For once, Diego Maradona might have Argentina’s best interests in mind over his own. The legendary troublemaker is going to bat for Lionel Messi, following the current captain’s four-game ban for insulting an assistant referee in a World Cup Qualifying match against Chile.
Following Argentina’s 2-0 loss without Messi on Tuesday, Maradona has said that he will pull his considerable weight in order to get FIFA President Gianni Infantino to reduce La Pulga’s ban ahead of the next round of qualifiers in August of this year.
Speaking to Buenos Aires radio station La Oral Deportiva, Argentina’s most iconic futbolero called Messi’s ban “excessive and terrible,” before calling the Barcelona forward a teddy bear: “He is such a sensational player, and he never complains about anything. [..] He is a teddy bear with his teammates, with everyone.”
Maradona believes that, without Messi, Argentina will have a difficult if not impossible task in qualifying to the 2018 World Cup, saying that “Messi’s absence was key. It’s like taking Cristiano Ronaldo out of Portugal. It’s a team that can be beat.” Argentina currently sits in the last qualifying slot in CONMEBOL, just two points above sixth-place Ecuador.
Some reports had come out following Messi’s ban stating that it was Maradona who called for it in the first place, reports that El Pibe de Oro adamantly denied, blaming them on the new Director of the Argentine National Team, Marcelo Tinelli: “It hurts me when they say that I had an influence in Messi getting suspended for four matches. I swear to God I knew nothing.”
One thing that Maradona did admit while talking to La Oral Deportiva is that Messi does not answer his calls. While publicly, there has never been displays of bad blood between the two legends, there was speculation that Messi was not pleased with Maradona after the latter’s coaching stint of the national team at the 2010 World Cup.