Diego Armando Maradona, the prince of Argentine football is a name to reckon with in the football world. Widely regarded as one of the best footballers in history, Diego Maradona is one of the most discussed people among football fans even to this day. Throughout the decades, there have always been many debates about who is the best in the world among Brazilian Pele and Argentine Maradona and there is never a clear winner in this debate. There are also debates about the greatest player in the history of Argentina – Lionel Messi or Diego Maradona, but Lionel Messi himself always keeps Maradona at a higher level.
Diego Maradona’s life contains many chapters, not that all of them are equally glorious like his football career, but he has always been the centre of attention since he started playing football. Be it for his mesmerizing skills with the ball, or his controversial life outside the football pitch – Maradona hardly failed to make into the headlines.
Childhood and Early Career: Rise of Diego Maradona
Diego Armando Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, in Lanus, Buenos Aires, and grew up in Villa Fiorita, a province on the outskirts of southern Buenos Aires. He was born in one of the poorest families of his locality and had to go through a lot of struggles in his childhood. His father, Diego Sr. was a factory worker and was barely able to earn meals for his family of eight children.
Diego Maradona grew an interest in football at a very young age. He was introduced to the game when he was gifted a ball on his three years birthday by his cousin. He used to sleep with the ball so that no one could steal. By the age of nine, he was quite a famous kid around his locality for his playing skills and he started to play for a local team named ‘Little Onions’.
His excellent dribbling, ball control, and goal-scoring skills soon started to attract the eyes of many individuals, and it didn’t take long for him to get more appreciation at a higher level when a local newspaper published an article on him titled “There was a kid with the attitude and talent of a star”.
Soon Maradona started to get more recognition, and when he got an offer by a scout of Argentine Primera Division football club Argentinos Juniors, there was no looking back. His family didn’t flinch for once to let him leave his home and play on the big platform as they thought his incomes from football could support the family and improve their condition. On October 20, 1976, he made his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors, 10 days before his 16th birthday. On his debut match, he did a nutmeg to opponent player Juan Cabrera, which became a legendary act in football history.
He spent five years at Argentinos Juniors, contributing 115 goals in 167 matches before leaving the club to join Boca Juniors. At one point in his career, Maradona received offers from many clubs in Primera Division including both Boca Juniors and River Plate. River Plate even went as far as offering him to be the club’s highest-paid footballer ever – all that when he was only 20 years old. But Diego Maradona refused other offers and decided to join Boca Juniors, the club he dreamed of playing for since childhood. After spending one successful season at Boca Juniors, he set his foot to Europe towards a bigger platform to amaze the world.
International and European career: Becoming a Legend
Diego Maradona made his international debut in 1977 against Hungary, at the age of 17. He was excluded from the Argentina world cup squad of 1978 because the manager Cesar Luis Menotti felt he was too young and inexperienced. He made the world aware of his presence during the FIFA World Youth Championship, 1979. He not only scored 6 goals in that tournament but also led his nation to become the champions.
By the time of the 1982 world cup, the fame of Maradona had already reached everywhere in the world and the audience was keen to witness him on the biggest stage of football. He was rightfully chosen in the squad but the tournament didn’t go well for him.
His side lost the first match against Belgium and reached the second round after managing a victory against Hungary and El Salvador only to be knocked out of the tournament in that round. They lost to Brazil and Italy in the second round, where Diego Maradona was sent off in the match against Brazil. He was fouled ruthlessly many times by the opponent players, and the motive was just to stop him from dribbling with the ball.
Finally four years later, in World Cup 1986, the world witnessed history. At that time, Diego Maradona was the captain of the Argentine national team who was given the responsibility to lead his nation in the tournament. Little did the world knew, that edition of the tournament would become one of the greatest ever in history. Maradona started the competition with 3 assists to his name against South Korea in the first match.
In the quarter-final, Argentina was up against England. Argentina claimed victory in that match by 2-1 where both goals were scored by Diego Maradona, and the match was the core of many controversies. The first goal he scored was a controversial one, as the referee was not sure about the authenticity of the goal when it was scored and eventually granted the goal in favor of Argentina. Although later, it was observed in the replay that the goal was scored by Maradona with his hands.
While the first goal was a complete controversy, the second goal left the stadium standing for several minutes. Diego Maradona started his run with the ball from their own half, a few yards behind the halfway line, and started to run towards England’s goal. On this run, he dribbled past six England players – Beardsley, Reid, Butcher, Fenwick, Butcher (again), and finally goalkeeper Peter Shilton, and then hit the ball in the opposition net. He didn’t need any support, didn’t even pass the ball on this long run, just got past every one of the opposing team he saw in front of him.
This goal is today known as ‘Goal of the Century’. While his second goal in that match was named as the ‘Goal of the Century’, his first goal is called as ‘Hand of God’ after Maradona described that goal by saying “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God” in an interview. Argentina eventually won the world cup by defeating West Germany by 3-2 in the final and Maradona was awarded the Golden Ball.
Although his world cup victory came in 1986, there were many European clubs who were interested to sign him after world cup 1982. He joined FC Barcelona in 1982 for a record transfer fee of £5 million. In 1983, Barcelona won Copa Del Rey, defeating arch-rival Real Madrid and Maradona owned the trophy for Barcelona. This was the first time a Barcelona player was applauded by Real Madrid fans, and that player was none other than Diego Maradona.
After spending two seasons in Spain, Maradona joined Italian club Napoli for a record transfer fee of £6.9 million, again breaking his own record. He was the first footballer in history to break the record of the highest transfer fee twice, a feat later achieved by Brazilian legend Ronaldo. He arrived at Napoli with 75,000 fans welcoming him on his presentation day. The fan’s reaction was so joyful that Sports writer David Goldblatt said “They (the fans) were convinced that the savior had arrived.”
At Napoli, Maradona reached the peak of his career. Napoli won their first-ever Serie A title in 1986-87, with Maradona having the greatest impact on the victory followed by their second league title, arrived in 1989-90. During the Diego Maradona era at Napoli, they also won Copa de Italia in 1987, the UEFA cup in 1989, and the UEFA super cup in 1990.
Diego Maradona was a part of Napoli from 1984 to 1991. During this time, he turned Napoli into one of the big clubs in Italy, ending the monopoly of Juventus, AC Milan, Inter, and Roma. He became one of the greatest legends ever in the history of the club and people started to treat him as a godly figure in Naples. His pictures were painted on the walls, newborn babies were named after him.
After his Napoli career, he played for clubs like Sevilla and Newell’s before going back to his old club Boca Juniors, where he retired in 1997. However, Maradona was banned from playing football twice between 1991 and 1997 due to using drugs. These incidents made the end of his career controversial and decline in an unexpected way. Despite all the controversies and negativities in his career, Diego Maradona was and will always be regarded as one of the best (or probably best as considered by many experts).
Diego Armando Maradona was truly a genius with the ball. Playing as a classic no 10, he used to always find the way towards the opponent goal. Be it dribbling past four/five players at once and scoring the goal himself, or making the right pass at the right time to his teammates and make them score. His skills, passing, playmaking, vision, goalscoring was second to none and could single-handedly make a difference against any opponent. He was truly a synonym of magic with football.
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