Former Argentina forward Diego Maradona (C) celebrates the opening goal during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Saint Petersburg Stadium in Saint Petersburg on June 26, 2018. AFP | Giuseppe CACACE
Agence France-Presse

Argentina icon Diego Maradona has been urged by FIFA to behave in a respectful manner after hitting the headlines during the group stages.

The 1986 World Cup winner attracted widespread criticism for an offensive gesture during Argentina’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria, which saw Jorge Sampaoli’s side secure a last 16 clash with France.

Maradona also left the game early with a health scare following a number of exuberant appearances in the stands around Russia, later slamming reports of his death and threatening legal action.

FIFA has now commented on the situation by providing support for a player widely regarded to be one of the greatest ever, urged the 57-year-old – part of the FIFA Legends Program – to be respectful.

“Diego Maradona is obviously one of the greatest footballers that has ever lived and is a part of that [FIFA Legends Program]. We are aware of what you are referring to in terms of previous matches,” FIFA’s chief competitions and events officer Colin Smith said on Friday.

“We expect all players, former players, staff, fans and everyone to behave in a respectful manner, but having stars like Diego, [Carles] Puyol, [Javier] Zanetti, who have built up the fabric of football, and having them working with us on our goals is part of a much bigger picture.”

As well as providing a colourful presence in the stands during Argentina’s games, Diego has been fronting a television programme on the Telesur network at the World Cup alongside legendary Uruguayan commentator Victor Hugo Morales.

He has used the platform to voice strong criticisms of his national team, who were on the verge of elimination following a draw against Iceland and defeat to Croatia before sealing their place in the last 16.

Of Sampaoli Maradona has said: “His game plan was a disgrace. I don’t blame the players. I blame a lack of preparation because there obviously hasn’t been any.

“If he carries on like this, Sampaoli can’t come back to Argentina.”

Lionel Messi, however, has won the backing of his predecessor at No. 10.

“To Leo, I would like to talk to you and tell you that you are not guilty of anything, of absolutely nothing,” he said.

“I love you as always, I respect you as always.”

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