It was four minutes in a rich and fully lived life that spanned six decades and ended on Wednesday when news of Diego Maradona’s death spread around the world. But if you can begin to understand her, you may understand why Maradona meant so much to so many. And why, as Lionel Messi – his Argentine teammate and universal GOAT contender alongside Pele and Cristiano Ronaldo – put it: “He’s gone, but he’ll be with us forever.”
– Report: Maradona dies at the age of 60
As massive as Maradona’s legacy is on the field – and it includes titles in three different countries as well as Argentina winning the 1986 World Cup – his charisma and off-field response could be greater.
These four minutes on June 22, 1986 in front of 114,500 souls at the Azteca – the “hand of God” who put the ball over the head of Peter Shilton into the English net, followed by the 10-second 60-yard dash, the forever known as the greatest World Cup goal of all time – comprised the yin and yang of sport. They showed the greedy, worldly urge to be successful at all costs (even through deception, for that was the aim of the “hand”) and the divine, heavenly, unimaginable ability that, if briefly, elevates top athletes to something superhuman .
But they went even further. They affirmed the narrative of Maradona as the Messiah, the people’s hero, the iconoclast, capable and ready to tear down the system. The fact that those targets were against England, the country that invented the game, that built an empire that in the eyes of so many still – rightly or wrongly – is the embodiment of the “establishment” also relevant. Also, the fact that he got away with it, the fact that he metaphorically flipped the bird and won the World Cup a few weeks later, meant for many that a higher power was really on his side.
Maradona, of course, fully accepted it. The underdog story always suited him. He left Barcelona for Napoli in 1984 in a world record transfer that left many tut-tuttings behind. This was an impoverished city on the wrong side of the country’s north-south divide. This was a team that had never won a league title. It was “bread and circuses”, the art of feeding the masses, an impossible dream and with great effort.
Except that Maradona made the impossible possible. He delivered two championship titles to the city of Naples and knocked out the richer blue blood cells from northern Italy. And he didn’t do it quietly. No sir: he didn’t do anything quietly. He did it while immersing himself in the city and the fan base, and rising up against those in power when things weren’t going his way.
In that sense, Maradona was the eternal teenager. He spoke his mind, sometimes bravely – he opposed war and poverty – sometimes irritable, happily playing the sacrifice card when things didn’t go his way, and over the years attacked everyone from Pelé to FIFA with wanton devotion .
Was he playing in front of an audience? Sometimes sure. But nobody loses the fact that they have finally reconciled with practically all of their opponents. He did not seek her forgiveness; he just made it impossible for most to stay angry with him. The fact that, for a man, virtually every gamer he has ever played with remembers him fondly tells his own story. Yes, he was different, he trained when he wanted, sometimes not at all. But if you were close to him, you couldn’t tease him. You fed on its size.
Ale Moreno recalls Diego Maradona’s life and the impact his career had on the football world.
He lived a life in excess, very much in public. Stories of drugs, prostitution, paternity suits, evenings in hot tubs with gangsters – you’ve probably heard them all, and they’re probably all true. He sucked the marrow out of life. He climbed as high as possible without losing the grumpy limits of the earth, and he spent more time crawling in the gutter than most of the others.
Maradona did everything, and besides, he paid for his transgressions. That moment at the Azteca was one of the few times he got away with anything. Health problems (both emotional and physical), a feeling that high-profile football passed (witnessing its disastrous time as an Argentine coach at the 2010 World Cup), the realization that its performance on the field was unlike anything it did of it … he took all the punches.
You should leave aside comparisons with other GOAT candidates. Different eras, different games. (First of all, he could have starred in the original viral video. If anyone tried today, you’d imagine it would be leaner and decidedly less organic.) However, if you get caught up in the most pointless debates, please note that he was Has reached size on two different continents. Please note that he has never received protection from the malicious fouls that are part of the game today. Please note that he played on cut, divot-heavy pitches, not the putting greens of modern football. Please note that the number of foreigners that each team could field was limited. Hence, he never enjoyed the standout supporting cast (or cannon fodder opposition) that today’s stars enjoy. And please remember what he did to his body along the way.
1978 World Champion Mario Kempes shares his memories with teammate Diego Maradona.
In 1998, an hour before the World Cup final, I was huddled with a group of 20 or 30 media representatives in the fur coat of the Stade de France around Pelé. Pele, the only other GOAT candidate at the time – Messi and Ronaldo were children at the time – held court over the impending clash between Brazil and France. Suddenly there was excitement in the hall. In a matter of seconds, the media disappeared and sped away with cameras and notebooks.
I, then a young reporter, stayed with Pele and his media dealers.
“What’s happening?” Asked Pele.
“I think … I think Maradona has just arrived …” answered one of his helpers.
Pele shook his head and smiled dryly.
One day there could be another Pele or another Messi or another Ronaldo. Someday someone might come along and do whatever they did on the pitch except to do better. But even if someone manages to emulate and outperform Maradona on the field, there is no way to do it while emulating them. (And maybe that’s not a bad thing.) It’s just hard to imagine another Maradona. Ever.
There won’t be any. There can be none.
Maradona was immediately what we dream of and what we say we loathe, perhaps because we see it in us. He rode his strengths and couldn’t tame his weaknesses. But maybe that’s exactly what made him human, balanced his otherworldly genius and made him a sporting icon just like you will find it.