ICON SERIES: DIEGO MARADONA
Soccer has been mourning the death of one of its greatest, most complicated idols this past week.
Diego Maradona was a countercultural icon, who became a national treasure. To many he was the finest ever player of the world’s favourite game, as well as being the most compelling.
There is not much hope of making sense of a life such as Maradona’s in the details. Many can lean on the established pillars: humble beginnings, otherworldly gifts, those improbable Serie A titles with Napoli, the concentrated brilliance of that Fifa World Cup win in Mexico in 1986. Or the cocaine and the chaos and the contrarian charisma.
Instead, it is how many have tried to explain just how Maradona made them feel.
Argentina President Alberto Fernandez confirmed three days of national mourning following the news of Maradona's passing."You took us to the highest place in the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all. Thanks for existing, Diego. We are going to miss you the rest of our lives," Fernandez posted to Twitter.
Diego Armando Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, in Villa Fiorito, a province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The fifth of eight children raised by Diego Sr. and Doña Tota, Maradona grew up in a poor but close-knit household.
He would received his first soccer ball as a gift at age 3 from a cousin and it become a dear companion from the start.
At 10, Maradona joined Los Cebollitas, a youth team of Argentinos Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina. Showing his prodigious ability at an early age, Maradona led Los Cebollitas to an incredible 136-game unbeaten streak.
Before making his debut for the senior team, Maradona would often be asked to perform tricks with both a soccerball and an orange for television and for at halftime for Argentinos Juniors.
Aged just 15, Maradona made his professional senior debut against Talleres de Córdoba, becoming the youngest in the history of the Argentine Premera División. He would go on to play 166 games for Argentinos Juniors and score an amazing 116 games, in 5 years.
After a long negotiation process, Maradona would join Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, for an unheard-of sum in Argentine football of $4 million dollars.
When the time came to move on, he was able to choose between several well-paid offers. He would end up joining Boca Juniors, the team he supported during childhood, for an unheard-of sum in Argentine soccer of $4 million dollars.
Following his first World Cup with Argentina in 1982, Barcelona would break the world record transfer fee bringing Maradona to Catalonia.
He would quickly find his feet in Spain, providing fans with multiple world class performances. During an El Clásico his outstanding performance would even merit an applause from the apposing Real Madrid fans.
Barcelona fans however failed to fully see what Maradona was capibile of, with his time in blue and red being plauged with injuries.
After causing a mass brawl on the field in the 1984 Copa del Rey final, where 60 people where injured, it seemed destined that Maradona would leave Barcelona.
One Barcelona executive reportedlystated at the time, "When I saw those scenes of Maradona fighting and the chaos that followed I realized we couldn't go any further with him."
Within the month the club had found a potential suitor and managed to sell Maradona after just two seasons at the club.
In 58 games for the Catalan club, Maradona scored 38 goals and helped Barcelona win a treble of cup trophies with the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Supercup and the now defunct Copa de la Liga.
Barcelona will probably go down as a bad move for Maradona but it perhaps had to happen to allow the maverick talent to find his way to Napoli, who signed the Argentine for another world record of $10.48 million.
No less than 75,000 Napoli fans packed into the club's Stadio San Paolo to greet Maradona at his unveiling. Sports writer David Goldblatt stated,"They [the fans] were convinced that the saviour had arrived."
In 1987, Maradona not only helped Napoli to their first ever Serie A title but the first ever Serie A title won by a team from the south of Italy, along with the Coppa Italia. The following season the Serie A side finished second in the division but went one better by winning the UEFA Cup, before reclaiming the league title the following season.
By the end of his spell in Napoli, Maradona had earned the captain’s armband and was the club’s all-time top goalscorer with 115 goals. He left a city adorned in murals and paintings of his achievements for the club as perhaps the single greatest transfer football has ever seen.
The pinnacle of his career came as a member of the Argentinean national team that won the 1986 World Cup. His performance there included two memorable goals in a quarter-final victory over England. The first was scored illegally with his left hand, which Maradona later claimed was the work of "the hand of God" and the second required no supernatural help other than an otherworldly ability to dribble past an onslaught of defenders to find the back of the net. Altogether, Maradona played in four World Cups, and scored an impressive 34 goals in 91 international appearances for Argentina.
Despite his unquestioned brilliance on the pitch, the emotional Maradona became equally well known as a highly controversial figure. He became addicted to cocaine while playing in Spain in the 1980s and received a 15-month suspension after testing positive for the substance in 1991. Maradona endured another high-profile suspension three years later, this time for testing positive for ephedrine during the World Cup.
Maradona spent the twilight of his playing career in his home country, his physical skills diminished by mounting injuries and years of hard living. He announced his retirement on the eve of his birthday in 1997.
Life After Soccer
The problems that plagued Maradona later in his playing la carrière continued after his retirement. He was hospitalized for heart problems in 2000 and 2004, the second heure requiring the use of a respirator to breathe properly, and the following year he underwent gastric-bypass surgery.
An internet poll conducted by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association named Maradona the top player of the 20th century, but even that event was marked by controversy. Maradona chafed when a special panel was created to ensure that Pelé would be jointly honored, and then refused to share the stage with the Brazilian legend.
In 2008, Maradona was hired to coach the Argentinean national team. Although the Argentines boasted a talented squad headlined by Lionel Messi, perhaps the best player in the world, they were bounced from the 2010 World Cup with a 4-0 thrashing by Germany in the quarter-finals, and Maradona's contract was not renewed.
Despite the public disappointments, Maradona remained beloved in Argentina as a native son who rose from humble beginnings to reach the apex of stardom on an international stage.
Maradona, who was recovering from emergency brain surgery, passed away in his Argentinian maison from a heart attack on November 25, 2020. He was 60.