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Man on a mission

Love him or loathe him, Diego Maradona has been delivering the goods for Argentina.

Nothing reveals character quite the way that sport does. Equally, it might be countered, little disguises it better.

There have always been athletes and coaches who exude personality and display it to the nth degree - and not always pleasingly so. If listing them, you couldn't deny a place to the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Paul Gascoigne, Sir Alex Ferguson and a lot more. It never was - and still isn't in Ferguson's case - their style to mask their feelings.

In contrast, there have been many others from the ice-cool set, or who have portrayed themselves that way, including Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Michael Schumacher and, in this part of the world, All Black coach Graham Henry and rugby league coaching guru Wayne Bennett. It might not be so true of Borg, Lendl and Schumacher - all icemen to be sure - but the game-face worn by Henry and Bennett is much removed from their private one.

Whether natural or contrived, both sets of sporting personality types come in for vilification. The former are often scorned for being over-the-top and having unpalatable elements to their make-up that are at odds with the level of decorum demanded in sport. The latter are invariably tagged as boredom personified, offering little or nothing to enhance the image of their sport (as if they care, of course).

Among the pantheon of sport's greatest but not necessarily most admired achievers, arguably none have had bigger egos than football's Diego Maradona; none have been so routinely resented and ridiculed, either. And yet he of "the Hand of God" infamy and a litany of other misdeeds has been a magnetic force throughout football's 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

If he was a strutting bantam rooster in his playing days - and he most assuredly was - he is no different in his persona as Argentina's manager. It's clear some despise him more than ever for his behaviour in his latter-day role and doubtless folk in football's upper echelon would squirm seeing a man of such ill repute in charge of one of the game's superpowers.

Evidently, with Maradona in charge, Argentina's World Cup campaign was a train wreck waiting to happen - or perhaps the naysayers have been death-riding him at the very least. What can't be denied, though, is that as a manager Maradona still has an irresistible quality about him, as he did at the peak of his playing powers.

Throughout the group matches and in Argen­- tina's 3-1 dismissal of Mexico to reach the quarter-finals, there was nothing to suggest Maradona's involvement had turned the side into a bunch of superstar misfits. Although Argentina bumbled their way through their qualifying programme, they have been transformed into an impressive force.

Some would argue blind Freddie could coach Argentina and their galaxy of genius-quality footballers. In fact, some of the best in the business have been incapable of moulding out-of-control egos into a team unit. Read France, Italy and England at this World Cup, but certainly not Argentina so far, and that much must be due to Maradona, despite his real and supposed flaws.

What he is above all is a wonder to watch on the sideline, all arm-flailing emotion and passion, the epitome of a flyweight dynamo. His behaviour is an ill fit for people of more sober sporting tastes, but he provides fodder for those who would rather see sporting personalities exposed than concealed.