Maradona dreams of Napoli job

Diego Maradona (AFP)
Diego Maradona (AFP)

Milan - Argentine football legend Diego Maradona said he would like to succeed Napoli coach Rafael Benitez while calling on Italy to leave embattled AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli in peace to get on with his job.

Benitez and Balotelli were not the only subjects on the 1986 World Cup winner's radar Thursday, a day ahead of receiving a special award from top sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Maradona said he would soon be celebrating being drug-free for 10 years but reignited his old rivalry with fellow football legend Pele of Brazil.

Maradona, now welcome in Italy having settled a long-running dispute with authorities over unpaid taxes, is expected to watch former side Napoli's bid to take spot spot when they face Serie A leaders Roma on Friday.

Napoli finished runners-up last season under former coach Walter Mazzarri and, after luring former Liverpool and Chelsea boss Rafael Benitez to the club, are seen by many as the biggest challengers to champions Juventus.

Despite a glaring lack of coaching experience compared to Benitez, Maradona, who helped Napoli to their only two league titles in 1987 and 1990, says he would happily succeed the Spaniard.

"When Benitez leaves I would like to take over at Napoli," said Maradona, who, following spells with Argentina (2008-2010) then Emirati club Al Wasl (2011-2012), claimed he was currently unemployed as a coach because people fear him.

"Coaches are changing all over the place, from Spain to Italy, England to Russia. But there are people who are afraid of me. That's why I'm not coaching."

The Argentinian said he could empathise with the plight of AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, arguably the biggest name in Serie A following his move last year from Manchester City.

Balotelli regularly complains of unfair treatment on and off the pitch and, with his every move often magnified in the media, the Italy international this week pleaded to be left alone.

Even the president of Italy's football federation, Giancarlo Abete, said he had sympathy for Balotelli's plight, saying "the media pressure on the lad is excessive."

Maradona, who during a highly controversial career has endured similar scrutiny both on and off the pitch, said: "Everyone should be allowed to live their life as they want, Balotelli should be left alone."

Balotelli should be "a sporting example, but not one for how to live your life."

Maradona's own troubles are well documented.

During his spell in Serie A he is alleged to have mingled with well-known figures from the region's mafia and he reportedly used cocaine from the mid-1980s to 2004.

He was suspended after a positive test for the drug in 1991 and was sent home from the 1994 World Cup after a positive test for ephedrine.

Nearly 30 years on from his move to Napoli, Maradona said drugs are now a thing of the past: "In four months time, it will be ten years since the last time I took something.

"I hurt myself and a lot of other people. Now I try to tell kids not to go anywhere near it."

The 52-year-old, however, would not back down when it came to Pele, Maradona's long-time rival for the accolade of the world's best ever footballer.

Maradona polled 53.6 percent of the votes to Pele's 18.5 percent in an internet vote in 2000 for FIFA's Footballer of the Century.

Pele, however, was voted Football Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) a year earlier and also voted the century's top player in a poll of former Ballon d'Or winners.

Maradona insisted: "Me against Pele, I've been voted the winner of that one.

"Pele was second, even in Brazil when he finished behind Ayrton Senna as their best athlete of all time."

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