Bad Boy and Footballing Genius
Diego Maradona has been a cocaine user and an alcoholic. He has had more than one fight on the football field, even once in front of the King of Spain when the monarch was watching a match. Then again, he has suffered many injuries and illnesses, including weight issues which affected his play. Once, he fired a gun at TV and newspaper reporters who, he said, were invading his privacy. Maradona also still owes millions in unpaid tax. Most importantly for his home life, when he got divorced from his wife in 2004, he finally admitted that he had an illegitimate son after years of denying it. In short, the football legend has led a life that might be common for a rock star but is unusual for a sportsman.
Yet, despite all these personal problems which might have seen him in prison, Diego Maradona is still seen as the best footballer of the 1900s, according to the FIFA Player of the Century Awards. He has taken part in four World Cup tournaments, winning in 1986 when he was captain of the Argentina team. In the 1980s, he also set records for the highest transfer fee ever, not once but twice. So, although Pelé scored more goals and Messi won more trophies, Maradona remains the most-admired footballer of all time.
But where did this football legend come from? He was born in Argentina in October, 1960, the fourth child but first son of poor parents. Throughout his life, he kept in close contact with both his mother and father. In 1990, he actually showed his monthly phone bills to an interviewer, detailing $15,000 of calls to his parents, brothers and sisters in just thirty days. When he got the sad news that his mother was in critical condition in 2011, Maradona was in Dubai and rushed home to Argentina. Tragically, by the time he reached his native land, his mother was already dead.
Maradona was first spotted by a talent scout when he was only eight. He was picked for the Argentinos Juniors, a Buenos Aires team and, by the age of twelve, was hired to impress spectators at First Division matches with his footwork. Ten days before his sixteenth birthday, he played his first match for Argentinos Juniors, scoring his first goal for the team just a couple of weeks after turning 16. He was the youngest player ever in Argentina’s premier league. Maradona stayed with the club for five years, scoring 116 goals in 165 matches.
In 1982, Maradona was transferred to Barcelona for an all-time record fee of $5 million. Yet, the time he spent there was unhappy: he became very ill with hepatitis and also broke his ankle in a match, sidelining him for three long months. There were rumours that he would never play again, but the young man overcame his injury and returned to the first team. His time at the club came to a sudden end at the end of his second season there though when he began a fight with a player who had abused and fouled him, which spread to other members of both teams and the spectators. King Juan Carlos was in the crowd, which seemed to make the violence all the more disrespectful and serious. It was clear that Maradona could not remain at Barcelona. He was transferred to Napoli, an Italian team, again for a record fee.
The arrival of the young Argentinian changed the face of Italian football, which, until that time, was dominated by teams from the north of the country. Maradona soon showed his fans that those were days of the past. During his seven-year stay at Napoli, Maradona captained the side to many new achievements, including the League Championships, the Coppa Italia, the UEFA Cup and the Italian Supercup, scoring more goals than any other Napoli player had ever managed before.
Given his great successes at Napoli, it is perhaps ironic that this was the period when Maradona’s cocaine usage started seriously to interfere with his play. He often did not turn up for practice and missed matches. In 1992, he was sacked by Napoli after he was banned from football for fifteen months for testing positive for cocaine.
On the international stage, Maradona represented Argentina four times between 1982 and 1994, winning the greatest prize, the World Cup, in 1986. Although Argentina beat West Germany 3 - 2 in the final, it is the quarter final match against England which most people remember. Maradona scored two goals: the second one is often regarded as the best ever scored in any World Cup match. The first should actually have been a handball foul, as the ball made contact with Maradona’s hand – not his head. He famously claimed in a later interview that it was ‘the hand of God’. But the referee allowed it anyway.
Since giving up professional soccer, Maradona has been manager and coach of different teams all over the world, including his national team. But the controversy surrounding him has continued.
Maradona has never kept his opinions quiet. In his youth, he seemed right-wing but he later became a friend of the Cuban Communist leader, Fidel Castro, who said this about him: "Diego is a great friend and very noble, too. There's also no question he’s a wonderful athlete and has maintained a friendship with Cuba to no material gain of his own." The footballer has a tattoo of Castro on his left leg and one of Che Guevara, a Communist guerilla from Argentina, on his right arm. Maradona also supported the left-wing Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, a lifelong enemy of the United States, although the footballer was later very positive about Barack Obama.
Pope John Paul II said in his meeting with Maradona that he felt so sorry for the poor but received a harsh response. The Argentinian told him to sell some of the gold ornaments decorating the rooms of the Vatican and donate them to the needy if he really wanted to help. Maradona got on much better with the Latin American Pope Francis, a champion of the poor, when they met in 2014, stating: "We should all imitate Pope Francis. If each one of us gives something to someone else, no one in the world would be starving." He even gave him a signed football shirt!
So, Maradona continues to excite us, even if his playing days are now long over. The anger, the brilliance that he showed on the pitch have also caused him many problems. The drug addiction, his alcoholism, his temper tantrums and love of women must be balanced by his incredible skills with the ball and the comments he has made in favour of the world’s poorest people. You must judge for yourself!
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