The Legacy of Diego Armando Maradona
It is 1986, the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Argentina are playing England in the World Cup quarter final, and it is the day the young Argentinian captain will cement his place in football folklore. In what later became known as the ‘hand of God’, Maradona punches the ball into the net past English ‘keeper Peter Shilton. Seemingly everybody saw it except for the referee who awarded the goal (VAR, anyone?). He became infamous for the incident, but the story wasn’t yet finished. Four minutes later, he scores the goal of the century, picking up the ball in his own half, and traipsing through four English players in under 10 seconds to put La Albiceleste two goals clear. Seven days later Argentina would lift the World Cup.
That match captures something very profound about the man known to some as El Barrilete Cosmico, The Cosmic Kite.
It may seem strange to focus on just four minutes of football to capture the legacy of football’s most enigmatic son.
But that match captures something very profound about the man known to some as El Barrilete Cosmico, The Cosmic Kite. He was both angelic in the way he floated through the lines of opposition teams and charmed the public, but was a man not without his demons.
Diego Armando Maradona was born 30th October in 1960
in Lanús Partido in greater Buenos Aires. Raised in a shantytown, the young Maradona entertained himself with a football gifted to him at age three. By eight, he had caught the eye of talent scouts. By twelve, his juggling skills made him the half time entertainment at first division games. He could boot the ball into the air, and then caress it down with his feet like it was a newborn falling from a burning building. The ball was entirely at his mercy. Every single part of his body seemed to have the dexterity of an average punter’s hands, and he could roll the ball around his shoulders like it was on a string. In an actual match, he was almost unplayable. For three World Cups, he was the most fouled player, as defences resorted to just hacking the talismanic Argentine. It was considered brutal, even by the gritty 80s crowds. His low centre of gravity meant he could drive through tight spaces and emerge on the other side, with the ball still stuck to his feet. His 10 goal involvements in the ’86 World Cup was almost twice as good as the next best player, and has still not been matched.
Off the pitch, he had the charisma to match. His teammates loved him, and the world was enraptured by this larger-than-life figure who seemed to play the game differently to anyone else. He joins the echelons of sportsmen who are synonymous with their sport. He was to football what The Beatles were to modern music, or Moses was to the Israelites: a messianic figure who led his people toward the promised land.Diego Maradona, the angel.
Eight years later, he would be booted from the squad at the World Cup in the United States, after FIFA found a cocktail of drugs in the Argentina Captain’s blood test. It would turn out to be the tip of the iceberg for a man who had abused cocaine and other substances since he was 22. He himself recognised the toll it had taken on his capacity as a footballer.
“I gave my opponents a big advantage due to my illness,"
Maradona told Argentina's Tyc Sports in 2014. "Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn't taken drugs?" Moreover, the “Cosmic Kite” found the prospect of coming down from the lofty heights as the world’s greatest footballer to a normal life in Argentina challenging. The thrill and the rush of the game was hard to recreate on the sidelines, especially when he was sober, and the transition was a difficult one. So, what are we to do with the passing of this icon? Simple. We venerate the man who laid the framework for the likes of Cristiano and Lionel. We celebrate the life of a man who made the beautiful game that little bit more beautiful. We recognise the fallibility Diego as a mere man, all the while celebrating the style of play which seemed at times to be superhuman. The footballing world is mourning a man whose talent seemed divine, and who battled his demons, right up until the end.
May it be forever 1986 in heaven…