Diego Maradona was a human-being like no other. For many that don’t know his impact, he was only a soccer player, but Maradona transcended so many things to be the player and person that he was. He was god to some, to others a low life, but when it came to soccer, to put it simply he was great. He was genius, elusive and clever he did what others couldn’t. He personified the beautiful game, and his brilliance went beyond just football(soccer).
Maradona’s influence off the pitch was storied but came with turbulence at almost every point. Demons consumed him, hindering the potential that he could’ve had. A scary thought considering he was one of the best players ever, even with his struggles with drugs and alcohol. Maradona grew up in the ghetto of Villa Fiorito on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a neighborhood plagued by violence and poverty, Maradona and his family struggled at the most basic levels. His mother said she skipped meals by pretending to be ill in order to trick her kids because she couldn’t tell them there wasn’t any food to eat. Small and malnourished, Maradona pushed though and became an world class sport star. No doubt his upbringing gave him his trademark toughness on the pitch, but gave him some troubles off it as well.
Although things were rough, Maradona was well managed at a young age. Starting at Argentinos Juniors, a club in Buenos Aires, his talent was immediately recognized. ”When Diego came to Argentinos Juniors for trials, I was struck by his talent and couldn’t believe he was only eight years old. In fact, we asked him for his ID card so we could check it, but he told us he didn’t have it on him. We were sure he was having us on because, although he had the physique of a child, he played like an adult. When we discovered he’d been telling us the truth, we decided to devote ourselves purely to him.” said Francisco Cornejo, the youth coach who discovered Maradona. His skills were natural and early on he stood out, and Argentinos Juniors sought to train the young boy from Villa Fiorito into the Maradona that we’re remembering today. Later on, he was transfered to Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most decorated teams and eventually his talent became too big for Argentina, and was transferred to FC Barcelona in Spain.
At FC Barcelona his amazing abilities were on display, he was a monumental force that carried Barcelona to several trophies, but a nagging ankle injury combined with on & off-the-field issues, most famously the brawl against Sevilla, led Barcelona to cut ties with him. He was ostracized, black-balled, and was considered to be a hazard to any serious team in Europe. He was a pariah left without a team willing to take a chance on his talent.
Eventually, one team stepped up and took Maradona in, that team was S.S.C. Napoli. Maradona was bought for a world-record 12 Million dollars. Napoli was a team that wasn’t a contender in any regards, and to make a transfer like that was chancy. Before Maradona, there wasn’t a Southern Italian team that won the league title (Scudetto). Napoli (Naples), the city, was considered to be a marginalized part of Italy in comparison to cities like Turin, Milan, and Rome. The people of Napoli were seen as second class citizens and they were thought of in a negative way in comparison to the people from the Northern regions of Italy. Maradona, himself could relate to Napoli as his upbringing in Argentina brought the same type of criticism and vitriol. At Napoli he did what previously wasn’t done and won the Scudetto in 1987 and 1990, Maradona heading the campaigns was essential to their success. Maradona’s Napoli team didn’t look like the superstar caliber rosters as the likes of A.C. Milan, Juventus, and A.S. Roma, for Napoli, Maradona was the team. He was able to accomplish amazing things at a time where the Italian Serie A was the most difficult league to play in. Maradona didn’t have the help of outside transfers, and was the premier playmaker for the team. With all the focus on him he was still impossible to stop. Maradona in Napoli has carried a reverence like no other footballer ever in any city. He turned Napoli into a powerhouse and change the face of Napoli, the Serie A, and Italian Soccer.
His time with the Argentina National Team, solidified his greatness. His first World Cup was in 1982 was an underwhelming tournament, having seen his team be defeated by Brazil during the knockout phase. This initial disappointment fueled Maradona’s drive to work and focus on the next World Cup. When he was included in the Argentine squad for the 1986 World Cup, Maradona wasn’t the Maradona that we came to know. Criminally underrated and underestimated, he put the Argentine team on his back throughout the tournament. His presence was especially felt against England, where they were fresh off fighting a war against Argentina for the Falkland Islands. This only made the game that much more contentious between the two teams, in serendipitous fashion Maradona scored his controversial “Hand of God” goal, then five minutes later he scored his most spectacular “Goal of the Century” goal beating the English team and moving on to the World Cup final. During the final, he did more of the same and against the formidable West Germany team bringing Argentina their second World Cup.
His troubles were tabloid news across different countries and his indiscretions shouldn’t be overlooked, but when speaking in terms of character there hasn’t been a more charismatic, transcendent, and picturesque player ever in any sport. But somehow his faults humanized this ‘god-like’ figure. Eventually, his addictions consumed him and tarnished his image, but the love people had for him was unyielding.
Maradona represented a continent, he embodied the South American psyche like nobody ever could. Fun-loving, passionate, reckless, flashy, but beautiful, tough, and felicitous. Maradona is a character and player that could never be replicated, he’s the last of a dying breed of sports stars that symbolized more than just the game they played. Maradona’s life and journey was one of a kind, and while many might not agree with everything he’s done. He crossed over the political and sport worlds, and was the champion for the working class in Argentina and in Italy. Diego Armando Maradona thank you for gifts you gave us.
Gracias Maradona for you and your spirit, Descansa en Paz.