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OBITUARY-Soccer-Julio Grondona, Argentine FA strongman

Reuters

By Javier Leira

BUENOS AIRES, July 30 (Reuters) - Julio Grondona, one of the most powerful men in Argentine and global soccer, died on Wednesday aged 82, shortly after going to hospital for a heart condition.

Buffeted by controversies throughout his long career, Grondona was at the time of his death head of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) and number two at the world body for the sport, FIFA.

"Don Julio", as he was known in his country, took over the presidency of AFA in 1979, a year after Argentina won the World Cup for the first time and in the midst of the repressive military dictatorship's so-called 'Dirty War' against its opponents.

Grondona joined FIFA's executive committee in 1988 and rose up the ranks to become senior vice-president and key internal dealmaker despite his lack of knowledge of English.

"On languages, it's true I only speak Spanish, but I have an advantage: I speak the language of football very well. And not everyone knows how to speak that language," he said in an interview with El Grafico magazine in 2006.

THE IRONMONGER

Grondona was born on Sept. 18, 1931, and in 1956 founded modest Buenos Aires club Arsenal, which later went on to win the local league and the regional Copa Sudamericana.

During his period running the club, he was suspended for a year for attacking a referee, a sign perhaps of controversies to come.

His three decades at the helm of AFA saw him overseeing Argentina's second World Cup victory in 1986, when diminutive ace Diego Maradona was the driving force behind his country's victory.

In later years, Grondona and Maradona - neither of them figures to mince their words - were often at loggerheads.

After Argentina departed the 2010 tournament at the quarter-final stage, then-coach Maradona said that "a black hand" had removed him from the post, in reference to the AFA chief.

There was further controversy at the 2014 finals in Brazil in June when Grondona called Maradona 'mufa' (a jinx, or evil eye) and said Argentina's last-minute winner against Iran was because the ex-player had left the stands, prompting a middle-finger retort from Maradona.

Described by those who knew him as arrogant and stubborn, Grondona had such power at the AFA that the organisation was reportedly paralysed if he was ill or out the country.

He amassed a fortune over the years, which he said was largely due to an ironmonger's store owned by his family. The Argentine public and media, who were not always his biggest fans, nicknamed him 'el ferretero' - the ironmonger.

Grondona leaves behind three children. His wife, Nelida, died in 2012. (Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing By Rex Gowar)

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