PRETORIA (AP) — When it comes to charisma, not many soccer coaches can rival Argentina's Diego Maradona. But a deep discussion over tactics?
Not the man's style.
"Great one, you beast!" you often hear Maradona shouting affectionately at a player during training. Even when a shot balloons over the crossbar, he bubbles with the same infectious enthusiasm.
His critics, who called him a naive tactician in the buildup to the World Cup, could be made to eat their words if Argentina continues its impressive form in South Africa and wins a third title.
The Albiceleste have won four matches in a row, scoring 10 goals — and the tally would've been far higher but for some excellent goalkeeping by their opponents.
Maradona says he himself preferred to be a free spirit as a player. As a result he intentionally won't tell Argentina's latest global superstar — Lionel Messi — what to do.
"I went to tell Messi (at Barcelona) that nobody ever told me where to play. So, I shouldn't have to tell Messi where to play either," said Maradona.
"It was up to him to decide where to play. He's a grown-up. I did it back in my era and now it's his turn."
The former Argentine captain — for some the best player of all time — has embraced and kissed his players before all the matches in South Africa.
And it seems as though he's kicking every ball in his mind when prowling around the coaches area wearing a suit.
The players seem to be thriving.
Martin Palermo, Argentina's 36-year-old fifth-choice striker, is a case in point.
Many thought Maradona included him on his squad out of sentimentality — or as a lucky charm — after the Boca Juniors striker scored a last-gasp goal that more or less sealed Argentina's qualification for the 2010 World Cup.
With Argentina struggling to break down Greece in the final group game, Maradona was told by his assistants to bring on Gonzalo Higuain.
Instead, he chose Palermo, who within minutes got on the score sheet.
The advice from Maradona as Palermo ran onto the field?
"I said, Get out there. Finish this match for me."
It's a far cry from the tactically astute and results-driven approach of Carlos Bilardo, who coached Argentina to World Cup success in 1986. Not to mention the almost obsessively philosophical and romantic vision of soccer advocated by the chain-smoking Cesar Menotti, who led the nation to the title eight years earlier.
When Maradona got the Argentina job, Bilardo was brought in to help on tactics. But the pair immediately fell out and, even though they're both at the World Cup, it's thought that Maradona is reluctant to listen to his advice.
Whether Maradona's approach will work when Argentina comes up against tactically savvy Germany in this weekend's quarterfinal is another matter.
And it's sure to be troubling the nation.
Asked by an Argentine journalist after the 3-1 defeat of Mexico on Sunday how he would approach the Germans, Maradona snapped, "Let me enjoy this match. Why think of Germany? How about you name the players YOU want."