Gimnasia y Esgrima ready for Maradona's much-anticipated debut
A woman examines a Gimnasia y Esgrima jersey on Sept. 13, 2019, at the club's main office in La Plata, Argentina. EPA-EFE/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni
Gimnasia y Esgrima fans wait on Sept. 13, 2019, to buy a ticket for Diego Maradona debut match on Sept. 15 as head coach of the La Plata, Argentina-based first-division club. EPA-EFE/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni
Hernan Paladino, a director and one of the heads of the members area at Argentine first-division club Gimnasia y Esgrima, poses during an interview with EFE at the club's main office in La Plata, Argentina. EPA-EFE/Juan Ignacio Roncoroni
By Sebastian Meresman
Buenos Aires, Sep 14 (efe-epa).- Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, currently dead last in the Argentine league standings, are all set for soccer legend Diego Maradona's highly anticipated debut Sunday as new head coach.
A director of the club based in La Plata - capital of Buenos Aires province - and one of the leaders of its members area, Hernan Paladino, told EFE that the buzz surrounding the arrival of Argentina's "Golden Boy" has exceeded all expectations.
"When Gimnasia was looking for a head coach, other names were bandied about until Maradona's name emerged as a possibility. It seemed crazy, absurd at first, until little by little it became a more concrete possibility," Paladino said.
"And finally it ended up happening with the whole barrage, the Maradona hurricane we're experiencing," he said.
Since the signing for one season of the 58-year-old manager - a legendary player who was the hero of Argentina's 1986 World Cup triumph - the club's membership has climbed by 5,000 to 30,000.
That total exceeds the roughly 20,000-spectator capacity of the club's home ground, Juan Carmelo Zerillo Stadium (popularly known as El Bosque).
"Maradona's arrival came as a huge torrent difficult to manage in terms of infrastructure and human resources. We imagined there would be an impact of significant magnitude, but not to this extent," Paladino said.
Fans have flocked to Gimnasia's offices all week to join the club, since only official members are permitted to attend home games.
Silvia Burgos, one of Gimnasia's many supporters, told EFE Friday outside the club's headquarters that despite being a fan her entire life she had never taken the step of becoming a member until Friday.
She said she had dreamed several years ago, when Maradona was coaching in the United Arab Emirates, that he would become the manager of El Lobo (The Wolf) one day.
"The miracle happened. The dream came true."
Maximo Ferrari, a 19-year-old Gimnasia fan and life-long member, told EFE Friday that having Maradona as the team's manager is "incredible."
"Maradona is a god for us, for all the people of Argentina. It's the leap we needed to make. The truth is we were really discouraged. We needed something like this," he said.
Ferrari, who plans to be in the crowd for Maradona's debut on Sunday at 11 am against Racing Club for a Matchday 6 of 25 home game at El Bosque, had gone to Gimnasia's offices to stay current with his membership payments.
Paladino was visibly proud at the surge of new members following the signing of Maradona but said El Lobo "is not just soccer."
"The club has more than 20 disciplines that receive more than 2,000 kids every day. There are sports and arts workshops for children with Down syndrome. We have soccer for kids in wheelchairs and a very strong (program for girls). There are female soccer, futsal and basketball teams," he said.
He also recalled that Gimnasia, founded in 1887, is the oldest club in the Americas and that the late Rene Favaloro, a cardiac surgeon who pioneered coronary bypass surgery, was one of the club's members and fans.
"We're pleased that all of this is coming to light through (the signing of) Maradona," Paladino said. EFE-EPA