By Frank Hernández with Carlos Camacho in Caracas.
“Cosmic kite, from what planet did you come from,” was how sportscaster, Victor Hugo Morales, nicknamed Diego Armando Maradona, after having scored the goal of the century against the English team that June 22, 1986. A work of art that immortalized him. Up to date, even after his death, no one has been able to match in a soccer field during a World Cup.
The feat of Barrilete cosmico came four years after England beat Argentine in the bitter Falklands War. Maradona managed to get a whole continent behind him, in ways his elder Pele never could.
Even though that goal and the unforgettable Hand of God are among his best works of art on the field, Maradona distinguished himself by leaving behind genius with the football throughout time. Also known for his angry character, drug issues, and even his relationship with leftist politics worldwide. Maradona was an early supporter of Hugo Chavez’s campaigned in Venezuela for Nicolas Maduro, had a tattoo and a close relationship with Fidel Castro, and would eventually host a show in Telesur broadcast, founded and financed by Chavez. There, in the Night of the 10 (his squad number), he would interview himself.
Although he was born in Lanus on October 30, 1960, he grew up in Villa Fiorito, where the nickname El Pelusa started, apparently because he was short and always lingering around. From a very young age, his life got linked to football, and some consider him the best player in history, but others think he is second only to Pele.
Nevertheless, the truth is that the Argentinean left an indelible mark in the history of world soccer, with his historical consecration in Mexico 86, and later, with episodes that meant his debacle, like his suspension for cocaine consumption from 1990.
From the time he was nine years old, when he first started to show up with Los Cebollitas (a junior, amateur soccer club, part academy, part street gang), he began to talk about his ability to play. Historians remember he only had a pair of corduroy pants since Don Diego and Doña Tota had problems making ends meet.
But Don Diego had something more important: he ran the small soccer field in the barrio and coached the Red Star team, which Diego Jr. entered as a teenager, despite his older teammates. He studied at Avellaneda Commercial School but didn’t finish the first year because he spent his hours playing (almost juggling) with the ball.
His debut in the Argentine First Division took place in 1976, at the age of 15, with Argentinos Juniors.
After marveling at his debut and upcoming matches, he received many offers from different teams. But, he was not selected to play for his beloved Argentina squad by Cesar Luis Menotti because he did not yet 18. The Albiceleste (white and sky blue) side won the World Cup, but Maradona carried the stigma for the rest of his life. After offers from many clubs, he decided to sign with Boca Juniors in 1981, with which he lasted two seasons and kept playing while making his first appearance in a World Cup: Barcelona 82.
That same year of the World Cup, Maradona signed with FC Barcelona for what was back then a record amount for a young Argentine player. Spanish newspapers later reminisced that it was also around this time when Diego started using cocaine heavily.
Wearing the Albiceleste shirt, he played in four World Cups, winning the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and becoming sub champion four years later in Italy in 1990. In 2008 he returned to the Argentine national team, this time as a coach. After several defeats and a couple of suspensions, he left the bench in 2010, after he failed in the World Cup in South Africa.
His moment of greatest glory came in 1986, a World Cup in which he consolidated his star status by lifting the second World Cup for his country. After the World Cup in Italy, in which he was also a protagonist despite not playing as well as he did in Mexico, his debacle would come.
Despite his world championship, in Latin America, he suffered the same fate as Pele did with Brazil: he couldn’t win a Copa America with his national team. He participated in two editions without achieving it. In his last world championship, USA 1994, authorities suspended him when he tested positive in a doping test. After that episode, it was almost impossible for him to stabilize in soccer again.
Europe and drugs
His departure from Barcelona came in the summer of 1984 when he moved to Naples, where he became a great player as he still is recognized. Genius and figure in the Italian team, he took Naples to the top of its history. After his suspension from the Italian league for two years, he joined Sevilla FC in 1992, where he spent only one season.
Again hit by injuries, Maradona could not dazzle in his new stage in the Spanish league, so a year later, in 1993, he decided to return to Argentine soccer with Newell’s Old Boys. The other episode linked to drugs was the one that occurred in 1994, in which he was penalized with a 15-month suspension when he got detected with ephedrine in an anti-doping test. From then on, he would end his life as a soccer player and start working as a coach. As a coach, he was in six clubs.
Among Pelusa’s most prized achievements, apart from the World Cup won in 1986, are an Argentinean First Division Championship, a King’s Cup, a Spanish League, a Spanish Super Cup, two Serie A titles, an Italian Cup, an Italian Super Cup, a UEFA Cup (now Europa League), an Artemio Franchi Cup, and a World Youth Championship won in 1979.
Meanwhile, at an individual level, he received more than 30 distinctions. But, his awards as a player stand out, among which are a Golden Ball in the 1986 World Cup, a Shining Konex Award, an Honorary Golden Ball for his career, chosen as the best player of all time in 2000, or chosen as the best author of the Best Goal in the History of Soccer in 1999.