My first tryst with football – the televised version – came during Italia ’90, where the football was dour, but the charisma and magnetic pull of Diego Maradona left me forever hooked to the beautiful game.
That July 1990, a beaten and trodden Argentine captain — by the tough-tackling West Germans — had left a skinny kid with no discernible football skills in the football heartland of India teary-eyed and heartbroken.
He was the unwavering leader of his men, commanding a cult-like devotion from his team-mates and fans – all transfixed in a trance by his mastery over a football. Vanquished on the night, despair in his eyes, he still was our hero.
His crowning glory, however, came four years earlier in Mexico, where he played every minute of every game to lead his country to its second World Cup glory. Scoring five goals and with as many assists, he was the heartbeat of an otherwise workman-like Argentine team. The difference between agony and anguish was often Diego alone, as he proved in the quarterfinal against England, scoring the most notorious and most glorious goal in world football on the same day. After the “Hand of God” moment, Diego twisted and blasted past half the English team to score the “Goal of the Century.” He was there to deliver the final act of defiance to play the perfect pass for Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner in the final after Germany had made a comeback in the game, by shackling Diego with tight man-marking. Lifting the Cup in an overcrowded Azteca stadium will be his crowning glory, the day he won his battle, him and his men fighting against the world to come out winners.
Maradona also achieved success at the club level with Napoli – breaking the stranglehold of Juventus and the Milan clubs in Italy – to win two Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup in 1988-89. But it was during his seven years in Naples that Maradona’s addiction to cocaine took hold, a vice that never left his side and led to various health issues during the latter part of his life.
None of those off-field misadventures could, however, overshadow his talents on the field – the preternatural talent who broke into the youth team of Argentinos Juniors as a child prodigy and then made his professional debut at the age of 16.
Despite attaining worldwide fame, he was always a boy from villa miseria (the shanty towns in Argentina), retaining a childlike exuberance and an apathy towards any authority. He was a one-man revolution, standing against the world order, and a close confidante of former Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro, who Maradona said was “like a father to me.” It is heartbreaking to see Maradona go away, but El Diego can again share a cigar with the revolutionary leader, who also passed away on the same day.
¡Hasta la victoria siempre! — Until victory, always (Comrade)!
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