A prodigiously qualified footballer who captained Argentina in the 1986 World Cup.
Blessed with exquisite talent developed in the slums of Buenos Aires, Cabecita Negra became all that characterized Argentina’s soccer values.
Religious religion is a psychological prop for many footballers. Still, Diego Maradona, who died at 60 after suffering a heart attack, took it further and began to believe in his own divinity. His various talents as a maker, organizer, and scorer have given him worldwide acclaim as one of the greatest players ever recognized. At least in the English mind, an accolade offset by the goal he scored for Argentina after 51 minutes of his quarter-final against England in the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico.
Deemed to the referee’s heading, the ball was simply hit over the line, and the foul went unpunished. It was, his scorer claimed, “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with The Hand of God.”
Four minutes later, Maradona scored what would turn out to be the game-winner, a goal acclaimed as one of the biggest ever achieved. A matter of 10.8 seconds, 44 legs and 12 legs, during which he dribbled past five England men, beat goalie Peter Shilton and slipped the ball into the net.
“I felt like applause,” said the British striker Gary Lineker grudgingly. With Maradona as captain and scorer of five of their 14 goals, Argentina became world champions, defeating West Germany in the finals.
A statuesque midfielder who played in the 10th position and fused great pace, unrivalled vision, and touch-and-ball stability that he credited to his ankles’ peculiar rotational skills. Maradona captained Argentina in two World Cup finals, winning one and winning several awards, including the 1979 and 1980 South American Footballer of the Year and the World Cup finals.
In a career marked by fame, intrigue, indiscipline, and long-standing drug habit, he was a notorious figure in Barcelona, worshipped as a deity in Napoli, and thrown out of the finals of the 1994 World Cup in shame. It was also abused economically by clubs, partners, hangers, national governing bodies, and Argentina’s military regimes. According to Settimio Aloisio, vice-president of Argentinos Juniors, “Maradona was a nice distraction when things were tough for the dictatorship. He’s made people happy. The Romans used the circus, our army used the football arenas.”
Maradona was born in Lanús, Buenos Aires. His childhood home was the shack of Villa Fiorito, a shantytown with a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the region. His father, Diego Sr, a low-paid worker in a bone meal factory, was from Guaraní Indian stock. Dalma (nee Franco), known as Tota, was a descendant of poor immigrants from southern Italy.
After three daughters, Diego Jr was acquainted with Tota and his grandma Salvadora as her first child. They spun into him their Roman Catholic faith and reminded him of his obligations as the eldest son. Put to work early, he sold little scraps and discarded tinfoil from cigarette bags. Still, it was the leather soccer that his uncle Cirilo gave him for his third birthday that provided his ticket out of poverty.
Maradona The Early Career
At the age of eight, Maradona’s prodigious abilities gave him a trial with Francisco Cornejo, the Cebollita trainer, a youth team on the first tier side of Argentinos Juniors. Cornejo was left open-mouthed: “He seemed to have come from another planet.” He had never seen a little boy show such talent. Despite Maradona’s little physical and oddly broad head, at first, he thought he was deceptive about his age and asked to see his identification card. Reassured, Cornejo took him and became his coach at Cebollitas, with whom Maradona won the Youth Championship in Córdoba in 1974. Soon after his first deal with Argentinos Juniors, he was promoted to the main roster.
He made his professional debut in 1976, ten days before his 16th birthday, scored his first top-flight goal 25 days later, and quickly became a teenage phenomenon. He added 116 goals in as many games throughout his five years at the club and was their top scorer in every full season.
In 1979, he was the main man to Argentina’s victory in the World Youth Championship against the Soviet Union. At 20, he moved to Boca Juniors. His 28 goals in 40 games helped the team win the Argentina Primera División Metropolitano in 1982. He took part in his first World Cup in Spain. It’s no surprise that Barcelona paid him a world record fee of 5m; only just 21, he went to Spain in the face of the whole of Argentina screaming at his exit.
Living the Dream
His tumultuous two years in Barcelona gave him 38 goals and a 1983 Copa del Rey trophy, as well as financial problems, the beginning of his drug use and alcohol consumption, a career-ending ankle injury caused by Andoni Goikoetxea of Athletic Bilbao, and more regular conflicts with the club president, Josep Lluís Núñez. He also was the orchestrator of a mass brawl in front of King Juan Carlos of Spain in the 1984 Copa del Rey final after the defeat of Barcelona to Athletic Bilbao. It was his last league match.
A £6.9m transfer fee that exceeded his own record brought him to Napoli and led to a seven-year love affair. He inspired them to bring an end to northern Italy’s football monopoly; in 1987, they were the first Southern team to win Series A. The following season he was Serie A’s top scorer. In 1989, Napoli won its first European trophy, the Uefa Cup, followed by a second league title in 1990. He wielded a godlike dignity to the Neapolitans, of which he was ready to believe; his portrait appeared in the walls and shrines of the city walls. The truth was darker; drug use, relations with the Camorra – the Naples mafia – and a son, Diego Sinagra, resulted from an extramarital affair that he had failed to consider for several years.
As he resigned in 1992, Napoli publicly removed the No 10 shirt to appreciate his commitment to the club, even after his record has been tarnished by a failed cocaine drug test. Still, in a fragile physical and psychological condition following a 15-month soccer ban, he spent a year playing for Sevilla FC in Spain before moving to Argentina, where first Newell’s Old Boys and then Boca Juniors gave him desperately needed lifelines.
Maradona’s international career once again surpassed Mexico’s high of 86. In Italy in 1990, sapped by an ankle injury, he was not the dominant power four years ago, even though he captained Argentina in the final, losing 1-0 to West Germany. Four years back, in the US, he played just two games before being found positive for substance ephedrine. Expulsion in shame finished his international career, which saw him play 91 times for Argentina, scoring 34 goals.
Since his retirement from football in 1997 (having scored 259 goals in 491 league matches for his numerous club sides), the body that had endured years of physical trauma became obese and massively overweight. In 2004 he was diagnosed with a possible heart attack following heavy usage of cocaine.
The Later Life
Two years later, he had gastric bypass surgery to reverse his obesity. In 2008, after the retirement of Argentine head coach Alfio Basile, he was asked to take his place. Qualifications were secured for the 2010 World Cup finals after a 6-1 loss, Argentina’s second-worst ever, Bolivia, and a two-month suspension on Fifa against Maradona for bursting into offensive language a live post-match press conference. After Argentina was defeated 4-0 in the quarter-finals by Germany, the deal was not extended.
In 2011, he became the Al Wasl Dubai Club manager in the United Arab Emirates before being sacked for just over a year. After a five-year interregnum, he was named head coach of Al-Fujairah in the second division of the UAE in 2017, moving to the Mexican club Dorados de Sinaloa the next year and back in Argentina in 2019, to Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
Despite his numerous misdeeds and complex personality, Maradona remained a hero in Argentina. “He offered the Argentinians a way out of their mutual dissatisfaction, and that’s why people love him,” said former team player Jorge Valdano. “[That’s why he’s a divine figure.”
He was married to Claudia Villafañe in 1984 and separated in 2004. Their two daughters, Dalma and Giannina, and his son, Diego, survived.
Diego Armando Maradona, footballer, born October 30, 1960, ended his legacy on November 25, 2020.
Soccer legend Pele paid a heartfelt tribute to his “great friend” Diego Maradona, who died in Argentina at 60 after suffering heart failure on Wednesday.
Both men are known to be two of the best soccer players in history and come from equally modest backgrounds.
“I have lost a great friend, and the world lost a legend,” wrote Pele, who turned 80 last month on Twitter.
“There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to his family members. One day, I hope we will play football together in heaven.“