I first became aware of the essence of Diego Maradona back in the late 1970s whilst I was growing up in Jamaica. Not that I had any chance of seeing the great man kick a ball then due to limited live tv coverage of international football beyond World Cups and English FA Cup finals.
Back then I was lucky to get my hands on copies of the superb UK based football magazines such as Shoot!, Football Monthly and World Soccer.
What was so unique about World Soccer was its regular coverage of league football in regions such as South America. [Who would have thought ten years later I would have an office across the road from where World Soccer was published on Stamford Street, London?]
World Soccer provided regular reports on Maradona’s performances for his club side Boca Juniors and when playing for Argentina from his first ever game. At the time I was also interested in Brazilian club football especially teams such as Flamengo and Santos.
So by the time I saw actual footage of Maradona on television in 1981/82 I was already hooked. Just the images of Maradona on the field in those magazine made him look like a football general. And like myself he was a left footer.
Maradona was the best footballer I had ever seen. Diego transcended football, sport and life. He was star than shone like no other across the hallowed turf. His charisma on and the field was unmatched.
Many have rightly referred to Diego’s performances at the 1986 World Cup and his time in Italy for Napoli as his zenith. But Maradona was also terrific in the 1982 World Cup in Italy. Yes, he was over shadowed by the Brazilian team of Zico and Eder, yet Maradona stood out for me on so many fronts.
Who would have that in the 1982 World Cup second round that Brazil, Argentina and Italy would have been drawn together in a group of 3 where only one could go to the semis? Unreal.
Yes, Diego did receive a red card in the game against Brazil. But by then you could not blame Maradona for lashing out as he was kicked so relentlessly from the first game. The assault in the game of death match against Italy was not for the faint hearted with the likes of Claudio Gentile doing their best hatchet job to kick Diego out of World Cup 82. But Maradona stood up to the physicality and you could not help but respect courage of the man.
Over the years I watched countless archived hours of Diego’s matches. To see Maradona in his pomp you need to see also his performances for Argentina at Copa America as well those early years for Boca. There you see Diego’s vision, his touch, his passion, his toughness, his positivity, his leadership and skills blended in each game. He was the best in the world from the late 1970s.
In the long history of football there have been many top players and there have been great players and then there is Maradona, all on his own as a genius with the heart of a warrior.
Diego was one of those rare star footballers who never hid in crucial games, he took responsibility, was unselfish and on many occasions was ahead of his team mates, his opponents and especially the cameramen.
Maradona played and celebrated football as if he was one of us. He knew he was above any player but that never separated himself from fans of football that adored him long into retirement.
Even today some English fans have not forgiven Maradona for the “hand of god” moment in 1986 and Peter Shilton (then England goalkeeper) is still bitter over “cheating” Maradona. Sheer hypocrisy.
4 years later in 1990 in a big match between England and Brazil at Wembley, I saw defender England’s Stuart Pearce used his right hand to deflect a Brazilian shot heading to the England goal. I am still waiting for Shilton (who started that game) or the press to call Pearce a cheat for that move which the football official did not even blow for a penalty.
The stories about Maradona from former players and fans this week has been touching and enlightening. The photos and clips of Diego posing with fans and players are priceless. I was moved by the comments from Diego’s former team mate Ossie Ardilles and legendary manager Jose Mourinho.
I shall miss Diego Maradona. Despite retiring from playing football Maradona has been a constant fixture in our lives. Whether as a football manager or figure on the public stage in various guises.
But one of Maradona’s endearing moments for me was his public support for others sports where Argentinians were participants. Whether it be in the Olympics, Rugby World Cup the television camera would find Maradona amongst the Argentinians fans in the stands passionately cheering on his compatriots.
One of those defining examples of Diego was in 2016 when Argentina played away to Croatia in the tennis Davis Cup final in Zagreb. Maradona’s visual support was as entertaining as the matches itself in which his compatriots were victorious.
In our life time we witnessed a genius in the most popular sport on the planet. Thank heavens for You Tube and those fans for uploading tons of Maradona footage over the years.
Maradona was my kind of football.