BY LIAM MURPHY
Although he may be criminalized throughout the country of England, Diego Armando Maradona will be sorely missed, as one of the most inspirational sportsmen of all time has died at the age of 60.
No human is perfect, however, Maradona was no normal human. His ability on the pitch is unmatched, the quick feet, the dribbling, the agility and for a short man, he presented a remarkable aerial presence.
Diego will always be known for that performance against England in the 1986 FIFA World Cup Quarter Final, a tournament he would end captaining his country to glory, for the 2nd time in Argentina’s history. The game ended 2-1 and will always be remembered for the five minutes of talent produced from the heavens by El Pibe de Oro. Much to Peter Shilton’s dismay, Maradona infamously handled the ball into the back of the net, with many still questioning how he got there before the English goalkeeper. Surprisingly, Maradona got away with latter saying: “It was a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of god.” This goal would later become known as “The Hand of God” as football fans know today.
Less than 5 minutes later, Maradona picked the ball up on the halfway line and began running and dribbling around players like training cones. After sending the stadium into shock with such pristine skill, he eventually rounded the goalkeeper after picking the ball up nearly in his own half. This goal was immediately applauded worldwide and was deservedly voted the goal of the century by FIFA.
El Diego would start his career little before his 16th birthday, where he made his professional debut with the club Argentinos Juniors. In his five years with the club, he played 167 games and scored 115 goals.
Maradona racked up a quite incredible list of honours, with his first honour coming in 1979, when he won the Under 20s World Cup. His first senior honour came in 1981, when he won the Argentinian title for his boyhood club, Boca Juniors. This would be his only major honour for the Argentinian club.
After he attracted global interest due to his unique and breath-taking style of play, Maradona went on to sign for Barcelona for a world record fee at the time of £5 million, winning the Spanish and League cup, respectively, in 1983, winning the super cup the next season. Whilst in Catalonia, his most memorable moment came when “The Butcher of Bilbao” Andoni Goikoetxea, snapped Maradona’s leg in 1983 leaving him out for months. The following season, after the Spanish cup defeat to the same side, Maradona lost his temper and became the instigator of a mass post-match brawl. He ended his spell with Barcelona as Top Scorer on two occasions, scoring 38 goals in 58 games.
Diego Maradona will be best known for his time with Italian side Napoli, signing for another record fee of £6.9 million. Maradona guided the Naples side to their first ever Italian Scudetto in 1987, leading to a domestic double with an Italian cup win in the same season. Maradona’s most famous triumph would come in 1989, after guiding Napoli to UEFA Cup glory, with a 5-4 aggregate win over VFB Stuttgart. Maradona scored a penalty in the first leg. During the UEFA cup campaign, a very famous video surfaced of Maradona in his warmup before the semi final vs Bayern Munich. With his elegant flair on display, Diego was seen dancing around effortlessly, producing tricks like no other before a crucial match. This showed how confident the Argentinian was in his own abilities and the genius was always on display, with millions of fans in awe before the game had even started. Maradona would go on bring further joy to Naples as Napoli won the Scudetto again in 1990 followed by the Super cup in the following season. His impact as such an iconic figure for the club resulted in the number 10 jersey being retired forever as a mark of respect to ‘one of the Greatest to ever play in Naples’. He ended up playing 259 games for the Gli Azzuri, scoring 115 goals.
His International career was also filled with many special moments. His first game for the Argentinian National team came when he was just 16, playing against Hungary. Maradona’s first international goal came on the second of June 1979 in a 3-1 win at Hampden Park versus Scotland. After going on to make quite the impression, he was selected for the 1982 World Cup. The campaign began with defeat against Belgium, where the very iconic image of him against five Belgian players first appeared. His next game, however, painted a greater picture of the Maradona we were used to, as La Albiceleste won 4-1 versus Hungary and he scored twice. After a scrappy Round of 16 win versus Italy, Maradona was then pushed to his limit against Brazil, getting sent off with another loss of temper as Argentina went home at the quarter final stage, after a 2-0 defeat.
Arguably the most iconic campaign of Maradona’s career came four years later at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where he was made captain. The first game ended in victory for Argentina with a 3-1 win over South Korea, as Maradona assisted all three goals. Maradona then scored in a 1-1 draw with Italy with a superb volley and rounded off the final group game with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria. After a round of 16 win versus Uruguay, Maradona then had the most famous and infamous moment of his life in the space of 5 minutes, with the hand of god and the goal of the century sending Argentina through to the semifinals at the expense of England. At this point, this tournament seemed destined for Maradona and Argentina, after a comfortable 2-0 win versus Belgium in the next round, in which he scored twice. Maradona and Argentina went on to meet West Germany in the World Cup Final where Maradona made a remarkable, defence splitting pass to set up the winning goal in a 3-2 win as he lifted the trophy for the second time in Argentina’s history. Unsurprisingly, Maradona won player of the tournament with his 5 goals on route to a historic triumph.
The 1990 world cup ended in heartbreak for El Diego after a late penalty for West Germany saw the Germans gain revenge over Argentina. In 1994 Maradona’s football career was judged to be over by many. Coming into the tournament, Maradona was overweight and nowhere near match fit, however, he managed to find himself in the squad, where he looked back to his best in terms of fitness. His tournament lasted two games, after a comfortable win versus Greece in which his side won 4-0, with Maradona scoring a sublime goal. However, the celebration afterwards caused eyebrows to be raised as he ran to the sideline, eyes bulging, with his mouth wide open, screaming directly into the camera. This had people beginning to think that something wasn’t. The media and general public’s accusations were true, as after Argentina won their second group game versus Nigeria 2-1, Maradona was taken for a drugs test and tested positive for ephedrine. He was given a 15 month ban from football which ultimately ended his footballing career as a whole, however, his boyhood club Boca Juniors granted him one last spell which saw him score another three goals in 31 games, where he would end up finishing his career.
This wasn’t the first time Maradona was charged with drug use. Back when playing for Napoli in 1991, he was charged with the use of Cocaine and was banned from football for 15 months, ultimately ending a glorious career at Napoli. Afterwards, he joined Sevilla for a year however this never worked out for him, and after a third positive drug test, he retired from football on his 37th birthday. The issues did not stop there.
Maradona was given a suspended Jail sentence of 34 months for shooting at a group of Journalists with an air rifle.
His cocaine and alcohol problems plagued his later life as he rose to 20 stone and as a result, suffered a heart attack in 2004 which then left him in a critical condition.
To help him fight his obesity he had gastric-bypass surgery and from this point attempted to fight his addiction.
Maradona then decided to reignite his love of the game by jumping into management. He was named the Argentinian national team Head Coach in 2008 and 2 years later guided them to a World Cup quarter-final, but the reign ended after a 4-0 defeat to Germany.
After being sacked, Maradona went on to have managerial stints at clubs such as Textil Mandiyu, Racing Club, Al-Wasl, Fujairah SC. His most iconic stint in management came at local Mexican club Dorados de Sinaloa, where he guided the Mexican side to the final of the Ascenso MX Clausura, where he would lose a two-legged affair in the final to Athletico San Luis.
The flawed genius, the legacy of Diego Maradona will live on forever, people may not have been lucky to watch Maradona, but watching clips of him is a privilege in itself. Without the golden boy, football would not be where it’s at right now with the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane all learning from Maradona’s style of play. Football players would be nowhere near the level that is shown today without the game changing style of Maradona, whose legacy will live on forever. He has and always will be recognised as one of the greatest to ever kick a ball.
Rest in Peace Diego.