Madrid (AFP) - Diego Maradona says he "loves" Lionel Messi and described as "false" comments attributed to him attacking his Argentine compatriot and Barcelona legend.
"Leo is a friend of mine and I'd never speak ill of a friend," Maradona assured Spanish sports newspaper Marca on Wednesday.
Last month Maradona was quoted as telling Fox Sports in Mexico that Messi "is not a leader... It's useless to try and make a leader out of someone who goes to the bathroom 20 times before a game".
He told Marca that "all that was false".
"All I said was that Leo is a phenomenon. And that there were players who go to the toilet 20 times, but I never made any reference to Leo," he insisted.
Maradona implored his fellow countryman to return to the national side after sitting out three friendlies since Argentina's group-stage elimination from this summer's World Cup in Russia.
"I think he should return, because if not, we are in a pickle."
Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, is currently in Mexico coaching second-division Sinaloa.