Controversy could never mask Maradona’s genuis
Diego Maradona, who was on Tuesday named the new coach of Argentina, is a gifted yet controversial figure whose off-field antics could never overshadow his brilliance on the pitch.
The pint-sized midfielder is widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time. He shared FIFA’s Player of the Century award with Brazilian legend Pele.
A glittering career at national level brought him a World Cup winners medal in Mexico in 1986 — the same tournament as the infamous “Hand of God” incident against England in the quarter-finals.
He was also part of the team that came runners-up four years later in Italy after a shameful 1-0 defeat against West Germany which saw two of their players sent-off.
At club level he played for Boca Juniors, before moving to Barcelona for two seasons in 1982.
After Spain he moved to Napoli, his bustling play and talismanic presence driving the Neapolitans to two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 and a UEFA Cup triumph in 1989.
He finished his career at Boca in 1997, having retired from the national team three years earlier.
But controversy was never far from the dark-haired maestro.
He was twice banned for drug infringements, he was linked to the Mafia and was not fond of paparazzi intrusion into his private life. However, it is the illegal goal against England that towers above all else.
The “Hand of God” came during Argentina’s 2-1 win over England, when he rose above keeper Peter Shilton to punch the ball into the net. Despite English protests the referee never spotted the incident and the goal stood.
Later in the match saw Maradona at his most sublimely skilful when he weaved through the England team from the halfway line, taking on Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick to slot the ball home.
Michel Platini, the former French captain and present UEFA president, once remarked: “The things I could do with a ball, he could do with an orange.”
Balance, vision, and a powerful left foot marked him out from a very early age. At 17 he made his debut for the national side — the same age Pele was when he made his.
The spectre of drug abuse surfaced in 1991 when he tested positive for cocaine and was slapped with a 15-month ban.
Health problems followed his retirement and in 2000 he suffered a heart attack in Uruguay, reportedly brought on by a cocaine overdose. His convalescence involved a spell in Cuba at the request of Fidel Castro.
Maradona, who still enjoys the adulation of millions in his homeland despite his well-publicised battles with drink and drugs, was in Beijing to see the Argentina side win gold this summer.© AP 2013
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