Are you sitting around the house wondering how to fill time during quarantine? The world is getting back to normal, yet the United States is imploding. The latter led me to thinking about one of the most controversial and interesting athletes of our lifetimes.
“A little with his head and a little with the hand of God.” This is how Diego Maradona described his egregious goal that put his Argentina ahead of England in the 1986 World Cup Quarterfinal in Mexico City.
Do you know of Maradona? If you’re not sure who he is, let me enlighten you. Diego Maradona is a titan of Argentine football who exploded onto the scene in his early 20s. After scoring 28 goals in just 40 appearances with his hometown club Boca Juniors, Diego was courted by Barcelona. They signed him for a then record £5 million. He went on to score 38 goals over two injury-riddled seasons with Barca before another record setting move. A move that would shift the balance of power in Italy’s Serie A, launch Diego into celebrity, and wrap a new side of Maradona in eightballs of cocaine and exorbitant amounts of booze.
The two sides of Diego Maradona
Naples was the poorest city in Italy. Their club, Napoli, had never won Serie A. In 1984, they purchased Maradona for a new record fee of £6.9 million. It wasn’t long before the slick Argentine was wearing the captain’s armband and driving the Neapolitans to their first ever league title and six other trophies.
But as he rose in celebrity, every wave Diego made on the pitch seemed to be matched by one he made off the pitch. He was winning titles, but getting sucked into a mafia underworld full of drugs and prostitution. Brazilian legend Pele rightly questioned Maradona’s mentality and his ability to carry the weight of his stardom.
Oscar winning documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia released Diego Maradona in 2019, and this film is a gorgeous view into a true “started from the bottom now we here” superstar.
“In making this film, I saw him as a kid. A lost kid. And it’s the vulnerability in his eyes that you see in this film, he looks lost in crowds, and he’s not used to it, that’s what I don’t think we’ve seen before. So that’s what I’m interested in when I make these films. I try and humanize these people who are iconic.”
I highly recommend giving it a watch. And if you don’t listen to me, listen to Sports Illustrated.
“Football is the game of deceit.”
Anyway, before I go into a full on biography, let’s get back to filling the void. The above quote is from Kapadia’s film, and speaks to the duality of Maradona’s life and character. It’s also an apropos way to consider the ’86 quarterfinal.
Argentina will go on to win this World Cup, beating West Germany in the final. But should they have been there in the first place? This victory began a whirlwind year for Maradona. He wins the World Cup, begins his third season in Napoli, and leads them to their first Serie A title.
How appropriate that such a year kicks off with such a controversy. Two of the most famous goals in the history of the game are scored by Maradona against England. It starts with the hand of God, a goal that would not only have been disallowed in today’s VAR world, but also produced a card against the striker.
He follows with the game winner – a goal that would legitimately be voted “Goal of the Century” in 2002. Maradona dribbled past five English defenders, traveling over 60 yards before reuniting the ball with the back of the net.
Enjoy the watch. Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask.
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