[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ooking at the summer’s Copa America tournament, one of the standouts was Paraguay’s elimination of Brazil on penalties in the knockout stages.
Although for most of the victorious players it will be one of the proudest moments in their careers, for head coach Ramón Díaz it was just another distinction in a glittering career both as a player and on the sidelines.
One of a glut of Argentine coaches to manage other South American nations currently, Díaz made his name as a hotshot striker for both club and country.
Playing alongside iconic countryman Diego Maradona, Díaz won the 1979 World Youth Cup in a superbly talented Argentina under-20’s side, before making 22 appearances for the Albiceleste.
He scored in Argentina’s 3-1 win over arch rivals Brazil at the 1982 World Cup, while a common perception is that the La Rioja-born man should have been involved in the tournament four years later where Maradona and the South American nation claimed ultimate glory.
At club level Díaz won five Primera Divisións with boyhood club River Plate and spent seven years in Italian football, winning the Scudetto in a solitary season with Inter in which he scored 12 crucial Serie A goals.
He played under Arsène Wenger at Monaco, while the striker was the J-League’s top goalscorer in its inaugural season in 1993-94, finishing his playing career with a bang at Yokohama Marinos.
As a coach his record is just as impressive, as he led River to a period of domestic dominance in the late 1990’s, winning five more Primera División titles.
His crowning moment came in the 1996 Copa Libertadores, where the Buenos Aires-based outfit overcame a 1-0 first-leg final defeat to Colombian outfit América de Cali to win 2-1 on aggregate, with a certain Hernán Crespo netting a brace in the return fixture to go down in history.
The elimination of Brazil at this summer’s Copa America is another achievement, while Díaz has also coached at San Lorenzo twice and at Independiente.
However, for this distinguished character the most bizarre and unexplainable period in his career, as a recognised player or manager, came in 2004 and 2005 as he managed modest English lower league club Oxford United FC.
After leaving his beloved River in an effort to embark on a new challenge, the hotshot coach was seemingly destined for the best that European football could offer, but ended up at the Oxfordshire club in a strange turn of events.
Oxford were in English football’s fourth tier, then and now, and in risk of slipping out of the Football League.
Díaz had met merchant banker Jean-Marc Goiran during his time as a player at Monaco, who was a business acquaintance of then Oxford owner Firoz Kassam – and the rest is history.
The Argentine, along with four of his compatriots in the manager’s coaching posse, agreed to take on the challenge of transforming Oxford’s fortunes – all without being paid.
Accepting the task without payment may well have been a way to get around work permit issues or an insight into Díaz’s personality but also added to the peculiar nature of the arrangement.
The initial signs were good, with Oxford playing a new attack-minded ethos of football unseen under past administrations and surging their way up the division.
At the Us fired themselves into the playoff places under Díaz’s tutelage it looked like a fairytale story in the making – but reality soon kicked in.
Communication issues and changes that were clearly too wholesale took their toll, with Oxford finishing the campaign in mid-table and Díaz and his travelling Argentine cohort departing – despite Kassam reportedly doing everything to convince them to stay.
Díaz has since rebuilt his managerial reputation with a Primera División title with San Lorenzo and has taken to international football, but his rare stint at Oxford is still surrounded by an element of mystery and will go down as a strange part of an otherwise glittering career.
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