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,Argentina(AFP)— DiegoMaradonawas 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.

Maradonawas short, powerful andquick. He wasalso a ferocious and astute competitor who refused to be intimidated even though manyopponents tried. Above all, he was sublimely and imaginatively skilful.

"No ball ever had a better experiencethanwhen it was at his leftfoot," said hisArgentina teammate JorgeValdano.

However, whileMaradonais 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.

DiegoArmandoMaradonawas born onOctober 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 16thbirthday 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,"Maradonatold 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 "ElPibede Oro" (the goldenkid)fromhis squad in 1978. Argentina, the hosts, went on to win the competition for the first time.

The following year, under Menotti,Maradonaled 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.Maradonawas 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.

In the final,Maradonaset up the 86th-minute winner against West Germany. Hescored 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 51stminute, as Peter Shilton reached to catch the ball,Maradona, some seven inches shorter, jumped alongside him and with a deftness that fooled theeye,flickedthe ball through the England goalkeeper's arms and into the net.

After the game,Maradonasaid hescored"a little with the head ofMaradonaand a little with the hand of God."

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

In 1990 in Italy, almost immobile because of an injury to his much-kicked left ankle,Maradonasteered 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 penaltyfor West Germany to this time get the better ofMaradona.

Four years later in the United States,Maradonaseemed restored to health. He scored against Greece and celebrated by racing to scream into a TVcamera, adisturbing mixtureof joy,reliefand rage.

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

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

Maradonamoved 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'sAndoniGoikoetxea broke his ankle, and when Barca lost to Bilbao in that year's cup final,Maradonastarted a spectacular mass brawl, flooring four opponents.

Facing a ban in Spain,Maradonamoved to Napoli, becoming the first player to breakthe worldtransfer 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 alsofell 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 atNewell'sOld Boys and two at his beloved Boca.

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