The 'eternal' Maradona

The 'eternal' Maradona

Friday, November 27, 2020

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Such were the limitations of television 50/60 years ago that the great majority of those who idolised Mr Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé, never saw him play a complete game.

In Jamaica, football fans depended on radio commentary to visualise the great Brazilian.

Movie houses routinely showed recorded snippets of global events, including sports. That's how many people got to see Pelé play.

By the time Mr Diego Armando Maradona, who died on Wednesday at age 60, strutted his stuff in the 1980s, much had changed.

Thanks to satellite technology, television had so evolved that people in their living rooms around the globe could watch live the 1982 and 1986 Fifa World Cup. Jamaicans were captivated.

Young and tempestuous, Mr Maradona's '82 World Cup ended in disgrace — red carded for a violent tackle on a Brazilian opponent in Argentina's 1-3 second-round defeat.

But by '86, in Mexico, Mr Maradona, a colourful extrovert from an impoverished background, had matured, securing a huge following with his exploits as a professional in Europe.

Physically, Mr Maradona was unique. He was only five feet five inches tall, but built like a miniature battleship.

His natural strength, low centre of gravity, and god-like first touch made life devilishly difficult for opponents.

Predominantly left-footed, he seemed disinclined to use his right, but it hardly mattered. Mr Maradona's pacy, twisting dribbles with the ball 'tied' to his boot, often left opponents for dead.

He loved running at defenders, but not as much as scoring goals and winning games.

In '86 he carried Argentina on his shoulders to the World Cup title, scoring five goals in the process.

The English will forever curse his “hand of God” goal in a tense quarter-final, stained by memories of the infamous Falklands War. Mr Maradona, ever competitive, jumped with the England goalkeeper to deftly punch the ball home. The officials allowed the goal, believing the ball had been headed. An impish Mr Maradona later explained that the goal had been scored by “Maradona's head... and... the hand of God”.

Then came, arguably, Mr Maradona's finest moment. Collecting the ball in his own half, he weaved his way through the entire England defence to score, as Argentina won 2-1.

A similarly mesmerising dribble and strike came in the semi-final as Argentina overpowered Belgium 2-0 — Mr Maradona scoring twice.

In the final against West Germany at the Azteca in Mexico City, Mr Maradona seemed to have met his match. Held by disciplined marking, he hardly touched the ball. But as defenders grew weary in the dying minutes, Mr Maradona escaped. His sliding pass found overlapping midfielder Mr Jorge Burruchaga, who scored to give Argentina the World Cup title.

Mr Maradona was king.

He wasn't quite the same four years later, but still guided Argentina to the World Cup final.

By 1994 Mr Maradona was battling drug addiction and was ejected from the World Cup in the USA for using prohibited stimulants.

His excesses hindered his personal life. A career as coach, even to the point of guiding Argentina, was unimpressive.

Yet, for all his frailties, Mr Maradona's reputation as a football genius comparable to Pelé only grew.

Hence, the tribute from fellow Argentine, Mr Lionel Messi, often described as Mr Maradona's natural heir: “He is leaving us but he is not going, because Diego is eternal.”

What more can anyone say?

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