“To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people.”
Those are the words of former Argentina coach César Luis Menotti, who famously snubbed a 17-year old wonderkid from his 1978 World Cup-winning squad. It would be the snubbed wonderkid, however, who would go on to be the living embodiment of Menotti’s words. His name was Diego Maradona.
Born in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Maradona rose from humble beginnings to exceptional heights. A playmaker renowned for his creativity, passing, dribbling and vision, few in history compare to Maradona in terms of raw talent. Across an illustrious career "El Pibe de Oro" ("The Golden Kid") lifted a World Cup, a UEFA Cup, 3 national league titles, 5 national cups and a FIFA World Youth Championship.
It would take a convincing argument to deny Maradona’s place in the conversation for the greatest player of all time. Among a multitude of awards, Maradona was crowned the ‘Player of the Century’ alongside Pelé by FIFA in 2000. To some, there is no greater player in history.
Beyond all else, Maradona captured the hearts and minds of Argentina. Football is deeply rooted in Argentine identity and nationalism.
When a once in a lifetime talent arises in a country so emphatically passionate, something special happens. It is almost hard to comprehend how loved Maradona is to the people of Argentina, as there is no direct comparison in the UK.
Trouble, however, was never too far from Diego. On the pitch, he was loathed by some, most notably English fans after the ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986. Off the pitch, he battled with drug addiction and alcoholism for decades, developing serious health issues as a result. Ultimately, and tragically, Maradona’s personal demons would contribute heavily towards his death.
So what is Maradona? A troubled figure, or a timeless icon? Truly, the answer is both. Regardless of your views on a brief moment of unsportsmanlike behaviour in ‘86, though, it is hard to deny his status as a legend of the sport. Maradona will be fondly remembered for the beauty that he brought to the football pitch, and the unity he inspired in his supporters.