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Maradona dropped as Argentina coach

By Helen Popper

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Diego Maradona's stormy spell as Argentina coach came to an end Tuesday when the Argentine Football Association (AFA) voted unanimously not to renew his contract.

"There needed to be some changes among Diego's staff ... and we couldn't come to an agreement," AFA chief Julio Grondona told reporters. "No one's being kicked out, a contract hasn't been renewed because we didn't have the conditions to do so."

An AFA spokesman cited "unbridgeable differences" with the flamboyant Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup victory as captain in 1986 and is adored by many Argentines.

The team's earlier-than-expected exit from the tournament followed a shaky qualifying campaign, but the former player was still given a hero's welcome when the squad returned home and President Cristina Fernandez urged him to stay on.

Maradona, 49, said Sunday he wanted to stay on, but only if he could keep control over the choice of his assistants.

BEST-EVER PLAYERS

Maradona was widely seen as one of the world's best-ever players in his 1980s' heyday, but he battled drug addiction, obesity and alcoholism for years after retiring from the game in the 1990s.

That made his comeback as national team coach an even more remarkable personal achievement, especially because he had very little experience as a manager.

He had a patchy tenure as coach of Argentina, however, even though the team's convincing wins in their opening World Cup games propelled them into the list of favorites.

Maradona's exit means Argentina need to find a new coach for the Copa America regional tournament next year but Grondona said there was plenty of time to recruit a new training staff.

Other names circulating as possible successors include Estudiantes coach Alex Sabella, Independiente's former coach Americo Gallego, former Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa and ex-River Plate, Inter Milan and Argentina striker Ramon Diaz.

Grondona said youth team coach Sergio Batista, Maradona's former 1986 team mate, was the logical choice as caretaker coach and he will lead the team for a friendly against Ireland in Dublin August 11.

(Additional reporting by Eduardo Garcia, Luis Andres Henao and Laura MacInnis, editing by Nick Mulvenney)