that he deserves to enjoy a contented and fruitful second half of his life. That's why, although he wouldn't have been my candidate, he should be congratulated on becoming Argentina's new coach - for two reasons.
Firstly because he has recovered sufficiently from his problems to be able to take on the position.
Secondly because he is prepared to put himself on the line. There are many who think that a great idol should never put his prestige at risk. I disagree. That's for museum pieces. Maybe some of the best places in heaven are reserved for those brave enough to keep seeking a new challenge.
Comments on this week's piece in the space below. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
A question about the Paraguayan striker Salvador Cabanas. I've been looking at his career stats and they are quite impressive, especially his Copa Libertadores record. Why is he not playing in Europe? I was thinking possibly because of his size, he's only 5 8'' I believe. What are your thoughts?
I think he could cope comfortably with the physical aspect of European football. He's short but very stocky, hard to knock off the ball, turns well to either side, is an excellent finisher. More than size, I wonder if age might be against him now. He's 28 - he was something of a late developer, originally a midfielder in Paraguay before being converted into a striker in Chile and Mexico. I think he's earning well in Mexico with America.
What are your thoughts on Rodrigo Palacio's career? His scoring record is outstanding, even better than Stephen Dobbie's in the Scottish first division! Why do you think he hasn't made the move across the pond?
Wiry Boca Juniors striker, terrific at using the flanks. Decision time can't be put off much more now. He's 26, Boca have youngsters such as Noir and Mouche who can fill the role, so there may well be pressure for him to go. Two doubts - one is whether his heart is really in a move.
He comes across as a shy figure who if left to his own devices might never leave Boca. The other is the shock he got when coming off the bench in Argentina's opening 2006 World Cup match against Ivory Coast - big, strong opponents against whom he made little impression and wasn't used again in the tournament. I think the step up from the domestic Argentine game might worry him.