The Church of Maradona is enjoying Diego's Dorados de Sinaloa success
ROSARIO, Argentina -- The critics sharpened their knives when Diego Maradona was announced as manager of Ascenso MX side Dorados de Sinaloa on Sept. 6. If a poll had been taken at the time of his appointment it would surely have produced a negative projection of the Argentine legend's chances of success, especially given his vulgar behaviour at the 2018 World Cup in Russia just a few months earlier.
But for Hernan Amez, watching on from Rosario, there was never any doubt that Maradona would find success in Mexico's second tier: Dorados now stand on the brink of the 2018 Apertura title, with the first leg on Thursday against Atletico San Luis (ESPN3, 10 p.m. ET).
"It's very easy for people to talk without knowing the reality," Amez told ESPN FC on Monday in Rosario. "It's good to talk to Diego, he knows a lot about football. It'd be good for critical journalism, the well-intentioned journalism and the sport in general [in Mexico] to get close to him and to talk football because he'll bring a lot of good things."
Amez isn't your average Maradona fan and it is with good reason that he backs "El Pelusa" to the hilt. The journalist founded the Church of Maradona (Iglesia Maradoniana) in Rosario along with friends Alejandro Veron and Hector Campomar in 2001 out of a mutual love for all things Maradona.
Diego's birthday (Oct. 30) became the church's version of Christmas Day, and June 22 -- the day Maradona scored twice against England in the 1986 World Cup -- became a kind of Easter.
We are now in year 58 of Maradona, according to the church's calendar. The church has its own 10 commandments, its own prayers and claims it had a high of around 250,000 members registered from over 130 countries in the early 2000s, although Amez admits that the founders were initially blown away by interest and had to calm things down.
"The reality of the church, in contrast to what the majority think, is that it isn't a building; the church is the people, those loyal to Maradona," Amez said. "When we created the church we thought it'd be for 30 or 40 friends that we knew adored Maradona. When we talked about football, the different, the out of this world, it was always Maradona."
Mexico has held an important place in Maradona's career and was the scene of his crowning achieving at the 1986 World Cup. Two Mexican couples were wed in the church in Buenos Aires (without their families knowing beforehand, according to Amez) and Mexico is No. 3 on the list of registered adherents of the religion, after Argentina and Brazil.
And the number of Maradona converts from the country is likely to increase if he continues to have success as a manager.
Dorados hadn't won in the Ascenso MX since April 14, a run of eight games, when Maradona took over in early September. Like flicking a switch, the team turned its fortunes around almost the moment the Barcelona, Boca Juniors and Napoli legend arrived to take over.
"He looks happy, very focused, very professional -- by that I mean he is in charge of the team and you can see the work he's doing football-wise," said Amez, adding that Maradona periodically sends messages to the church. "He's a football person, he loves football, thinks about football 24 hours a day.
"Maradona could do lots of things. He could sing, dance, act, play tennis, whatever he wants, but what he really loves is football."
Diego has been dancing regularly after Dorados' wins, turning on its head the initial perception that the second -division club's signing of Maradona was a marketing gimmick.
Maradona's behaviour has continued to cause headlines. A recent video of him failing to answer ESPN's question on the quality of Liga MX went viral; he was sent from the bench for applauding the referee in the quarterfinal of the playoffs and fined after the semifinal for statements about the officiating.
But Amez believes it has more to do with Mexico's press than Maradona actually behaving badly.
"The Mexican press is very harsh and it's worth remembering that Mexican football doesn't have international achievements," he said. "It's a national team that falters when it goes to a World Cup, that doesn't have star figures and has big economic power, but is lower-quality football."
Like many in Argentina, Amez will be watching the Ascenso MX final closely as Dorados hope to seal promotion to Liga MX. If they do that, there will be even more stories written about Maradona and even more interest in surely the only figure in world football who can boast a church established in his honour.