Argentine legend Diego Maradona described his decision to coach second-division Mexican club Dorados as a rebirth after years battling addictions, as he officially became the team’s new manager Monday.
Maradona, who has publicly struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and obesity, raised eyebrows with the decision to accept a job in the heart of Mexican drug cartel country -- the rough-and-tumble state of Sinaloa.
But in his first press conference for Dorados, he described the job as a healthy new beginning after a long ‘sickness,’ alluding to the excesses of his past.
‘I want to give Dorados what I lost when I was sick,’ he told the 200 journalists who packed the hotel conference room in Culiacan, the state capital, where he was officially presented as the struggling club’s new coach.
‘I was sick for 14 years. Now I want to see the sun, I want to go to bed at night. I never even used to go to bed. I didn’t even know what a pillow was. That’s why I accepted the offer from Dorados,’ he said.
Mexico was the scene of Maradona’s greatest triumph as a player: leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title -- almost single-handedly, according to some.
But he surprised the football world with his decision to coach a second-division team who are currently in 13th place in their 15-team league.
Jokes soon broke out online about his choice of destination: Sinaloa is perhaps best known as home to the drug cartel of the same name. And Dorados are owned by a politically powerful family, the Hank clan, that has been accused of links to drug trafficking.
Maradona, however, insisted his focus is on football, calling this ‘the best moment in my life.’
‘I want to spend a long time’ at Dorados, he said.
‘People can say a lot of things, but... I was heading downhill, I was eating myself up, it was a step backward, and football is a step forward. All that changed thanks to my daughters.’
He recounted an oft-told story, of how his youngest daughter once spoke to him when he was in a coma, asking him to live -- and convincing him to change his ways.
It is a story he has been telling for more than a decade.
Maradona, 57, grinned as he accepted a Dorados jersey with his old number 10 on it, and joked with journalists that he was ready to ‘sing any song you want me to.’
Framed by two giant photos of himself during his playing days, he also said he had turned down offers from the leftist presidents of Bolivia and Venezuela, his pals Evo Morales and Nicolas Maduro, to coach their national teams.
After a 10-minute speech and 15 minutes taking questions -- his speech slightly slurred and his statements sometimes fuzzy -- Maradona headed to Dorados stadium to preside over his first practice.
On the way, he uploaded a video to his Instagram account in which he thanked his fans and said, ‘Long live the Church of Maradona.’
Maradona once coached the Argentine national team, including at the 2010 World Cup.
But the rest of his managerial career has lacked the sparkle of his playing days.
This is not the first time he’s taken charge of a second-division side. He left Al Fujairah of the United Arab Emirates in May after failing to guide them to promotion.
Other jobs at clubs in Argentina and the Middle East also fizzled.