Castro and Bilardo influenced me a lot, says Diego Maradona

Special Correspondent

KOLKATA: Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and coach Carlos Bilardo were the two most influencing persons in his life for one of the greatest football players of all time, Diego Armando Maradona.

Addressing the newsmen here on Saturday, the football maestro said that Castro had a huge impact on his personal life which in turn shaped his career. “And in football I believed in Bilardo’s philosophy,” he said.

“As a player,” Maradona said, “I enjoyed a lot. Now I want to utilise my experience to serve the Argentine National team as its coach. My team is a great combination and it is playing well.”

When told that Bilardo had won the World Cup in 1986 after visiting Kolkata in 1984 and now that he is in the city with the next World Cup two years away, Maradona said, “it would be difficult to predict whether his country would win the next World Cup.” He said the Argentina team had to work much harder and hoped the luck was with his side in South Africa.

No pressure

The superstar said he never felt the pressure of being the Argentina National coach. “As a coach I do not feel the pressure. I have a great side which needs to work hard. All the players know their responsibilities towards the team.”

When asked to compare his trump card Lionel Messi with Brazilian Ronaldhino, Maradona said Ronaldhino had earned a lot of respect as a player and individual. “Messi had a long way to go. He has 10 more years left in him. He will do well,” he said.

To another question as to which of the two leagues, Serie ‘A’ in Italy and La Liga in Spain the toughest, Maradona was categorical in saying, “The Spanish league is better than either Serie ‘A’ or any other league in the World. It is a lot more tough to play and excel in Spain.”

Having captured many hearts with his dazzling display over the years he always drew comparison with peerless Pele. When asked to pronounce who he thought was the greatest footballer in the world, Maradona said, “my mother considered me as the greatest footballer of all time. So I also consider myself as the greatest.”

On the best goal he scored during his illustrious career, he responded quickly, “the hand of god goal.”

He said he never had any regret except that he could not spend much time with his children because the game kept him away from his family.

Speaking on Indian football, Maradona said he heard about football in India. “It has a long way to go to be a force in international stage. A lot of affection and attention is needed to support the game. The game needs to grow in this country and the economic condition of the players has to improve. A secure life for a player is needed to pursue the game without other thoughts.”

Will he work to uplift Indian football, he said, “I have to fulfil a contract with the Argentine Football Federation. I will think of coming only after that.”

Kolkatans thanked

Expressing his gratitude to those who arranged to bring him to India, Maradona said he was compelled to come to Kolkata to see for himself what work Mother Teresa did for the poorest of the poor. “I would like to thank everybody who made my trip to Kolkata possible and I would like to return one day with my family.”

To a question on Barack Obama, the president-elect of the U.S., Maradona said, “I like Obama a lot. I think he will do a good job (as the President). I would like to say (George) Bush is bit of an assassin.”

And finally when he was asked to comment on him being compared to God, he said, “Maybe I am god of football. But God is ultimate and is superior to everything.”