Diego Armando Maradona was born in 1960, the child of two working-class parents, and brought up in the Villa Fiorito slum of Buenos Aires. Few professions achieve such ascents from this poverty as football, and it was the speed of this ascent that, in the end, proved too much for Maradona.
Maradona achieved what is the dream of most young boys, as bucket-loads of fame and immense quality on the football pitch thrust themselves upon him from an early age, making these humble origins a distant memory. But, for Maradona, at least at the start, it was football that was always number one, and fame was just the unfortunate side effect.
I could go on here with the usual clichés about the ball always being at his feet as a young child, of scouts desperately fighting to get him to join their clubs, of the immense impact he had at those clubs when he did join them. These, however, are obvious and are seen in the lives of any half-decent young footballer.
What is unique about Maradona is that, despite all that came later with the fame, the drugs, and the criminal cases, it was always football that was his life and the skill that came with this love. Watch footage of Maradona applying this skill and his love for the sport becomes immediately obvious.
Apart from when he was at Argentinos Juniors Maradona’s goal record was never outstanding
For Boca Juniors and Argentina, the passion and intensity after a goal has been scored. For Barcelona, the energy with which he runs around the pitch. For Napoli, the quality that left his opponents in the dust. And it is his quality that will endure.
Apart from when he was at Argentinos Juniors, his first club, Maradona’s goal record was never outstanding, but when the names of the great players of all time are brought up, Maradona’s name is always mentioned. Unlike some of these players, such as your Pelés and Ronaldos (both of them), what stood out about Maradona was not what he did in front of goal, but how he played the game as a whole.
Clips do not suffice to show Maradona’s greatness. His positional play, passing, and work-rate combined with those highlight-reel moments to make him into a myth-like footballer, one that defied the statistics and always left one impression. Greatness.
The most remarkable and famous years of his career were at Napoli, the club he arrived at for a world-record fee of £6.9 million in 1984. His skill was already well-known at this point, but it was at Napoli where he cast aside all competitors in his quest to be the best.
When he arrived, having been unhappy at his treatment at Barcelona after injuries and a famous brawl during El Clasico, Napoli were a mid-table Serie A team, and had little going for them. It was Maradona that almost single-handedly changed that.
75,000 fans welcomed him on his arrival, and Maradona quickly embraced the cities’ culture. Triumphing over the old northern giants of AC Milan and Juventus, Maradona led Napoli to their first-ever title in 1986/87 and followed this with another league title in 1989/90 and the UEFA Cup.
Maradona dribbled beyond the entire England team to score what was later deemed to be the Goal of the Century
That is not to say, however, that prior to these successes at Napoli, Maradona had not had any experience of victory. Indeed, the most famous achievement of his career, as he captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, had already taken place.
Maradona scored 10 out of Argentina’s 14 goals, two of which came against Bobby Robson’s England in the quarter-finals.
The first was the self-dubbed ‘Hand of God’, as Maradona jumped above Peter Shilton to deliberately pat the ball into the net, using his hand. He knew what he had done, but celebrated in such a way to pretend otherwise, and the referee somehow let it pass. Four minutes later, another remarkable moment occurred, and this time, it was genius. Maradona dribbled beyond the entire England team to score what was later deemed to be the Goal of the Century.
This contrast, between blatant cheating and absolute genius, has since become the dichotomy that has defined Maradona.
So far, this article has touched on all that is good about Maradona, all that made him stand above the rest in footballing terms, as the talisman and genius behind many triumphs on the club and international stage. But, while all this undoubted greatness was unfolding another, darker side of Maradona’s life was moving along contemporaneously.
While Napoli was the height of Maradona’s footballing career, in many ways it became the point in which his life fell off a cliff. His reputation as Napoli’s saviour, as the city’s patron saint, meant that the attention grew to become too much. Every time Maradona stepped out of his front door he was swarmed by members of the press and local fans.
His fame and notoriety meant that he caught the attention of other big-hitters in the city, in this case, the Camorra, a mafia-type organisation that dominated the underground scene in Naples. They very quickly came to provide Maradona with whatever he wanted, in exchange with certain favours in return.
The addiction meant he stopped caring for the game he had previously valued so much
Maradona’s cocaine addiction began in 1986 and seems to have continued, on and off, for the rest of his life. It steadily played a part in the deterioration of his relationship with Napoli, and Italy, in general, is used as a stick with which to beat him after he knocked Italy out of the 1990 World Cup. In 1991, he was banned from football for fifteen months.
This deprived him of his other drug, football, and his career was never the same again. The addiction meant he stopped caring for the game he had previously valued so much. He had something of a managerial career, but his manic lifestyle and personality meant that this was never truly successful, despite taking Argentina to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.