CULIACAN, Mexico (AP) - Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona said Monday he has left his off-the-pitch issues behind as he was formally introduced as the new coach of Mexican second-tier club Dorados de Sinaloa.
Visibly jovial during a news conference at a luxury hotel in the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacan, Maradona assured Dorados fans that he didn’t come to Mexico for a vacation.
“We are all judged and we think we have the word of truth, but how many people are there here who do worse things than us and don’t end up in any newspaper?” Maradona said. “I came here to work, and I came to give my heart.”
Maradona surprised the international soccer world last week by signing a deal to manage Dorados, which is in the lower half of Mexico’s second division. The 57-year-old has publicly struggled in the past with drug and alcohol addiction, and analysts criticized his choice of club in a city considered the heart of the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful drug smuggling gangs.
But Maradona said his partying days are in the past.
“Emotionally I feel that I’m in the best moment of my life. I am well with my children and only a minor problem with an ex,” he said, laughing.
“I want to give Dorados what I lost when I was sick. … I have been for about 14 years, and today I want to see the sun and I want to go to sleep at night,” Maradona continued. “Before, I didn’t go to sleep and I didn’t even know what a pillow was. That’s why I accepted the offer from Dorados.”
Maradona, one of the sport’s all-time greats, was suspended by FIFA after testing positive for cocaine in 1991 and also tested positive for doping during the 1994 World Cup. He was later hospitalized in 2000 and in 2004 for heart problems attributed to cocaine use.
His erratic behavior captured headlines this summer at the World Cup in Russia, where he made an obscene gesture with both middle fingers after Argentina scored a late winner to defeat Nigeria 2-1. He was also seen pulling his eyes into slants while gazing at a South Korean fan, and was captured on video in a seemingly inebriated state.
Maradona’s contract with Dorados is reportedly worth $150,000 a month, which would make him the second-highest paid coach in the country, despite previous uneven results. He took the Argentine national squad to the quarterfinals at the 2010 World Cup, and later managed Al Wasl and Al-Fujairah clubs in the United Arab Emirates.
“They say I have not won titles, but I have a promotion, man,” Maradona said in reference to Al-Fujairah’s ascension to the top flight in UAE. “Don’t put zeros when you talk about my career as coach.”
Maradona resigned from Al-Fujairah in April after failing to earn automatic promotion, which comes with finishing in the top two spots; the club later won a playoff without him on the bench to ascend to the first division.
He accepted a role as honorary president for the Belarus premier team Dinamo Brest in July before promptly departing for Argentina.
“I am going to talk now to the people of Culiacan and tell them that we did not come for fun, we did not come for vacation,” Maradona said. “We came to work and to lend a hand to the boys. If the people are with us, and with what I can inject emotionally for the players, it is going to be hard to beat us.”
His debut with Dorados comes Sept. 17, at home against Cafetaleros de Tapachula.
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