MUMBAI: Diego Maradona may not have managed to reach the same heights as a coach of the Argentinian national team that he did as a player. But even the fiercest critics of Maradona – the coach – wouldn’t dare dispute the football legend’s ability to spot a dazzling left foot.
It’s why Matias Defederico, the Mumbai City winger, whose left foot has been tormenting opposing defences in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season, will forever remain proud that it was Maradona who first considered him worthy of donning the famous white and sky blue shirt.
And what a debut it turned out to be for the then 19-year-old! In a friendly against Panama on May 20, 2009, Defederico curled a sublime finish before whipping in a corner that led to Argentina’s second as La Albiceleste cruised to a 3-1 win.
Somehow, his performance wasn’t enough to earn him another opportunity under Maradona, but more than seven years later, Defederico only has positive things to say about the former Argentina boss. “As a coach, he’s a normal coach. But from your side, you look at him and say ‘S..t, I have Diego in front of me’. So you as a person are mesmerised by him, but it’s not that he imposes himself like that,” Defederico reveals during a chat with The TOI. “He is very close to you. He’s like another player so that gives you a lot of trust.”
Ask Defederico about the criticism Maradona often received during his near-two-year tenure on the Argentina bench and he puts it down to a ‘social issue’ back home. “In Argentina now, it’s more a social issue where everyone wants to criticise the other. Take (Lionel) Messi, people are even criticising him. Argentina is the only country where Messi is criticised.
“People are not enjoying their own idols, their own heroes. They just criticise them. Their criticism of Maradona is just one more thing,” says Defederico who wasn’t able to add to his two international caps.
Switching to present matters, Defederico, now 27, believes a key factor behind Mumbai City’s impressive form, which has propelled the side to the ISL semifinals for the first time, is the flexibility they possess in attack. “Diego (Forlan), Cafu, Sunil (Chhetri) and I, have the ability to change positions very easily and be comfortable in those positions. So that’s an advantage for the team and the coach.”
And thanks to the Latin American connection between him and Forlan, combining with the ex-Uruguay star becomes an even easier task, Defederico admits. “The communication is easier because we speak the same language. Just by looking at each other, we already know what is the next move.”