Argentina legend Diego Maradona on Wednesday, Feb 15, said he would love to coach his former club Napoli but an ongoing wrangle with the Italian authorities over unpaid tax is preventing his return, AFP reports.
Maradona’s seven-year spell in Italy saw him attain demi-god status for Napoli fans after he helped the club to Serie A wins in 1987 and 1990.
But he walked away from the country with an unpaid tax bill and now owes 37.2 million euros.
“Every time I set foot in Italy I feel persecuted, whenever I return I have a horrible feeling,” he told the Corriere dello Sport newspaper in an interview.
“I’ve had it with the Italian taxman who’s made me feel like a thief, a cheat,” added the man whose famous “Hand of God” goal helped Argentina defeat England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
“I’ve never stolen anything from Italy or Italians, all I did was give them joy and pleasure on the pitch,” he was quoted as saying.
The 51-year-old, now coaching Emirati club Al-Wasl, owes 13.7 million euros in unpaid tax with another 23.5 million euros in interest and fines.
Maradona, however, insisted that he was not responsible for payment, describing himself as “the victim, not the culprit”.
“In Italy I’ve become the symbol of tax evasion, that’s an injustice,” he added.
On previous visits to Italy, Maradona has had watches and earrings seized and auctioned to pay off some of his debt.
“I know I’m not the only person in Italy who feels persecuted by the tax office but I don’t know if the others had a watch taken from their wrist or a diamond from their ear,” he complained.
Maradona said that if his debt can be wiped out, he would like to return to work in Italy.
“As long as I didn’t feel like a thief any more. I can’t deny it, I’d like to coach an Italian team,” he said. “And if that should be Napoli, then it would be a dream come true.”