GENIUS: Diego Armando Maradona. AFP Photo
By Paul Kennedy
Really and truly I should absolutely loathe Diego Armando Maradona.
What that man did for Argentina when they played England in the World Cup quarter final in 1986 was unforgivable.
He cheated, Argentina won and England failed once more on the biggest of stages.
Yet despite his obvious handball that everyone except the referee saw that sunny June afternoon in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca, I don’t hate him.
In fact it’s just the opposite, Maradona is my hero.
Since his death at his home in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night, many experts have said that Maradona was one of the greatest footballers to ever play the game.
They are all wrong. He was the greatest and he will never, ever be surpassed.
Messi, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, all amazing players, but none of them are good enough to lace the boots Diego wore. And here’s why.
Diego was a character, and despite his diminutive stature, he was a giant of a footballer, larger than life itself, and could do things with a ball nobody else could.
He won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986 virtually on his own, he was the star of the show. And after his bizarre move from Barcelona to Napoli two years prior, he elevated the Italians to the most successful period in the club’s history.
Sure, he had issues. Some more serious than others. But then again all geniuses are flawed one way or another.
Maradona liked playing football. He also liked cocaine, partying, booze and women. All of which probably took its toll and led to his death at a relatively young age of 60.
I recently watched a documentary series on Netflix called Maradona in Mexico and it charts the fortunes of a below average club Diego becomes manager of.
His team talks are brilliant, his passion was still clear to see (although maybe that was the coke, who knows, he was after all living in Sinaloa) and, surprise, surprise, he gets the job done.
Yes he was unreliable, yes he sometimes vanished without trace for weeks at a time with the owner of the club at his wit’s end trying to find him.
But that’s Diego, that's what you get.
Many years after he committed the ultimate sin by using his hand, or the hand of God as he famously put it, to beat England, he was interviewed by Gary Lineker who played against Diego that day in Mexico City.
He never apologised for his actions and he insisted he never cheated. Instead he claimed using his hand to score was just him being crafty, cunning and, in his own words, a bit cheeky.
Four minutes after he scored that goal, Diego grabbed a second for Argentina, taking the ball from his own half and dancing through the entire England team before slotting it home. It’s been described as the goal of the century and I won’t disagree.
And while it was probably the best ever goal scored in any football match ever, I’m sure Diego would say his first goal was even better.
In an interview recently he said after he dies, if he could be reincarnated he would want to come back to life as…. Diego Maradona.
He also said he would change nothing and just do everything all over again exactly. Another one of the many reasons I love him so much.
Sadly he won’t be reincarnated and there will never be another quite like him. — VNS