Maradona gets royal welcome in Beijing
BEIJING, China (AFP) — Argentine football icon Diego Maradona received a royal welcome in Beijing yesterday, offering his services to the nation and expressing bemusement as to why Team China has failed to shine.
Maradona, who arrived in China late Wednesday for a series of charity events with the Chinese Red Cross Foundation, was mobbed by journalists and has been hailed in the national press as the “King of Football”.
He immediately quieted speculation that he had come to coach China’s national side, a team which has suffered a string of poor performances and failed to qualify for last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
“I have no intention (of coming here for China’s coaching job), but if the question is raised, then we can sit down and discuss it… I would like to do something for Chinese football,” Maradona told reporters.
“There is a big gap between the level of Chinese football and world football, so a lot of effort is needed to rise up.”
During his stay in China, the former World Cup-winning captain was scheduled to play in a series of charity matches around the nation.
Gambling, match-fixing, crooked referees and poor performances by China’s national team have made the sport the laughing stock among an increasingly indifferent fan base and a matter of mounting state concern.
Two successive heads of the Chinese Football Association and numerous other association officials have been jailed this year and are awaiting trial on charges of match-fixing and bribery.
When asked why Chinese football was so bad, the 50-year-old Argentinian said he was mystified.
“I have no idea why China with 1.3 billion people cannot organise a (strong) national team,” Maradona said.
“China is certainly a strong nation in the world and is on the top of the world in a lot of areas except for in football.
“What I want to tell Chinese fans, is that you can play football just like us, Chinese football has a lot of potential, (but) right now it is like a sleeping child.”