Diego Armando Maradona spoke to AS in the United Arab Emirates, where he is the coach of second-division side Fujairah. The 1986 World Cup winner attended the interview with a smile.
'I would bet on Gremio against Madrid'
You’ve made my hairs stand on end with the chat you just gave to your players. Did you improvise it?
It just comes out, it comes out. Look, yesterday we did a little tactical game and I noticed that my team were lowering their level, and that the supposed substitutes scored five goals against the starters. I went home really annoyed. This lot think that winning the last game makes us champions. And you just saw what I told them.
Did you watch the match between Real Madrid and Al Jazira?
I saw it, I saw it.
What did you think?
Well… bufff. Madrid aren’t playing well. At all. Al Jazira played like Madrid. They got on the ball! And for Madrid, each one of their players wanted to score a goal.
What about Gremio in the final?
I’d have a wager on Gremio.
You’d bet on Gremio?
Yeah, sure. They seem a good team.
They’re without Arthur, who is a good player…
But I’d still have a little wager on them. Despite that son of a bitch Ronaldo…
Cristiano Ronaldo says he is the best player in history…
Tell him to stop taking the piss (smiles).
If Cristiano is the best in history, what does that make you?
That’s why I said stop taking the piss.
Di Stéfano among the best ever
Who is the best ever in your opinion?
For me… From the little that I saw, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Cruyff… And Messi. Cristiano could be up there too.
What is Lionel Messi missing in order to be Maradona?
No, that can’t be bought. That comes from inside, as standard. Messi wouldn’t be capable of giving a talk to 20 players, all sat down, like I’ve just done there to motivate them. He would say: “What do you want to ask me, lads?”. The lads would ask him questions.
Was it harder to play before?
For me it was more difficult.
You were kicked all over the place…
And there was only one television. Now they have VAR. I remember the first ball that I took down, it came in from over there, I took it down on my chest, and when I went to turn, they gave me a bicycle kick to the face. A bicycle kick to the face! And he said to me: “There you go lad, that’s the first one!”.
The markers from back then marked properly…
Yeah, but the Spaniards went for the man a bit. I remember [José Antonio] Camacho. Camacho chased after me all my life. I did this to Camacho… tac. And carried on running around the other side! I remember he said to me: “When I get you, when I get you…”. And I said to him: “Don’t run any more Camacho, you’re not going to get me…”
So, what do you think of Cristiano?
What do you like about him?
The definition. Another of the things that I recognise in Cristiano Ronaldo is that when the team needs him, he’s there. He has that. And eh, listen, after ‘El Flaco’ Cruyff, there weren’t many players who have had that quality.
And Cruyff did have it?
El Flaco! Look, El Flaco played when his legs were burning. And this is the same. This lad went to the Camp Nou, Barcelona were winning 1-0… 1-1.
Messi and Ronaldo winning the Ballon d'Or is boring
What do you think of the Ballon d’Or as a prize?
Bufff… As a trophy… It’s very difficult to give just one Ballon d’Or to a player. Because giving one to Cristiano and to Messi… it’s boring now.
Is there nobody else in the elite who deserves it?
You’d have to put Cavani, Mbappé, Ibrahimovic in the fight. I don’t know.
Back in your day, non-European players couldn’t win the Ballon d’Or…
No, no… I would have more than Cristiano and Messi.
Do you see Madrid as the best team in the world at the moment?
I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I don’t think Madrid are having their best moment and neither are Barça. And listen, Barça are winning while suffering.
And do you like PSG?
No, they don’t satisfy me. They’re very ‘Neymardependent’ and Cavani’s goals… and Mbappé, for me he’s the big revelation in football.
Do you see Mbappé as the future?
I think he can surpass many players.
Real Madrid could have signed him…
And why didn’t they sign him? He told Florentino that he should sign Mbappé. I told him! It was when we saw each other at FIFA.
And what did he say back?
He said to me, “you know I have Cristiano, and that..”
'Give Bale away'
And where do we put Bale?
Sell Bale, give Bale away. If Bale…
Come on, Diego, they can’t give him away…
And Florentino is even less likely to give him away (smiles). He’ll surely be a makeweight for something, and Florentino will be left with half of Madrid or half of Italy and Bale will play for AC Milan or Inter. But I think they have to buy Mbappé.
There is a debate in Spain about Karim Benzema. Is he a central striker?
There have always been those players. The players that wear down the defences. And for what? So the players who really have to score, score.
So you defend Benzema’s role?
Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely.