Diego Maradona's first coaching session as the manager of Argentina was brought to a premature halt 30 minutes early at Celtic Park last night, but any fears of the 48-year-old going off the rails so soon in his tenure can quickly be dismissed. He stopped the session because one of his midfielders, Fernando Gago, had lost a small gold St Christopher medallion from a chain around his neck while chesting a ball.
On a night that one young Celtic fan will remember forever, Maradona enlisted the help of the evening's temporary ball boys – Celtic's Under-14 squad – to help search for the jewellery. And after several dozen people had spent 10 minutes looking, 13-year-old Adam Brown came up trumps and found the lost gong. Maradona ran over to the boy, lifted him in an embrace of thanks, and then gave the lad the woolly hat and gloves he had been wearing to keep out Glasgow's East End chill.
"He just said 'for you, for you'. It's amazing, he's a legend," said young Adam, who will not be the last to utter such an awestruck sentiment this week. The opening match of the Maradona era is against Scotland at Hampden tomorrow and the 1986 World Cup winner is guaranteed a warm reception, if only for his "Hand of God" goal against England 22 years ago. "I feel like I never left," said Maradona of returning to duty for his country in an interview conducted in Glasgow with Ole, an Argentine newspaper. "I feel the same perfume, the same smell, the same need, the same motivation, the same commitment." Maradona has, as yet, declined to make any other public comment since arriving in Scotland on Sunday morning, although the first official press conference of his reign is scheduled for 4pm today.
In his chat with Ole, late on Sunday, he insisted that he is treating this week's match with the utmost seriousness. "We don't do friendlies," he said. "Even without [the absent Juan Riquelme and Lionel Messi], we will play for victory against Scotland."
Argentina's new coach also said he understood why some supporters might have doubts about his appointment, given his turbulent past. He said: "The fans are entitled to think whatever they want," and assured them that "Diego is strong today".
He arrived at Celtic Park amid tight security and when he walked onto the turf a few minutes later, he was met by a barrage of photographers' flashes and began his first session in charge in front of a couple of hundred media and other spectators. Tomorrow's game will have extra spice because Scotland's assistant manager, Terry Butcher, reiterated he will never forgive Maradona for the Hand of God moment.
"It's not nice when you lose a World Cup quarter-final under those circumstances," Butcher said. He would settle for revenge via Scotland tomorrow but the hosts' squad is weakening by the day. James Morrison and Ross McCormack yesterday joined a lengthening injury list.