Yesterday, we lost one of the greatest of all time. Diego Maradona passed away in his own home at the age of 60. We look back at the enigma that was Maradona.
When we speak of Maradona, for all his flaws, we must remember what an electric player he was. The archetypal number ten, his agility and mesmeric control of the ball were so exceptional that he often found two opposition players shadowing him. Not that it mattered. His ability to set off on mazy runs, ghosting past those sacrificed to mark him, became his trademark. A quick feint, a stepover, or a change of direction and he was gone, leaving humiliated defenders in his wake. Of course, this attracted the attention of defenders. Unwanted attention at that.
In an era where defenders could be remarkably brutal, the diminutive playmaker held his own physically, enduring a barrage of kicks and elbows as the opposition sought to tame his abilities. One ponders how much more dominant he would have been in today’s game, with substantially more protection on offer from the officials. It is not often that a player could be dropped into the game some three decades later and still suit the style of play.
Though, his success on the international stage is unrivalled. Greats of the game such as Ronaldo and Messi have failed where he succeeded, as Diego dragged his Argentina side to a World Cup almost single-handedly. In 1986 he played every single minute of the tournament, contributing five goals and as many assists, including that infamous brace against England.
The Duality of the Man
Nothing quite sums up the duality of the man that was Maradona quite like that 1986 World Cup quarter final. For his detractors it became a stick to beat him with; for the rest, it was a perfect showcase of the contrasting sides of his game.
To pick the ball up on the half-way line, dance through seven helpless defenders before rounding Peter Shilton was no mean feat. Quite rightly, it was voted as the greatest ever goal in 2002, and I’d be hard pressed to argue with that. It was an exhibition of his skill, poetry in motion.
However, it was the incident a few moments prior that some will say forever tarnishes his legacy (though for what it’s worth, I don’t subscribe to this theory). The aforementioned Peter Shilton has used his platform to repeatedly cast a shadow on Maradona’s achievements, which far outweigh his own.
Yes, Maradona cheated. Yes, it cost us a place in the semi-finals. And… so what?
When we look back at Michael Owen’s career, do we remember his mazy run against Argentina in 1998, or his cynical dive for the penalty earlier in the game?
When we wax lyrical about 1966, our defining moment on the international stage, do we qualify our gloating by reflecting upon the fact that the ball did not cross the line for the third goal?
Of course not. Our inability to think of his greatness without adding the caveat of his gamesmanship is a damning indictment of our national psyche. English players would have done the same if given the chance. One rule for us, one rule for them.
The Troubled Maverick
However, rarely do those capable of producing extraordinary moments on the pitch have an ordinary life off it. The very thing that makes mavericks so creative, is often the thing that leads to their problems.
George Best, Paul Gascoigne, and Diego Maradona. Names etched into football history, all three were geniuses who did things with a ball that most of us can only dream of. Unfortunately, all three suffered from their demons with substance abuse.
Those who look down upon him for his drug taking clearly cannot understand the complexities of addiction, nor the events or circumstances that lead to somebody down that path. Addiction is an ugly beast, and I’m no more qualified to talk about it than anyone else, but those who had a duty of care towards him failed him. The enablers, the coattail riders, and the press who left him unable to leave his house for fear of being swarmed, all contributed to his problem. A creative genius often confined to his own four walls, combined with an addictive personality, it’s little wonder he went the way he did.
A celebration of his incredible skill followed by a slightly sombre note to end things on. Much like his life trajectory. We will never see another quite like him.
RIP Diego Maradona. 1960-2020.