Diego Maradona, a divine talent with more than a touch of the devil

Diego Maradona, a divine talent with more than a touch of the devil

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

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BUENOS AIRES,áArgentinaá(AFP)— DiegoáMaradonaáwas football's archetypal troubled genius, a world-beating player whose life and career scaled the most dazzling heights but also plumbed the darkest depths.

Maradona, who died Wednesday at the age of 60, became a global icon after leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup but he was not a squeaky clean idol like Pele, and made little attempt to hide his fiery personality and many vices.

"I am black or white, I'll never be grey in my life," he once said.

Maradonaáwas short, powerful andáquick. He wasáalso a ferocious and astute competitor who refused to be intimidated even though manyáopponents tried. Above all, he was sublimely and imaginatively skilful.

"No ball ever had a better experienceáthanáwhen it was at his leftáfoot," said hisáArgentina teammate JorgeáValdano.

However, whileáMaradonaáis remembered for his masterly composure on the ball, he was also famous for his frequent lack of control both on the field and off. He struggled with addiction, notably to cocaine, and with his weight.

DiegoáArmandoáMaradonaáwas born onáOctober 30, 1960, in Lanus, just outside Buenos Aires, and grew up in one of the poorest areas of the Argentine capital.

He made his debut for Argentinos Juniors just before his 16thábirthday and his debut for Argentina at age 16 in February, 1977.

His career is defined by the World Cup, the four he played in and the one he missed.

"I have two dreams,"áMaradonaátold Argentine television at the age of 17. "My first dream is to play in the World Cup. And the second dream is to win it."

Manager Cesar Luis Menotti omitted "EláPibeáde Oro" (the goldenákid)áfromáhis squad in 1978. Argentina, the hosts, went on to win the competition for the first time.

The following year, under Menotti,áMaradonaáled Argentina to victory in the under-20 World Cup in Japan, winning the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player.

His senior World Cup debut in 1982 in Spain went badly.áMaradonaáwas treated brutally by defenders and ended his tournament with a red card for retaliation as Argentina, already eliminated, lost to Brazil.

- Hand of God -

He atoned four years later, propelling his country to victory in Mexico and making the tournament his own.ááá

In the final,áMaradonaáset up the 86th-minute winner against West Germany. Heáscored twice in the semi-final against Belgium, beating four defenders for the second.

But the match that defined his tournament, and possibly his international career, was the 2-1 quarter-final win over England, in which he scored two goals that will be remembered forever -- for very different reasons.

In the 51stáminute, as Peter Shilton reached to catch the ball,áMaradona, some seven inches shorter, jumped alongside him and with a deftness that fooled theáeye,áflickedáthe ball through the England goalkeeper's arms and into the net.

After the game,áMaradonaásaid heáscoredá"a little with the head ofáMaradonaáand a little with the hand of God."

Four minutes later,áMaradonaápicked up the ball in his own half, beat six England players, including Shilton, before squeezing home.áFIFA later named it the "Goal of the Century".

In 1990 in Italy, almost immobile because of an injury to his much-kicked left ankle,áMaradonaásteered a defensive and limited Argentine team back to the final even though they won just two games and scored only five goals.

In a dire final, it took Andreas Brehme's 85th-minute penaltyáfor West Germany to this time get the better ofáMaradona.á

Four years later in the United States,áMaradonaáseemed restored to health. He scored against Greece and celebrated by racing to scream into a TVácamera, aádisturbing mixtureáof joy,áreliefáand rage.

But he ended his last World Cup like his first, prematurely. After Argentina beat Nigeria in their second group game,áMaradonaáfailed a test for ephedrine and was thrown out of the tournament.

A similar pattern of wild highs and lows markedáMaradona's club career.

Maradonaámoved to the club he supported, Boca Juniors, in 1981 and won his sole Argentine league title the following season.

He left for Barcelona for a world record fee in 1982. He won the Copa Del Rey in his first season but the club only finished fourth in the league.

He missed much of the following campaign after Athletic Bilbao'sáAndoniáGoikoetxea broke his ankle, and when Barca lost to Bilbao in that year's cup final,áMaradonaástarted a spectacular mass brawl, flooring four opponents.

Facing a ban in Spain,áMaradonaámoved to Napoli, becoming the first player to breakáthe worldátransfer record twice.

His dazzling play transformed a club from a poor, much-mocked city and led them to their only two Serie A titles.

In a whirlwind seven years he fathered an illegitimate child, made friends with the local mafia and enemies of the tax collectors. He alsoáfell deep into cocaine addiction. His tempestuous time in Italy effectively ended in April 1991 when he tested positive for cocaine and was banned for 15 months.

He wound down his playing career with one season at Sevilla, one atáNewell'sáOld Boys and two at his beloved Boca.

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