Diego Armando Maradona, El Diego, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, was born 30 October 1960, Lanus, Buenos Aires. The short and chunky left-footer often used his low centre of gravity to have the strength, skill and dribbling ability to dictate games, taking him past defenders with ease, which often ended in a goal or an assist. (for Careca no doubt!)
FIFA, the football world governing body, conducted an Internet poll where fans from all over the globe named Maradona the top player of the 20th century. And a panel of experts later added Pelé.
The Argentine played for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell’s Old Boys, and in his international career, playing for Argentina, he earned 91 caps and scored 34 goals. He played in four World Cup tournaments, including the 1986 tournament, where he captained Argentina and led them to their victory over West Germany in the final, winning the Golden Ball award as the tournament’s best player. In November 2008, with little managerial experience, he became head coach of the Argentina national team guiding his country to the 2010 World Cup.
Maradona is considered one of the sport’s most controversial figures. From his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, the shooting of an air rifle at reporters, to all that cocaine he has used. Maradona certainly has a checkered past. He was suspended from football for 15 months in 1991 after failing a drug test, for cocaine, in Italy, and he was sent home from the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. after testing positive for ephedrine. His outspoken manners have sometimes put him at odds with journalists and sport executives, and he has an ongoing verbal spat with Pele that seems to rare its head before every world cup.
But it is in Argentina where Maradona is considered more than just a sports hero. He is idolized, and like Evita Peron, he is seen as the soul of the country, given the name of “God”. In Rosario, they have taken this one step further where the locals have organised the “Church of Maradona” where worshipers genuflect towards their idol and god, ie Diego. It has tens of thousands members and their prayer is…
“Our Diego, who is on the pitches
Hallowed be thy left hand, bring us your magic. Make your goals remembered on earth as in heaven,
Give us some magic every day, forgive the English, as we have forgiven the Napolitan Mafia,
Don’t let yourself get caught offside and free us from Havelange and Pelé.
The Early Years
When Diego came to Argentinos Juniors for trials, I was really struck by his talent and couldn’t believe he was only eight years old. In fact, we asked him for his ID card so we could check it, but he told us he didn’t have it on him. We were sure he was having us on because, although he had the physique of a child, he played like an adult. When we discovered he’d been telling us the truth, we decided to devote ourselves purely to him.
— Francisco Cornejo, youth coach who discovered Maradona
Diego Maradona was born on 30 October 1960, in Lanús, Buenos Aires Province, but raised in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, to a poor family as one of eight kids. Maradona is of Italian, Spanish, Croatian, Indigenous-Argentinian ancestry. His surname originates from the Southern Italian region of Calabria.
Maradona displayed football talent early, and at age eight he joined Las Cebollitas (“The Little Onions”), a youth team of Argentinos Juniors. Showing his exceptional ability at an early age, Maradona led Los Cebollitas to an incredible 136-game unbeaten run and a national championship. He signed with Argentinos Juniors at age 14 and made his first-division debut in 1976 at fifteen, and only sixteen when he won his first cap for Argentina against Hungary in 1977, becoming the youngest Argentine ever to do so.
Although he was excluded from the 1978 World Cup-winning squad because it was felt that he was still too young, the next year he led Argentina to the under-20 Junior World Cup championship. Within this time period he was also voted South American Player of the Year in the years 1979 and 1980.
Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors
On 20 October 1976, ten days before his sixteenth birthday, Maradona made his professional debut with Argentinos Juniors. He played there between 1976 and 1981, scoring 115 goals in 167 appearances before his £1m transfer to Boca Juniors. Boca was the team Maradona always wanted to play for. Although only there for a year he did help them win the championship before moving to Europe.
FC Barcelona broke the world transfer record fee when they paid £5 million ($7.6m) for his services at the start of 1982/83.
Maradona had a difficult time in Spain. His spell in Barcelona lasted only two seasons and both were hampered by illness, injuries and other scandals. First he was sidelined for months with hepatitis, then a broken ankle caused by an ill-timed tackle by Athletic’s Andoni Goikoetxea”,The Butcher from Bilbao” who put Maradona out for months. There was also the ongoing disputes with the team’s directors, especially club President Josep Lluís Núñez.
Despite all this, in 1983, Barcelona and Maradona won the Copa del Rey beating Real Madrid. And on two seasons his goal to game ratio wasn’t too shoddy, scoring 38 goals in 58 games. Also at that time he was recorded as the most kicked player in the league, at a time when forwards didn’t get the same level of protection as they do from referees nowadays.
But overall it was considered a period of underachievement for such a talented player as Maradona and it was his time at Barcelona that he allegedly started to use cocaine.
In 1984 he was transferred to Napoli in Italy’s Serie A for another world record fee, £6.9m ($10.48m), in a move that he hoped would re-ignite his career.
SSC Napoli, who just about avoided relegation on each of the two previous seasons, decided to spend a world record £6.9 million to bring Maradona to the Stadio San Paolo in the summer of 1984, where he was welcomed by 75,000 fans at the home stadium.
At Napoli, Maradona reached the peak of his club career. He quickly became an adored star among the club’s tifosi, and in his time there he elevated the team to the most successful era in its history. Led by Maradona, Napoli won the league and cup double in the 1986/87 season, their first Serie A Italian Championship knocking Michel Platini’s glorious Juventus off the throne, and won the league title again in 1990. To put this into context this was an astounding success since never before had a team from the southern mainland of Italy ever won the league, with the usual northern powerhouse clubs as Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan winning most of the previous titles in Serie A history. And Napoli added the uefa cup in 1989 to their trophy cabinet, the clubs first European title.
But Maradona’s personal problems continued. He received $70,000 in fines from his club for missing games and practices, claiming he was too stressed and tired to play, and a 15-month suspension from playing football after failing a drug test for cocaine heralded his exit from the club and country. Coupled to this was allegations of dodgy links with – the Camorra – the city’s Mafia also affected his reputation with the Italian FA and so he left for Spain in 1992.
Yet with all of this, Maradona’ remains an icon and legend in Napoli. In honor of Maradona and his achievements during his career at the club, the No. 10 jersey was officially retired.
Further highlighting his icon status in the city, on hearing of his near death from a drug overdose, many Neapolitan families gathered around a shrine, a portrait of Diego, praying nightly for his recovery. His legend will always remain in Napoli, a city and club he was proud to play for.
Sevilla, Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Juniors
After serving his 15-month ban, in 1992 he surprisingly signed for Sevilla of Spain, where he stayed for just the one year. In 1993 he returned to Argentina and played for Newell’s Old Boys and in 1995 he returned to his beloved Boca Juniors for two years and played his last match on Oct. 25, 1997.
Overall he played 490 club games during his 21-year professional career, scoring 259 goals.
During his time with the Argentine national team, Maradona scored 34 goals in 91 appearances. He made his full international debut at the age of 16, against Hungary on 27 February 1977. At 18, he played the World Youth Championship for Argentina, and was the star of the tournament, excellent in their 3–1 final win over the Soviet Union. On 2 June 1979, it was Scotland that Maradona scored his first senior international goal in a 3–1 win at Hampden.
Maradona’s career with the Argentine national team included four World Cup appearances in 1982, 1986, 1990, and 1994.
Maradona played his first World Cup tournament in 1982.
Although the team progressed from the first round, they were defeated in the second round by Brazil and by eventual winners Italy. Maradona played in all five matches, scoring twice against Hungary. The Italian match is renowned for Maradona being aggressively man-marked by Claudio Gentile who gave an Azzuri master class in shirt pulling, sly digs, scheming pulls, ankle kicks and other devious methods to stop Maradona getting into the flow of the game. He was fouled 23 times in the match which was a single-match World Cup-record, as Italy beat Argentina. After being fouled repeatedly in all his World Cup games, Maradona’s temper eventually got the better of him against Brazil and he was sent off for a vicious foul on Batista with 5 minutes to go.
Getting sent off and Argentina bowing out in the second phase wasn’t the ideal introduction to the world of Argentina’s new wonder kid.
The crowning moment of Maradona’s career came in Mexico where he captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup winning the final against West Germany. Throughout the 1986 World Cup Maradona dribbled his way into the collective imagination of the world. He was the player of the 1986 World Cup. He played every minute of every Argentina game, scored 5 goals and made 5 assists.
In a 2–1 quarterfinal victory over England, he scored two of the most memorable goals in World Cup history. A cheeky handball goal which he later said was the “Hand of God”, and then his amazing dribbling run of 60 yards where Maradona gained possession of the ball in his own half and with 11 touches ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past a pack of English defenders and rounding the keeper before calmly slipping the ball in the net, regarded as the greatest World Cup goal in history.
Two more goals from Maradona came in the semi-final against Belgium, including another memorable virtuoso dribbling display for the second goal. This was followed up by a win against West Germany in the final, where despite Germany’s tactic of double marking him throughout the whole game he still managed to find the space to give the final pass to Jorge Burruchaga to net the winning goal. Argentina beat West Germany 3–2 in front of a huge crowd of 115,000 spectators at the Azteca Stadium.
During the course of the tournament, Maradona attempted or created more than half of Argentina’s shots, embarked on 90 dribbles some three times more than any other player and was fouled 53 times winning his team twice as many free kicks as any player. Maradona scored or assisted 10 of Argentina’s 14 goals including the assist for the winning goal in the final. He single handedly won the world cup for his country, and was voted Golden Ball winner as best player of the tournament.
He is the only player as of yet to win the Golden Ball at both the FIFA U-20 World Cup and FIFA World Cup, in 1979 and 1986.
Carry an injury going into Italia ’90, Maradona was not on the same level as four years earlier. Yet despite this he again captained Argentina to yet another World Cup Final. Argentina beat hosts Italy on penalties in semifinal match played in his beloved Naples, but couldn’t prevent West Germany winning the World Cup, 1–0, the only goal being a penalty by Andreas Brehme in the 85th minute after a controversial foul on Rudi Völler who rolled and rolled and rolled……
And yet Maradona was still voted the tournament’s third best player, despite fouled 50 times throughout the competition, a new World-Cup record, in a generally regarded dour, defence minded, World Cup.
At the 1994 FIFA World Cup Maradona played in only two games, scoring one goal against Greece, before being sent home after testing positive for the drug ephedrine. To many it was clear he was on something as he just about head butted the camera after his goal against Greece, eyes bulging, chest puffed out, and high on something other than just adrenaline. His failed drugs test at the 1994 World Cup beckoned the end of his international career.
Altogether, Maradona played in four World Cups, scoring 8 goals in 21 World Cup appearances, and scored an impressive 34 goals in 91 international appearances for Argentina, making him Argentina’s second highest scorer after Gabriel Batistuta.
Maradona also played on South American championship-winning teams in 1987 and 1989
South Africa 2010
In 2008, Maradona was surprisingly hired to coach the Argentinean national team. Surprising as he had little or no real management experience. After stumbling into the world cup (6-1 defeat to Bolivia included!) and having a talented squad headlined by Lionel Messi, they were sent home from the 2010 World Cup with a 4-0 hiding by Germany in the quarter-finals, and Maradona’s contract was not renewed. It was a nice dream, but it didn’t happen Diego.
Politics, Retirement and the Rest
Coming from very humble beginnings, Maradona has shown sympathy to left-wing ideologies. He became friends with Cuban leader Fidel Castro while receiving drug treatment on the island. He also has a portrait of Castro tattooed on his left leg and, fellow Argentine, Che Guevara on his right arm. He dedicated his autobiography, “El Diego” to “Fidel Castro and, through him, all the Cuban people”.
During the 2005 Summit of the Americas in Argentina, he protested George W. Bush’s presence, and referred to the American president as “human trash”. “As far as I’m concerned, he is a murderer”, and Maradona headed a 15,000-strong counter protest against the summit.
In August 2007, Maradona stated “I hate everything that comes from the United States. I hate it with all my strength.” The fact that he is probably not well known in the USA helps of course!
In December 2007, Maradona presented a signed shirt with a message of support to the people of Iran: it is to be displayed in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ museum
Maradona was also a supporter of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. “I believe in Chávez, I am Chavista. Everything Fidel does, everything Chávez does, for me is the best.”
Retirement, TV and his Spats with Pele
In 2000, he won FIFA Player of the Century award which was to be decided by votes on their official website, their official magazine and a grand jury. Maradona won the Internet based poll easily getting 53.6% of the votes to 18.53% for Pelé. In spite of this, FIFA unexpectedly decided to add a second award and appointed a “Football Family” committee that also gave to Pelé the title of best player of the century to make it equal. This angered Diego, and has developed into something of an ongoing spat with Pelé, who Maradona calls the “old man”.
The two personalities could not be more different. Pele the clean cut, corporate fan, and Diego rough, very rough, around the edges. Both great footballers, but both very different. An example. Pele just recently gave a heartfelt plea to his fellow Brazilians not to protest before the world cup, in fear of driving away tourists. He said sitting behind a huge logo for Santander bank! What would Diego do?
On 15 August 2005, Maradona made his debut as host of a talk-variety show on Argentine television, La Noche del 10 (“The Night of the no. 10”). The show is a huge success and guests have included Zidane, Ronaldo and Hernán Crespo, Fidel Castro and Mike Tyson.
It is said that Maradona became addicted to cocaine while playing in Spain in 1983 and this addiction lasted right through until 2004. By the time he was playing for Napoli he had a regular addiction, which interfered with his ability to play football which eventually resulted in him receiving a 15-month suspension after testing positive for the substance. He could no longer play in Italy.
Maradona endured another high-profile suspension three years later, this time for testing positive for ephedrine during the 1994 World Cup, sent home in disgrace after just two matches.
Since his playing days were over, things initially got worse with Maradona having a few serious heart problems resulting in time in hospitals and intensive care units.
In 2004, he had a cocaine overdose; and was was admitted to intensive care in a Buenos Aires hospital. He remained there for several days before being eventually discharged.
In 2007, Maradona was readmitted to a hospital in Buenos Aires. He was treated for hepatitis and effects of alcohol abuse. After transfer to a psychiatric clinic specialising in alcohol-related problems, he was later discharged.
Maradona also has a habit of hitting out at the press. He once fired a compressed-air rifle at reporters who he claimed were invading his privacy. Cocaine can be like that.
But it now appears that Maradona is back in good health, he has lost a lot of weight (surgery?), quit drinking and has not used drugs in many years. Hopefully Diego will get to see his beloved Argentina win the World cup this year in Brazil 2014, as no doubt he will be picked up on TV supporting from the stands cheering on his “la Albiceleste” (the White and Sky Blues)
Diego, in his own words
“There would be no debate about who was the best footballer the world had ever seen – me or Pele. Everyone would say me.”
“Pele should go back to the museum.”
“The people voted for me. Now they want me to share the prize with Pele. I’m not going to share the prize with anybody.”
“He took the wrong pill. Instead of taking the pill for before bedtime, he took his morning pill. He got confused. I suggest that next time he takes the right medication and that he changes his doctor”
“Why would you compare me to Pele? My mother said I’m stronger and that he played with players who couldn’t even move”
“I don’t like comparisons with Pele because of the stupid things he says. He keeps on saying stupid stuff when he takes the wrong pills”
“Usually, when you see him these days, it’s only at award ceremonies next to the president of FIFA and looking like a doll that’s being moved by remote control”
“Beckham is a nice man and I’m sure he will reach 100 appearances for England. But he is just a good player, nothing more.”
On American politics…
“I think Bush is a murderer. I’m going to head the march against him stepping foot on Argentine soil.”
On the his first goal against England in the 1986 World Cup
“It was the hand of God.”
“It was like pick-pocketing the English and stealing a win.”