FIFA World Cup 2018: Diego Maradona’s histrionics in stands only exacerbate the pressure on besieged Argentina

Diego Armando prima donna.

He may very well have been called that, and no one would have batted an eyelid. Videos from the end of the Argentina vs Nigeria match showed the football legend struggling to get up from his seat. Later, on his Instagram page, he posted a picture with a lengthy post.

“I want to tell everyone that I am fine, that I am not, neither was I interned. In the half-time of the game against Nigeria, my neck hurt a lot and I suffered a decompensation. I was checked by a doctor and he recommended me to go home before the second half, but I wanted to stay because we were risking it all. How could I leave? I send a kiss to everyone, thanks for the support!”

Senegal take on Colombia while Japan face Poland at 7.30 on Thursday while England face Belgium and Panama take on Tunisia at 11.30 in the second set of matches on Day 15

 FIFA World Cup 2018: Diego Maradona’s histrionics in stands only exacerbate the pressure on besieged Argentina

Former Argentina footballer Diego Maradona (centre) celebrates their opening goal against Nigeria. AFP

500k+ likes and counting. The man knows how to be the cynosure of all attention in a FIFA World Cup.

The man has been at it for a long time now. Just half an hour before the match, Maradona held the hands of a bewildered woman who had been sporting Nigerian colours, and performed a small, impromptu jig in front of all the world’s cameras. A few days ago, during Argentina’s 1-1 draw against Iceland, he was seen smoking a cigar, in clear contravention of a FIFA ban on smoking. That was not all; he interacted with a bunch of South Korean fans, and then proceeded to make a racist gesture by pulling his eyes to the side.

On Monday, the images of Maradona fervently praying, and then celebrating wildly once Marcus Rojo had put Argentina ahead with five minutes to go, were embodying every Argentina fan out there and were suitable for universal consumption; but his image doing a Virat Kohli (the Indian cricketer’s pre-captaincy days, of course) was not. I wonder what the fan who had danced with him earlier would have thought of his latest shenanigans.

Truth be told, all this has been an excellent microcosm of Maradona’s turbulent life on and off the pitch. The onlooker, in an instant, can guess correctly that this man was as volatile and unpredictable off the pitch as he had been on it.

At the 1982 World Cup, Maradona played in all the five matches but couldn’t prevent Argentina from crashing out of the tournament. Due to his outrageous talent, he was a marked man, especially in the matches against Italy and Brazil. After receiving some heavy fouls in the Brazil match, Maradona committed one of his own against Brazil’s Batista da Silva, and promptly received his marching orders.

The same Maradona, playing for Barcelona against bitter rivals Real Madrid, would become the first ever player to be applauded by the Real Madrid fans and openly receive a standing ovation, when he scored a goal at the Santiago Bernabeu. But his time at Barcelona was mired in controversy. In the 1984 Copa del Rey final, he played a starring role in the brawl at the end of the match. Like a Bollywood hero taking on extras in an action scene, he head-butted and kicked his Athletic Bilbao opponents. This was his last ever game in a Barcelona shirt. He would get a transfer to Napoli for a world record fee shortly.

At Napoli, Maradona would reach the peak of his professional career. He would continue to do outrageous feats on the pitch, feats that are best told in the words of French midfielder and later UEFA President Michel Platini: “What (Zinedine) Zidane could do with a ball, Maradona could do with an orange.”

His exploits at the 1986 World Cup are all too well known. His two goals against England — the Hand of God, separated four minutes from the goal of the century — were manifestations of the part-angel, part-devil personality that was Maradona. In the club arena, as captain of Napoli, he would lead them to two Serie A titles; the 1986-87 title was the first one that had ever been won by a team from the south of the Italian peninsula. He would also go on to win the UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia with Napoli. This was also the time he fathered an illegitimate son, and would gain notoriety for drug use (cocaine) and links to the mafia.

In the 1990 World Cup, he was part of the Argentina team that made it to the World Cup final in Italy. Up against the Italians in the semi-finals in his adopted home of Napoli, he exhorted Italian fans to support him. Neapolitan fans would have been conflicted whether they had to cheer their hero, who had given them so much, or their national team. Maradona would break Italian hearts by knocking them out. Towards the end of his career at Napoli, Maradona suffered from drug abuse and gained a lot of weight. He left Napoli in disgrace, serving a 15-month ban for failing a drug test.

At 34, he was still good enough to make the 1994 World Cup squad for Argentina. It was a chance to shine for a man, who, just a few months ago, had fired a compressed-air rifle against journalists. He claimed that they were invading his privacy — he would be handed a suspended jail sentence four years later. At the 1994 tournament, he played in two games, and scored one goal against Greece. He then failed a drug test for taking ephedrine, and was promptly sent home. Incidentally, his last game in the World Cup was against Nigeria.

Maradona is that man who the WWE commentators were referring to when they first spoke “These stunts are done by professionals. Please don’t try this.” Though Maradona was an idol to many, he had no pretentions of being a role model. His deeds off the pitch make later footballing bad boys such as Eric Cantona, Joey Barton, and Luis Suarez look like amateurs. And we’re not even talking about his turbulent family life or his tenure as Argentina manager here.

It can be argued whether his actions in the Nigeria game were warranted. For the sake of his health, I hope paramedics are there by his side for Argentina’s next set of fixtures. Like his career, his actions are motivated by passion. Performed by an ordinary fan, they would have gone unnoticed. But this is Maradona we are talking about. The visibility will have a deleterious effect on the young, impressionable minds watching. In the manner of a doting mother making a young singer/dancer/performer self-conscious by expressing disapproval, his antics no doubt heap even more pressure on the already stressed Argentine squad.

But this is Maradona, the passionate Argentine fan. There are no half measures from him. In his own words: “...I am either white or black. I will never be grey in my life…”

The rest of the quote cannot be printed without using too many a special character, much like the man who spoke these words.

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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 17:14:59 IST