After his recent stint as a coach in Paraguayan soccer, more precisely in Sol de América, Luis Islas spoke exclusively for 90min. The world champion goalkeeper in Mexico ’86 with the Argentine team analyzed the 1-1 draw against Chile for the Copa América and the high and low points of the Scaloni team.
Diego Maradona’s former field assistant during his time at Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates and in Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico, gave his opinion about the tribute to ’10’ in the run-up to the meeting, how day-to-day was with Diego and the memories of his passage under the three sticks of the albiceleste. In addition, he assured that he continues to doubt about the remembered positive doping of “Pelusa” during the ’94 World Cup.
Islas and Maradona lived together for a long time. As players, they did it in the Argentine national team in the World Cup in Mexico ’86 and in the United States ’94. In the first, where Argentina won the title, the goalkeeper did not have minutes, while Diego was the great figure of the contest.
Eight years later, in the North American country, Islas won the place at the last minute to an undisputed person like Goycochea and was the starter in all four games of the team led by Basile. For his part, Maradona only played the first two games, as he was excluded due to a positive anti-doping control, after the game against Nigeria. In the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, they shared a coaching staff during their time in the USA in Al-Fujairah and in Dorados de Sinaloa respectively.
What did the tribute that they did to Diego Maradona from CONMEBOL generate for you?
Every time Diego is valued the way he should be, I like him. For me, football has a name and surname: Diego Armando Maradona. I also liked it, and valued it a lot, when in the Argentine championship he was honored in all stadiums with the king’s chair. It is well deserved. I was lucky to play with him, be his teammate, be a world champion, coach together and I have the greatest of memories. I really enjoyed working with him because it went very well for us.
I know that I will not see Diego again, I have physically fired him, but he will always be in my heart. It will be present in memories and much more in football.
Diego always indicated that he did not want to be forgotten. You guys worked a lot together. How did you notice it?
My life with Diego was always soccer. As players we share, as well as as coaches. He was happy on the playing field. He lived it, he enjoyed it. As a player he was the best, the best in the world; but as a coach he also lived it, felt it, worked for it.
When we were in the Emirates, he lived in Dubai and I lived in Fujairah, which is where the team is. He did 140km one way and the same back every day. That was Diego in football. I wanted the team to work and win. I always noticed him happy and content, he knew very well what people felt about him. He loved Argentina, he was one hundred percent Argentine. All the recognitions that are made to him are well received and he enjoyed them very much. He is number 1 in the world and he is Argentine.
They have been compared a lot to Maradona and Messi. It bothers you?
I don’t like comparisons, they are different people. We are talking about two football phenomena. Maradona for me was the best I’ve seen. Messi is superlative, a player who has been wreaking havoc in Europe for many years, he is Argentine and you have to enjoy him. As a coach, I see them as different players. Diego played more in the middle, a hitch that managed and set up the play. Messi can do better on the outside. Both of them would play in a team of mine.
The Argentine team equalized at 1 in its debut in the Copa América against Chile. In the run-up to the match, one of the doubts was who would put on the gloves, since Emiliano Martínez had done it correctly in the previous games, but during the last calls the one who had been doing it as a starter was Franco Armani. Finally, the Aston Villa goalkeeper took the position and it seems that this will continue to be the case.
Emiliano Martínez saved in the debut against Chile. Is the goalkeeper of the Argentine team already defined?
I do not know if it is defined, because there is a very healthy competition. Armani lost the space due to the contagion of COVID-19 and behind was Emiliano, as well as Andrada or Marchesín, who have a very high level. The possibility came to Martínez, he is doing very well, when he has to appear, he appears. It is a very healthy competition, but also even.
In recent years it has been difficult for the Argentine team to beat Chile …
If we analyze these last two games, Argentina deserved a little more. When he proposes, he positions himself on the opposite playing field, he feels comfortable in the match. When he waits, he destroys the above and loses the essence, which is why he suffers a lot. If Argentina finds the football line, it can be very competitive.
Is Argentina there to fight the powers of the world?
It has everything to be a highly competitive team, I have no doubts about that. You have quantity and variety of players who are in the best teams in the world. I trust Scaloni and his people, he has former players who have passed through the Argentine team in the coaching staff. It is a team that is in training, but it does not have what it wants. At times he does it very well, especially when he has the ball and constantly looks at the goal in front of him, he has interesting football circuits, a superlative player like Messi, but he does not support him in the game.
It seems that Argentina is withdrawing, holding the game and there it has difficulties, as for example in the setback that is where they damage it. Today he lacks that, but when Scaloni and the coaching staff find him, he will be a great team.
Scaloni is criticized a lot for the changes he makes during the games, both from the names themselves and the time in which he makes them. How do you handle those moments for a coach?
There is something that caught my attention about this last game. To be a great team, you have to be balanced, it is essential. Who gives you that balance? The middle zone, the steering wheels. Against Chile, the coach changed the four shuttlecocks that had started. That caught my eye, because you can generally modify one and a cooler striker. Lastly, a winger for a more offensive midfielder, because Argentina lends itself to that. Scaloni will have understood that he had to modify the medium to endure a little, but Argentina has much more to give, it can be a team that proposes.
What does it mean to be a “national team player”?
It has to have a plus. This is achieved as the team becomes solid. Currently I see several players who are in Argentina, who have put on the shirt and are doing it correctly. Coaches must also give a football idea to empower those players. Paredes is a national team player, not to mention Messi, Agüero, Otamendi.
There are players who have hierarchy, but the operation is not supporting them one hundred percent. If we go to the goal, Emiliano Martínez is responding, surely he will lack games to become strong.
It seems that everything about the 1986 World Cup in which you were world champion has already been told. What things are not known about that experience?
Carlos Bilardo is the best coach I have ever had. He came to look for me in Chacarita when I was 16 years old, he takes me to Estudiantes and automatically makes me debut in the senior team. A fantastic coach. When you talk about the line of five and that it seems they invented it now, do you know how long that has been working? We worked with Carlos for a long time. That establishment was highly criticized, especially Bilardo who judged it by a very strong part of journalism. That team became strong, each one knew they had a role and then we had Diego who was at one point from another planet.
I say it with great pride that we are the last world champions, but I want Argentina to be champion again. I don’t want to be the last champion anymore, I want the country to raise a World Cup again, because that will make the Argentine national team and football richer and more powerful.
Islas participated in two World Cups (1986 and 1994) with the Argentine national team, three America Cups (1987, 1989 and 1993 -being champion in the latter-) and once in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. In total, he played 30 matches under the three suits in the national team.
How did Diego’s doping hit you in the ’94 World Cup? That team had everything to go far …
It was a team that had a very strong football identity. I’m a very respectful guy, I trust my teammates, we were very good, focused, every day training. I remember that a study had been done on the campus and we were all perfect. It is to this day that I have my serious doubts what happened. The lady who went to look for him up to the middle of the field comes to mind and took him to the stadium for anti-doping control.
“I have serious doubts about Maradona’s dopping. I was with Diego every day and he was perfect.”
– Luis Islas.
It never happened in the history of football …
Personally I never saw it. That’s why I tell you that there are a lot of things that surprised me. To this day I have my doubts and unfortunately I am going to have to stay with that. We were permanently working with Diego, he was perfect. That team, if that didn’t happen, had every chance of being world champion. Italy and Brazil didn’t have a great team and we were doing very well. They are football things that give you experience. Every time I had to wear the national team jersey, it was a huge pride.