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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES

Choice Words to Kick Around

February 23, 2003|GRAHAME L. JONES

Amid all the babble in the world, occasionally a few words filter through that bring a smile or a nod of agreement.

These were a few of the people who said something worth noting last week:

Robson on Maradona

Sir Bobby Robson, who turned 70 on Tuesday, still finds it difficult to forgive Diego Maradona for his "hand of God" goal that knocked England out of the World Cup quarterfinals in 1986.

Even so, he can't help liking the Argentine.

"I'm still unhappy about it because he robbed us, so I'll never forgive him," Robson told Reuters in his native Newcastle, England. "He loved the glory of being a cheat.

"But he is arguably the best player the world has ever produced. Maradona, at that time, was easily the best, and I'd question whether there's ever been anyone better.

"He was phenomenal, misshaped, but what a footballer. Absolutely fabulous.

"I spoke to him at a dinner after he played in a Rest of the World side against an England side at Wembley. He remembered me and said, 'theseComo esta?' which means 'How are you?' "

"He said, 'Disculpame, mister,' which means 'sorry,' but he didn't mean it."

Recoba on Dollars

Alvaro Recoba is Uruguay's best player, but the Inter Milan forward also is its unhappiest, claiming that the national team still is owed $2 million by the Uruguayan soccer federation for qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

"The truth is that if we haven't been paid for the last qualifying competition, we can't start playing in the next one because it's a lack of respect," he said, hinting at problems ahead for Uruguay.

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Gil on Justice

For 16 years, Jesus Gil has been president of Atletico Madrid and during that time the former mayor of Marbella has been in and out of trouble.

In his latest brush with the law, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail, fined $17.27 million and told to hand over to the court his 95% interest in the Spanish club. His crimes? Fraud and misappropriation of funds. His reaction? Predictable.

"This is a case of persecution," he said. "They want to ruin me, put me in jail and destroy my reputation."

Uh-huh.

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Vogts on Timing

Scotland's recent loss at home to Ireland had Coach Berti Vogts searching for answers. One that the former World Cup winner for Germany came up with was a little unexpected.

"Maybe we come too late to the stadium," he said, trying to explain Scotland's disturbing habit of conceding early goals. "We come to the stadium an hour before the start. It's too late."

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Deco on Anthems

When Luiz Felipe Scolari was searching Portugal for players to beef up the country's national team before it plays host to the 2004 European Championship, he stumbled upon Brazilian-born playmaker Deco Souza.

Deco, as he is known, is a 25-year-old midfielder whose play has FC Porto running away with the league title.

Deco was granted Portuguese citizenship last week, and Scolari, who coached Brazil to the 2002 World Cup title, said he would not hesitate to put Deco on Portugal's team.

Portugal's next game is against Brazil on March 29, which prompted Brazil's Radio Globo to mischievously ask Deco if he would confuse the national anthems.

"I would sing the Portuguese one, no question," Deco replied. "I've played my career here."

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Roux, Houllier on Survival

When Liverpool defeated Auxerre, 1-0, in a UEFA Cup match Thursday, the coaches were as much a part of the story as the game.

Gerard Houllier, who has coached the English Premier League team for four years, and Guy Roux, who has been with the French first-division team for 42 years, have been friends for a quarter of a century.

In 2001, the two Frenchmen suffered heart problems that threatened to end their involvement in the sport, and possibly their lives. But both pulled through, undergoing treatment at the same hospital and even recuperating together at a hotel in Corsica.

"For me, it's marvelous to be here because I had reluctantly accepted that I had to call it quits," Roux, 63, told the French daily l'Equipe before Thursday's game.

"Like Gerard, we were called by God. He kicked me out, sent me back to Earth to be a coach again and we qualified for a European cup."

Added Houllier: "When you are in the state of health that we were, you are hoping to get back into football as soon as possible, and now, every minute of every game, we enjoy."

Just as it should be.

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