Maradona visit sparks China coaching rumours

Beijing: The Diego Maradona rumor mill flipped into overdrive this week as the Argentine football great toured China on a charity trip.

Although in the country at the invitation of the Red Cross society of China, bringing Argentine players to take part in exhibition games, Maradona`s visit sparked speculation that he was about to become head coach of the country`s national team or a local club.

Maradona did not exactly kill off the rumors, telling a popular news website that club team Shanghai Shenhua had not contacted him, but he would be willing to meet.

Spanish-language news agency, EFE, reported that Maradona would be open to the idea of coaching the national team, but Maradona`s spokeswoman in China, Tang Qinghui, said his visit was focused only on charity work.

"Maradona definitely has not met with any Chinese football clubs during this trip to talk about any offers or related matters," Tang said.

During his visit, which ends Thursday, Maradona expressed his bewilderment to China`s lack of football talent.

"In a country of 1.3 billion people, why isn`t there high-level national team," he told Chinese reporters.

The country`s notoriously scandal-plagued football federation has been riddled with violence, bribery and match fixing, obstacles that had choked player development and kept the national team mired at 89 in the world rankings.

Maradona had been out of coaching since taking Argentina to the quarterfinals of this year`s World Cup, ending a rocky spell in charge of the national team.

Argentina`s football officials offered to keep him on provided he jettisoned several unpopular assistant coaches. He refused and his contract was not renewed, and last week, interim coach Sergio Batista was confirmed as head coach.

Maradona had also been rumored to be in line for the Iran national team job after Iranian football officials invited him to the country and a possible visit with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When Maradona was asked about a possible offer from Iran, Tang said he "didn`t say anything and just smiled."

Maradona has enjoyed a friendly relationship with many political leaders who had been criticized by western nations, such as Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and if things go smoothly, Ahmadinejad, who in the past has addressed him as "his excellency."