Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60.
Maradona, who has been widely accepted as one of football’s greatest ever players, passed away at home in Buenos Aires after suffering a heart attack.
The Argentine made his footballing debut aged just 15 in late 1976, entering the field for Argentinos Juniors and became an instant hit. Just minutes into his debut, the young midfielder knocked the ball through the legs of Talleres de Cordoba midfielder Juan Cabrera – a nutmeg still remembered by fans today.
He scored 115 goals in 167 appearances for his first club, before moving to Boca Juniors where he won his first league title – the only league title he won in Argentina.
The biggest move of Maradona’s incredible career was to Barcelona. Illness and injury threatened to wreck Maradona’s career before it had really taken off, not least as he played some amazing football at the Catalan side; he remains one of only three players in history to be given a round of applause by Real Madrid fans in an El Clásico at Santiago Bernabéu – the significance of this, amidst such a fierce rivalry, should not be understated.
Maradona’s career at Barcelona came to a very messy end, with a huge fight in a match against Bilbao sealing the end of his career at the Spanish giants. He moved to Napoli, for whom the number 10 shirt remains retired in his honour. His goalscoring talent continued in Italy; he scored 81 goals in the seven years he spent in Naples.
His personal issues came to the fore towards the end of his Napoli career – he was issued with a 15-month football ban as a result of a failed drugs test, for cocaine, before finishing his career with stints in Spain and his native Argentina.
Maradona’s name has been lauded on the international stage for a number of reasons, not least for appearing in four World Cup tournaments for the South American side. The biggest game in memory – or at least for England fans – was Argentina’s 2-1 win over England in the FIFA World Cup 1986 quarter-final in Mexico City. The game already had some tension to it – the Falklands War had taken place in 1982, just four years prior – and was being watched by over 114,500 fans in the Estadio Azteca, and many more at home. After a relatively drab first half, the second half was bound to be more interesting – and boy, was it interesting.
Argentina took the lead on 51 minutes. A perfect run from Maradona saw him lay the ball off to teammate Jorge Valdano. Valdano couldn’t quite get to the ball and, what looked like a routine clearance from Steve Hodge was everything but – he miskicked and ended up lofting the ball into the danger area – England ‘keeper Peter Shilton came to claim the ball but Maradona rose above him – or at least, his hand rose above him, and Argentina took the lead. Maradona had claimed in interviews since that he and the Argentine players aimed to deceive the referee in order to claim the goal once it had gone in. Referee Ali Bin Nasser gave the goal.
However, there was no doubting the legitimacy of Maradona’s winner. A 60-yard run, followed by a dummy which caught the ‘keeper off guard and Maradona was able to finish the game off with a neat strike. Argentina went on to win the World Cup that year, and whilst the ‘Hand of God’ goal, as it was dubbed, was controversial, the second goal – just minutes later – was a touch of pure, Maradona class. The goal was voted goal of the century in 2002.
91 Argentina caps do not seem to feel like enough for a man with legendary status in Argentina, but appearing in four World Cups – and going on to manage in one – definitely was.
Most of his controversies did, however, come off the pitch – his widely reported and long-standing addiction to cocaine, his alcohol abuse and his obesity meant he had constant battles with his health, which he seemingly overcame into his late forties and fifties.
He had been in and out of hospital in recent months – at the start of November, he was admitted for emergency surgery on his brain, before being released. He died of a heart attack on 25th November.
Tributes have come in from around the world, as one might expect.
Barcelona striker Leo Messi, widely regarded as one of the best in the world, said “A sad day for all Argentinians and for football. He leaves us but he doesn’t go, because Diego is eternal”.
Meanwhile, footballing legend Pele said, “What sad news. I have lost a great friend, and the world has lost a legend”.
Que notícia triste. Eu perdi um grande amigo e o mundo perdeu uma lenda. Ainda há muito a ser dito, mas por agora, que Deus dê força para os familiares. Um dia, eu espero que possamos jogar bola juntos no céu. pic.twitter.com/6Li76HTikA
— Pelé (@Pele) November 25, 2020
Argentina has gone into three days of national mourning, with his body arriving at Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, in the early hours of the 26th November (GMT).
Analysis: Maradona has, and will continue to, go down as one of the greats – deservedly.
Maradona’s death is a sad day, not just for Argentinians but for the footballing world. In Pele’s words, “the world has lost a legend”. And, be in no doubt, this man was a legend. Clubs were often willing to pay a world-record fee to snap him up.
Yes, he would be angry. Yes, he had problems off the field, which seemed to get worse in the 90s and early 2000s. But, on the pitch, he was second to none.
Everyone has personal issues to deal with – Maradona is not unique in that sense – and, whilst these issues seemingly halted the latter stages of his career, he had already placed himself on a pedestal as a footballing maestro.
So many players and fans in the modern day will be inspired by Maradona. Towards the end of his life, he was happier – he seemed happier. He was healthier, and really beginning to enjoy his career as a football manager.
He never let his height – 5ft 5 – hold him back and indeed it helped him to become the player he was.
He lives on in the memory of every football fan – as said by Leo Messi, “Diego is eternal”.