Maradona outmanoeuvred in Argentine battle of wills
He was never likely to go quietly. "I have been lied to and betrayed," said Diego Maradona in response to losing his job as Argentina coach. He should have seen it coming.
In October 2008, on the eve of his appointment, I made the following comment on this website:
"Argentina are not in the habit of sacking coaches. Either they resign or their contract comes to an end. On Monday, Julio Grondona [Argentine Football Association president] was indicating that the new coach will not be given a four-year deal but will only serve until the next World Cup.
"A cynic might wonder if there are hidden intentions here - that Grondona can hardly ignore Maradona now that he is healthy and ambitious but that, assuming Argentina don't win the next World Cup, he can draw his sting and then get rid of him in little more than a year and a half. Time will tell."
Time has told. Maradona walked into the trap. As he commented, his spell in charge was the shortest of any Argentina coach in the last 35 years.
He inherited a team in crisis and took them to the World Cup quarter-finals this summer.
There were some bad moments along the way but also, especially in the early stages in South Africa, flashes of inspiration from a team that appeared to be happy under his command.
In terms of results, though, he is hung by his own words. Four years ago, Jose Pekerman's side returned to a heroes' welcome after reaching the quarter-finals in Germany. Maradona said at the time that he could see no reason for celebrations, but the comparison is not favourable.
Pekerman's team lost to the hosts on penalties in a game where they were undeniably the better side. Maradona's line-up met the Germans at the same stage on neutral ground and were taken apart.
That 4-0 defeat on 3 July left the feeling that, for all the controversial absentees, he had the players in his squad who could have won the game.
Carried away with the euphoria of the early wins, Maradona picked an unbalanced side and played into the hands of the German counter-attack. It was the moment when his inexperience was found out.
Back in October 2008, the idea was that Maradona would have an adviser rich in experience - Carlos Bilardo, his coach when Argentina won the World Cup in 1986.
But their relationship quickly broke down and Bilardo was sidelined with administrative tasks. Maradona, meanwhile, surrounded himself with his gang - Alejandro Mancuso, from the 1994 World Cup squad, and Hector Enrique from 1986.
There was also the case of Oscar Ruggeri, the much capped international centre-back. Maradona fought to have Ruggeri in his coaching staff.
The Argentine FA would not accept him - the consequence of a personal fall-out with the president of San Lorenzo. Ruggeri, then, might have been consulted but he was never an official member of the team.
This rolled on for years but there is little in Ruggeri's coaching CV to suggest that he could have made a difference.
President of the Argentine FA since 1979, Julio Grondona is the Maradona of sports politics. He knows all the angles. He found a way to get rid of Maradona without actually sacking him.
He praised the coach's work and gave him the chance to continue - but with Maradona's position weakened by that 4-0 defeat, Grondona went for the vulnerable spot. The new contract was subject to conditions - Maradona would have to make wholesale changes to his back-up staff.
There was only ever going to be one answer.
The Germany game proves that there was a need for more experience on the touchline. Nevertheless, there is something noble in Maradona's loyalty to his assistants.
It is this type of conduct that made Maradona loved by almost everyone who played alongside him. For all the size of his ego, he has always been a team player - who now goes down with his team, bringing to an end a spell of 637 days, which was as colourful as it was controversial.