Sports

ll legend Maradona: life and times of football legend

•25 facts you didn’t know about him

There could be a debate about who is the greatest Footballer of all time but what is less contentious is the idea that no other player has ever inspired fierce devotion like Diego Maradona.

The legendary Argentine who breathed his last on Wednesday at the age of 60, was not your regular footballer; his heroics and deeds immensely transcended the football pitch and even the whole world knows his death has taken away something from the beautiful game he gave so much and received so much from.

There is something approaching a cult in his name in Naples, the overlooked and demeaned port city that he transformed into the centre of the soccer universe for a few, glorious years at the peak of his career. In Argentina, Maradona’s homeland — which declared three days of national mourning once his death was announced — there has long been a church in his honour. For many, Maradona was a quasi-religious experience.

Greatest player but polarising figure

The Argentine footballer many consider the greatest player of all time was, without doubt, the most polarising figure in the history of his sport. Maradona was worshipped for his genius with a football at his feet – but his many vices plagued his life off the pitch. Dragging himself from the slums of Buenos Aires to World Cup victory in 1986, Maradona was a rags-to-riches story in his football-mad homeland and his meteoric rise earned him god-like status. But years of drug abuse, overeating and alcoholism shortened a stellar career and altered his appearance from a super fit athlete who could effortlessly cut through defences, to a bloated addict. Maradona took Argentina to a second straight World Cup final in 1990 where they lost narrowly to West Germany, but by 1991 the drugs and alcohol had taken over his life.

That year Maradona was handed a 15-month suspension from football worldwide for doping and was called to trial in Naples over alleged links with a vice ring. Maradona lived a hundred lives and survived multiple near-death experiences before he succumbed to a heart attack at age 60 on Thursday. He was banned again for 15 months after testing positive for drugs at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

The 165cm striker with dark curly hair and a pugnacious set to his jaw surrounded himself with an entourage of yes-men and became known for his sharptongued confrontations with reporters and critics. Maradona was handed a suspended prison sentence of two years and 10 months in 1998 after firing an air rifle at journalists in 1994. Maradona hung up the boots in 1997 and underwent drug rehabilitation after he nearly died of cocaine- induced heart failure in 2000, before living off-and-on in Cuba where he often spent time with Fidel Castro.

“In the beginning drugs make you euphoric. It’s like winning a championship, so you think: who cares about tomorrow, since I won the championship today,” Maradona once said. For many, his offpitch sins overshadowed his genius.

“My main doubt is whether he has the sufficient greatness as a person to justify being honored by a worldwide audience,” Pele said after a popular vote gave Maradona the FIFA century award in 2000, leaving Pele in second place. Argentine media obsessed over Maradona’s addictive personality, with blanket coverage of his 2005 gastric bypass operation to lose weight and his 2007 hospitalisation for life-threatening alcohol-induced hepatitis. Drug and alcohol experts called Maradona’s abuse of one substance after another a slow-motion suicide. But Maradona cleaned up and bounced back.

In 2008 he talked himself into a position as the coach of Argentina’s national team. The team barely squeaked through the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, finally crashing out in the quarter-finals.

Napoli

Several more short managerial stints followed and all the while, Maradona was never far from the front pages.During a rest cure in Italy, tax police confiscated his trademark diamond earring to help pay back taxes. In 2010 he was rushed to a hospital in the middle of the night for reconstructive surgery after one of his own dogs bit his lip. Some fans created the Maradoniana Church, complete with its own religious imagery and 10 Commandments, one of which is, ‘Make Diego your middle name and name your first son Diego.’ Maradona was an antidote to upheaval for Argentina as it suffered successive economic crises and humiliating defeat to England after the 1982 conflict over the Falklands, or Malvinas Islands. And he was balm for the wounded soul of Argentines, obsessed with their country’s perpetual failure to live up to its potential on the world stage.

“In our collective imagination Diego Maradona represents a certain glorious past, he’s a symbol of what we might have been,” popular culture professor at Buenos Aires University and Maradona expert Pablo Alabarces said. As a Napoli player at the height of his addiction he would party from Sunday to Wednesday, Maradona describing how he would return home and lock himself in the bathroom to hide from his infant daughters. “I gave my opponents a big advantage due to my illness. Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn’t taken drugs,” Maradona told Tyc Sports in 2014. “I am 53 going on 78 because my life hasn’t been normal. I’ve lived 80 [years] with the life I’ve gone through. “In Napoli, drugs were everywhere. “They practically brought them to me on a tray.”

The Diego Maradona moment that changed football forever

In 1986 he scored his most infamous goal – four minutes later he did something even more special. As Maradona fan Marcelo Pose, a Buenos Aires attorney, put it: “He will always be forgiven.” Another fan said: “If you speak badly about Maradona, you are speaking badly about God.” But his well-documented addiction, substance abuse, illegitimate children and feuds over money all still blighted various stages of his career.

The world of football mourns ‘El Diego’

After Maradona’s death from a heart attack at the age of 60, there has been an outpouring of tributes from the football world, led by Pele and Leo Messi. An unacknowledged son, photo ops with the mafia and cocaine binges were shown in British Oscar-winning film-maker Asif Kapadia’s documentary on Maradona’s time at Napoli, arguably the period of his footballing career where he had the most success. His mistress Cristiana Sinagra was back in Italy, heavily pregnant with Diego Armando Maradona Sinagra. For years he refused to acknowledge paternity and did not meet his son until 2003. Kapadia’s film shows o c c a s i o n s when Maradona came into contact with the Camorra – the Neapolitan mafia – with the documentary flashing up photographs of the footballer smiling alongside members of the crime syndicate.

His influence on stars like Etim Esin

That Maradona influenced so many people across the world is an understatement; he was idolized across the globe and he impacted on the lives of smany football players including Africans. In Nigeria, he influenced a number of players and one of them was Etim Esin who was nicknamed “African Maradona”. Much like his idol, Esin was a prodigiously gifted teenager, who also saw his sublime brilliance on the pitch consistently overshadowed and marred by demons off it. In a now deleted emotional Facebook post, Esin revealed that his off-field excesses including wild parties and drug use were mistakes he made just like his idol. The parallels were uncanny, both diminutive, supremely gifted footballers with larger than life personalities and a penchant for courting trouble on and off the pitch. Maradona, twice copped 15-month bans from football for doping and years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism truncated his stellar career and altered his appearance from a lithe athlete who glided effortlessly through teams at his peak to a bloated addict who nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000. Esim, 51, once hailed as Nigeria’s most gifted player, saw his once-promising career derailed when he left Belgium and descended into drug use after he was accused of raping a minor while playing for Belgian club Lierse SK in the 1990s. The accusations were later discovered to be false two decades later. But the incident robbed him of the chance of meeting his idol at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, where Nigeria’s Super Eagles lost to Argentina in the group stage with Maradona providing the assist for Claudio Caniggia’s winner in a 2-1 victory for the South Americans. Etim described missing the World Cup and with it, the chance to meet Maradona as one his greatest regrets. He revealed that goalkeeper Peter Rufai and forward Samson Siasia scorer Nigeria’s lone goal in the defeat, told him Maradona had asked about their “black Maradona”. Esin described Maradona as an “icon football world will never forget” adding that “all will miss your existence”. The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale midfielder also said Maradona’s life contained a ”great lesson” on the necessity of keeping a “healthy lifestyle” and the prudence of discipline. “It’s quite unique when you’re nicknamed after a legend,” Esin wrote. “I followed him all my life, guess he influenced my lifestyle a bit, pass thru drugs and wild parties. “Anyway, this is an icon football world will never forget. It’s a big lesson, learn to be humble and live a healthy lifestyle, consider discipline as the topmost pride. “[Armando] you came, you conquered the football world, all will miss your [existence]. “My only regret was not playing against you at the World Cup, [Samson] Siasia and [Peter] Rufai said he asked at USA 94 ‘where your black Maradona’. “Deep inside it’s painful but all will go someday.”

25 FACTS ABOUT MARADONA

Goal rounds up 70 of the most interesting tidbits about the iconic former Argentina and Napoli
striker
1. Diego Armando Maradona was born on October 30, 1960 in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
2. Maradona made 91 appearances for Argentina, scoring 34 goals.
3. He played in four World Cup tournaments for his country.
4. Maradona holds the record for making the most number of appearances as captain of any
country in a World Cup. He skippered Argentina on 16 occasions.
5. On February 27, 1977, Maradona made his international debut against Hungary at age 16 at the
Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires.
6. Maradona holds the record for suffering the most number of fouls in a World Cup – 53, during
the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
7. He also holds the record for the most number of fouls suffered in one game in a World Cup,
when Italy fouled him 23 times in the 1982 edition of the tournament.
8. Diego scored using his hand in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup against England. When
he was quizzed about the incident, he said: “The goal was scored a little bit by the hand of God, a
little by the head of Maradona.”
9. In the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Maradona played only two games – scoring one goal against
Greece – as he was sent home after failing a doping test.
10. He was confirmed as the manager of Argentina’s national team in October 2008 and During
his reign as manager, Argentina equalled their worst ever defeat by losing 6-1 to Bolivia in World
Cup qualifiers. This led to Maradona taking a fair amount of criticism. And when his side did
qualify for the tournament, he launched into an infamous “keep sucking” rant. FIFA banned him
for two months after the outburst.
11. Former team-mate Jorge Valdano said of him in 2006: “He is someone many people want to
emulate, a controversial figure, loved, hated, who stirs great upheaval, especially in Argentina…
Stressing his personal life is a mistake. Maradona has no peers inside the pitch, but he has turned
his life into a show, and is now living a personal ordeal that should not be imitated.”
12. Maradona said after beating England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final: “It was as if we had
beaten a country, more than just a football team.”
13. Maradona stated in 1996: “I was, I am and I always will be a drug addict. A person who gets
involved in drugs has to fight it every day.”
14. In 2000, FIFA decided to do a one-off Player of the Century award for the new millennium.
After eventually arriving at the decision that Pele and Maradona would share the award, the
Brazilian said: “If he thinks he’s the best player of the century that’s his problem.”
15. Fans started a “Church of Maradona” in Buenos Aires in 1998. The year is marked by Maradona’s
birthday every year. October 30, 2010 is 50 D.D [“despues de Diego”],” or ‘After Diego’.
16. Maradona’s second goal against England – which came just four minutes after the ‘Hand of
God’ – in the quarter-final of the World Cup in 1986 saw him dribble past opposition defenders to
eventually beat Peter Shilton to make the score 2-0. FIFA called this the Goal of the Century.
17. Italian officials revealed in 2009 that Maradona owes them €37 million (£32.2m). More than
half this sum is interest on the original debt.
18. In a book on Maradona in 1997, Argentinian psychologist and author Gustavo Bernstein noted:
“Maradona is our maximum term of reference. No one embodies our essence better. No one bears
our emblem more nobly. To no other, in the last 20 years, have we offered up so much passion.
Argentina is Maradona, Maradona is Argentina.”
19. Maradona is the only player in the history of football to have broken the record transfer fee
twice.
20. He and Messi are the only players to have won the Golden Ball at both the FIFA U-20 World
Cup and FIFA World Cup.
21. In a match against Real Madrid, he dribbled past goalkeeper Agustin and defender Juan Jose
before slotting in the goal. He was applauded by the opposing fans – one of the few players to
have received such an ovation.
22. As a tribute to Maradona’s excellence, the authorities at the Azteca Stadium built a statue of
him scoring the “Goal of the Century” and placed it at the entrance of the stadium.
23. Maradona has fathered two children – legally. He once said about fatherhood: “My legitimate
kids are Dalma and Giannina. The rest are a product of my money and mistakes.”
24. Film director Kusturica once said of Maradona: “I asked myself, ‘Who is this man? Who is this
footballing magician, this Sex Pistol of international football, this cocaine victim who kicked the
habit, looked like Falstaff and was as weak as spaghetti?’ If Andy Warhol had still been alive, he
would have definitely put Maradona alongside Marilyn Monroe and Mao Tse-Tung. I’m convinced
that if he hadn’t been a footballer, he’d’ve become a revolutionary.”
25. Maradona was featured in the music video to the 2010 World Cup song “Waka Waka” by
Shakira, with footage shown of him celebrating Argentina winning the 1986 World Cup.

 

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