Religious faith is a psychological prop for many a footballer, but Diego Maradona, who has died aged 60 after suffering a heart attack, took things further and came to believe in his own divinity. His multiple skills as creator, organiser and striker brought him worldwide acknowledgement as one of the best players ever known, an accolade tempered, in English minds at least, by the goal he scored for Argentina after 51 minutes of their quarter-final against England in the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico.
Deemed by the referee to have been headed, the ball was actually punched over the line and the foul went unpunished. It was, said its scorer, “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 match-winner, a goal acclaimed as one of the greatest ever scored, a matter of 10.8 seconds, 44 strides and 12 touches, during which he dribbled past five England players, upended the goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, with a feint, and slipped the ball into the net.
“I felt like applauding,” was the rueful comment of the England striker Gary Lineker. With Maradona as captain and scorer of five of their 14 goals, Argentina went on to become world champions, beating West Germany in the final.
A diminutive attacking midfielder who played in the No 10 position and who combined great acceleration, unrivalled vision, and a touch and ball control that he ascribed to the abnormal rotational capability of his ankles, Maradona captained Argentina to two World Cup finals, winning one, and gained numerous honours that included South American Footballer of the Year in 1979 and 1980 and the World Cup Golden Ball in 1986 and Fifa Goal of the Century in 2002.
In a career marked by glory, drama, indiscipline and a long-running cocaine habit, he was a controversial figure at Barcelona, worshipped as a god in Napoli, and kicked out of the 1994 World Cup finals in disgrace. Continue reading