Diego Maradona passes away: A player with no distinguishable physical advantage, Argentine legend was the finest dribbler of his time
The finest dribbler of his generation, Diego Maradona mounted challenges like a rooster in heat, chest puffed out, angled elbows bent inwards, with a bit of his tongue sticking out.
The Argentine footballer, Diego Armando Maradona, died aged 60 in San Andrés neighborhood, in the Buenos Aires district of Tigre. The time of death was 11.30 am Argentina local time. The cause of death was a cardiac arrest that triggered a lung edema, according to the San Isidro Attorney General's Office.
We will document Maradona as an athlete who defined his sport by stretching the membrane of what is possible. The finest dribbler of his generation, he mounted challenges like a rooster in heat, chest puffed out, angled elbows bent inwards, with a bit of his tongue sticking out.
Almost always punching above his weight class, at 5 feet 5 inches, he’d hoof-tie bull-sized defenders in utter tangles. With a thighs squat, he’d protect the ball at the expense of his body and especially his heels. He was a player with no distinguishable physical advantage, in an era where mere fouls then would today be interpreted as red card offences. The ball wouldn’t carry through as easily back then, pitches were mostly one-third mud patches. In footballing terms, he was a cross between a mud wrestler, a matador and a prophet.
The left-footed forward-cum-playmaker prototype of his era, captained his nation to a win in the 1986 FIFA World Cup; football’s grandest prize.
At club level, he guided Italian underdogs Napoli to two first division championships, in 1986-87 and 1988-89. Argentines, those under the Boca Juniors banner love him doubly, for winning them the 1981 domestic Championship. His domestic form was the springboard that sent him to Europe, where his divinity and his demons had the wiggle room to unfurl their wings and talons. The talons came down first.
Maradona, a man of socialist principles, later with a Che Guevara face tattooed on the hilt of his left arm, became the costliest player in the world ($7.6 million) when he was transferred to Barcelona in the 1982 season. The irony didn’t escape his game, as his spirit and body was taken ill by the move. The two seasons he spent in the red, blue, and maroon of Barcelona, was punctuated first by hepatitis and then a broken ankle, caused by the notorious hardman centre back Andoni Goikoetxea. He played like a child pining for attention, who kept lashing out for the lack of it.
One highlight remains, however: In June 1983, before Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Iniesta were applauded by bitter rivals Real Madrid supporters for their performance, Diego Maradona was the first to receive that honour in Madrid’s home stadium, Santiago Bernabeu. However, he still felt unloved.
The breaking-of-the Ming-vase-moment came later against Athletic Club, Goikoetxea’s club in 1984. There, after facing a flurry of racial slurs about his parentage, and even ruder fouls, he headbutted Athletic’s Miguel Sola, and kneed the face of a substitute, and kung-fu elbowed another.
The incident caused mass brawling on the pitch in front of 100,000 fans in the stadium, and with a viewership of half of Spain watching from home. Football shirts became uniforms. The king of Spain who was also in attendance of the Copa Del Rey match, had to be escorted out by the Spanish secret service. Sixty people, including photojournalists, were injured.
He left for Napoli with a goal-per-game ratio of 1.52, scoring 38 goals in 58 games. These are figures that set the precedent for Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, and Mohamed Salah, yet, for Barcelona, a club who placed public face-saving ahead of player development, let him go, and perhaps made their greatest sporting mistake.
"El Pibe de Oro" ("The Golden Rascal"), what started out as a nickname while he started playing at the ripe old age of 11 for Argentinos Junior FC has ultimately defined his legacy. He was born in the dog-eat-pup slums of Villa Fiorito, the poorest province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The streets were open sewers, there was no running water, there were holes where tin roofs should have been, children prodded trash heaps with long sticks looking for scrap to sell and morsels to eat, while the dogs would feed from the leftovers of leftovers. And Diego found himself stuffed in a little shack with four sisters and two parents. He was Don Diego and Dona Tota’s fourth child. He was willfully conceived because his father wanted a son who could contribute in the mills. Had Maradona’s father not an open mind, his son would have been one of the countless daily-wage menial workers travelling to and fro to Buenos Aires.
There’s little wonder why Maradona felt kinship with Naples. The city was the poorest city in all of Italy, and one of the poorest in Europe. The club risked potential bankruptcy and dissolvement in order to sign him. Maradona paid the faith back handsomely by flipping the Serie A map on its head by taking relegation candidates to two championship wins, and breaking the hegemony of Juventus and the Milan clubs, at a time when the Italian league was the best in the world, thronged by Platini, Falcao, and the likes.
With his country, his ``Hand of God” handball goal and ousting of bitter rivals England on the way to the Mexico 1986 World Cup win, won Argentina some pride back after the embarrassment of the loss at the Falklands against the United Kingdom. Rising with Peter Shilton, Maradona positioned his clenched fist above his head to loop the ball away from the England goalkeeper and into the net. It is without contention the greatest unawarded foul in football history.
While his second goal against England in the same match was voted the best goal ever in World Cup history. Picking the ball in his own half, back facing the goal, he upended Peter Beardsley, Steve Hodge, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick before hoodwinking Peter Shilton with a last second feint to nestle the ball into the net. French newspaper L'Equipe described Maradona as "half-angel, half-devil." Everything Maradona did had a touch of a do-or-die devilment. It was conditioned in him from an early age.
He said on signing with Argentinos Juniors FC, “I played football always thinking of buying a house for my parents and never having to go back to Fiorito.” Within four years of his debut at 11, so wonderfully impressed were his employers that Argentinos bought an apartment closer to the city to move his family in. Diego Armando Maradona therefore started to support his family from the age of 15. He, like many child prodigies, had to relinquish his childhood and formative years.
Andre 3000, the Grammy-winning rapper, another victim of premature celebrity said in one of his interviews a pertinent point, that gives us a mental foothold in the journey of scaling Maradona’s psyche. He said, “The age you turn into a celebrity, you stay that age forever.” For normal rules of action and consequence do not apply, nor do normal social contracts, constructs. Maradona was football’s Peter Pan.
Pele was more deliberately dignified with his celebrity status, more calculated in his actions, and therefore more translucent, bankable. In Maradona you find an uncensored range of strength and intensity square dancing with shame and depravity; a very mortal dance, tottering on a knife edge. The reason why the world feels intensely for Maradona was because he felt intensely for the world and its pleasures. For many, he was an extension of god, contained in a fragile earthly vessel, cracks and all.
Whether he will be remembered by posterity as the greatest footballer ever is subject to change. But let the record read that no one loved the game of football as madly as this man. No one elicited and commanded a wider range of emotion from loathing to love. There may be more Messis, and Ronaldos in the years to come, but there may never be another Maradona.
And that’s alright because he’s left us with memories enough for 10 lifetimes.
Diego Maradona was born 30 October ,1960 and died on Wednesday 25 November, 2020. He is survived by his children, Diego Sinagra, Joana, Lu, Javielito, Dalma, and Diego Fernando Maradona Ojedo. He was married to his childhood sweetheart and former wife Caludia Villafane; was loved by countless lovers; and was worshipped by millions more.
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