The great Diego Maradona passed away at the end of November after suffering cardiac arrest. Diego is one of the greatest footballers to ever live. Here is his story. Live is life.
By: Mauricio Ponce
The story of Diego Armando Maradona is one of unparalleled highs and disastrous lows. He was comparable to a tortured genius. No matter what was going on outside of football, whether it be his very public lifestyle, child custody battles, or his fondness for substances, none of that mattered when he had a ball at his feet. Regarded as one of the world's best footballers of all time(definitely in my eyes), Diego Armando wowed fans and rivals with his unbelievable speed, sticky ball control, Masterful skills and lethal left foot.
Diego Armando Maradona was born in the slum of Villa Fiorito, on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires, and had a rough life. His town barley had running water, and he lived in a small house with his mother and father, two younger brothers, and four sisters. He was picked up by Argentino’s Jr’s, and at youth level played there until he got his full debut for the first team at age 15, 10 days before his 16th birthday. On his debut, he got the ball on the wing and nutmegged Juan Domningo Cabrera and it would push him to legendary status. Diego spent five years at Argentino’s, playing 167 games and scoring 115 goals, making him a superstar in his native Argentina. He then made the high-profile move to one of Argentina's top two teams: Boca Juniors. The other giant club, River Plate, offered him a contract to be their highest payed player, but he signed with Boca as he always expressed his desire to play at La Bombonera.
Signing with the club in February of ‘81, he made his debut just two days later. He was as majestic at La Bombonera as he was with Argentino’s, and when Boca met River in the Superclasico, the country's and arguably world's fiercest rivalry, he scored a masterful goal after getting the ball in box from a cross, sitting the keeper on the floor and faking another defender before slotting the ball comfortably in the net. Boca had a good season and won the league title, but a strained relationship with Boca’s manager meant El Diego’s time at La Bombonera was short lived.
He would then make a switch to the Catalan giants FC Barcelona, for a then world record fee of $5 Million. His tenure at Barcelona would be very rocky. At first things were on the up and up, with Barca beating Real Madrid in the 1983 Copa Del Rey final, in another fierce rivalry, El Clasico, Maradona showed his brilliance, in front of 100,000 at the Bernabeu. He got the ball from a counter attack and rushed towards goal. He dribbled past the keeper with ease, and then sent another oncoming defender to the shops with a quick body feint, sending him crashing into the post before tapping the ball into the empty net, an homage to the goal he scored against River Plate. His performance that day earned him a standing ovation from Bernabeu faithful, something that only two other Barca players would receive, Ronaldinho in 2005 and Andres Iniesta in 2015.
Barcelona would also win the Super Copa against Athletic Bilbao. The next season would be full of injury and illness for El Diego, battling hepatitis and then suffering a potential career ending broken ankle in a league match against Bilbao, from the Bilbao Butcher Andoni Goikotxea. After rehabilitation and treatment, Maradona was back for the remainder of the 1984 season. Barcelona was to play in the Copa Del Rey final against bilbao. A rough game and another crunching tackle from the butcher of Bilbao sent Maradona over the edge. After losing the game 1-0, Maradona, one to never back down from a challenge big or small, went on a rampage. He headbutted a Bilbao player and elbowed another, before running up and kneeing the Bilbao keeper, knocking him out cold. A brawl ensued, with Maradona in the thick of it. In front of a packed Bernabeu crowd which included the King of Spain, and on Spanish TV for the whole nation, Maradona’s time at the Camp Nou was over.
After an injury plagued stint in Barcelona, Maradona left for Naples after playing 58 and scoring 38. He was bought by SSC. Napoli for another record fee of $6.9 Million. This move raised many eyebrows, as Naples was one of the most impoverished cities in Italy, and were not contenders for the scudetto, but they were able to shell out a world record fee for El Diego. But when Maradona stood in front of 75,000 fans in the Estadio Sao Paolo, Naples saviour had arrived.
The Serie A had been dominated by teams in the north of Italy, with teams like Juventus, A.C. Milan, Inter and A.S. Roma having massive success in the league. Prior to Maradona’s arrival in Naples, no team in Italy’s southern peninsula had won the Scudetto (league title). He soon inherited the captaincy and donned the NO. 10 shirt. The legend of El Diego was multiplied at his time in Naples. After a slow start and a top four finish in his first two seasons, he led Napoli to its first ever Scudetto, achieving God-Like status among the Napoli faithful. Naples erupted in celebration like never before, with parties and carnivals lasting all week, thanks to a small, poor kid from Buenos Aires. There were murals painted across the city in his honour, many which are still visible today.
He was named their player of the season and a new era was formed. Fans painted coffins for each of the teams in Serie A and then burned them in celebration. After runners up in the next two seasons, El Diego’s Napoli would repeat their impossible feat again, lifting another Scudetto. Maradona also won a Coppa Italia in 1987 and the Uefa Cup in 1989, beating Stuttgart in the final. Maradona’s time in Naples was fruitful, but it was not always perfect.
He was in the middle of a scandal over an illegitimate son and his cocaine use was becoming more public. Maradona’s football shined through however, displaying his finishing, strength and unbelievable dribbling in his time in Naple. He left in 1992 after testing positive for cocaine and failing a drug test. To this day, ask any Napoli fan about Maradona and you would see tears of joy form in their eyes. El Diego was born in Argentina, but found a home in southern Italy.
Maradona’s time with the national team would also propel his legendary status even further, captivating the heart of a nation, during Mexico ‘86. Maradona was fresh off a season with Napoli before making the trip to Mexico, which ended up being El Diego’s tournament. He was named captain of the side and played every minute of El Albiceleste’s (Argentina's national team) World Cup run.
Maradona’s legend was cemented in the quarter final against England. The two countries did not like each other as they were at war in 1982 during the Falklands War. This was built as the rematch of the war in the media, stirring up tensions before the two sides met on June 22 1986. What would transpire would be a whole summary on the character of Diego Armando Maradona.
A wayward clearance from the England centre half set Maradona free on goal and jumped and handled the ball into the net leaving England keeper Peter Shilton in anger and disarray while Maradona wheeled away in celebration. This is one half of El Diego: cheeky but doing anything necessary to win. The other half was exhibited when Maradona picked up the ball in his half before driving through the pitch leaving the England team in his dust with his electrifying pace and dazzling dribbling, before leaving Shilton on the ground and putting it into the net. The “goal of the century” showed us the other side of Maradona: sheer and unparalleled brilliance on the pitch. This is still the best goal scored in a world cup, and was so good it made the commentator cry and praise god for giving Argentina the gift of Diego Armando Maradona. El Albicelsete would later lift the Mundial in the Estadio Azteca, after beating West Germany 3-2, giving Argentina their second World Cup. To this day, Mexico ‘86 is regarded as Maradona’s tournament. He scored five times and assisted twice, including the third goal that sealed Argentina’s fate as champions.
Maradona’s impact on football is indescribable. He is without a doubt my favourite footballer. He was short but with his low centre of gravity and tree trunk legs, this helped his balance and agility, which helped him weave in and out against the world's most formidable defenders. He has the sweetest left foot bar Lionel Messi’s, and was the best dribbler in the world. There is one video that helps describe El Diego better than words can. Before a Uefa cup match with Napoli, he is warming up in an oversized Napoli jumper with short shorts and high socks. He has his untied Puma Kings on and is warming up while dancing to Live is Life. This video always brings a smile to my face and is the perfect representation of Maradona: so skillful but it looks like he is not even trying himself.
Maradona died on November 25, 2020, at the age of 60. His legend will continue to live on. One of the most magisterial players in the game may have died, but his legacy will live on with all of those who he had inspired to kick a ball. The joy he brought to millions of fans world wide, especially those in Argentina and Naples will continue out his legacy, with Napoli renaming their stadium, the Estadio Diego Armando Maradona after their best ever player and saviour.
After days of mourning, Maradona was laid to rest. Players around the world expressed their grief and their thanks to an icon, including his beloved Boca Juniors. They played a match following his death and after scoring, the player ran up for Maradona's daughter to show their support, brining her to tears. Napoli also made special Argentina themed kits for the club to wear and before match time all of the Napoli players donned the NO. 10 jersey with his name on the back.
Rest in Peace D10S, the best player to grace a football pitch.