The 1980s were his. He arrived in Spain for the 1982 World Cup with his reputation as the game’s hottest talent already established. Argentina’s tournament ended after three defeats and two wins, a disappointing return for reigning champions, Diego Maradona was a let down for many, but on the ball, he was different to every other player at the tournament. Diego was a talent.
This before the era of mass television coverage of leagues around the world. Whereas now, we evaluate the game’s greats based on their domestic and Champions League performances, then, assessments were made at World Cups.
Diego spent two years with Barcelona after that tournament, where he endured brutality never seen since, consequentially, he could do nothing to put Barca at the top of the league. His longest stay at any club, seven years, was at Napoli, where he led them to their only two Serie A titles, only double and only European trophy.
He will forever be the King of Naples; a hero who lifted a poor city above their prosperous rivals, but it was there he interacted with organised crime and drugs, the latter had a profound impact on the rest of his life.
As kids say, “Messi is the GOAT”, his stats are difficult to doubt, but what Maradona did at the 1986 World Cup has never been matched. He inspired a team and a nation to the trophy, scoring what is regarded as the greatest goal of all time in the quarter final, a goal almost as good in the semi and an assist for the winner in the final. We loved him, almost everyone did.
At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he called on his Naples public to support him in the semi-final against their mostly northern-Italian counterparts. The Neapolitans supported Italy, much to his annoyance, but the hosts were eliminated on penalties. Diego, carrying an injury, with several years of living the lowlife/highlife, was in another World Cup Final.
There the fairy-tale ends. The final was a turgid affair, settled by a late West German penalty. Worse was to come at USA ‘94, when he was sent home after two games for failing a doping test. Excuses flowed, for the first time I was disappointed in our hero. It was an accident caused by his trainer, then it wasn’t an accident, Fifa granted him an exception to take the drug, which they reneged on. It did not matter to the world that he put his hand up in 1986, but he should done the same in 1994 and accepted responsibility, instead of blaming those less powerful than him.
He did not spread the gospel of the game to new countries, like Pele, nor did his impact on the sport match Cruyff’s, but there was simply no greater entertainer in the world than Diego Maradona.
Best news of the week: “Jullien and Elhamed are in contention to start”, says Neil Lennon. These are the games we should use to get players fit, let’s hope we see Chris back where he belongs tonight. I would give Elhamed a run out too, Frimpong is overdue some R&R.