With football being one of the most popular sports in the world, a player can hardly avoid the extraordinary fame and the adoration of millions of fans, especially if they are among the best. And legendary Argentinian midfielder Diego Maradona certainly was. Everyone knows the man behind the “hand of God”, and generations of players have much to say about the Maradona magic.
Sadly, Maradona passed away last November 25, shaking the football world in the middle of an already-devastating year. But his passing sends a message to people to keep the fire burning, embrace his legacy, and play with Maradona’s principles and skill set at heart.
El Pibe de Oro
There has always been a connection between Diego Maradona and the sport he loved, even before he entered the big leagues. A pro at heart, Maradona was already a talented footballer at a young age. At eight years old, he tried out for the Argentinos Juniors and instantly made a mark on the coaches and staff, who could not believe that a kid was already a master craftsman with the ball.
Maradona officially suited up for the Argentinos Juniors team at the age of 15, making him the youngest player to ever play in Argentina’s first division. With the spotlight on him, he never failed to impress anyone. Maradona always had tricks up his sleeve, doing skill shows during halftime and performing on live television. But the young Maradona did not stop there: within 166 appearances, he scored 116 goals, eventually earning the nickname “El Pibe de Oro” or “The Golden Boy”.
After his five-year run with the Argentinos Juniors, the phenomenal teenager transferred to the Boca Juniors, a testament to how he continued to live the dream. Maradona recorded 28 goals in 40 appearances, which pushed them to earn the division title in the same season he came on board.
Pure skill and greatness
It takes a lot to be among the world’s all-time best. Yet despite his underwhelming 5’5 frame, his dashing dribbling skills and graceful goals proved why he had what it took to become arguably football’s greatest player of the 20th century.
The notable events of his long and eventful career made his time as a football player one of a kind and cemented his greatness in the sporting world.
He, however, faced disappointment during the 1982 World Cup when Argentina suffered second-round defeats in the hands of both Italy and Brazil, with Maradona getting sent off due to a red card in the match against the latter.
The 1986 tournament was a chance for redemption for both Maradona and the Argentinians. Maradona lived up to his name at that point in time—being regarded as the best player on the planet then. He managed to score five goals and contribute five assists, en route to becoming the tournament’s best player.
Argentina’s classic semi-final match against a formidable England team featured one of the most controversial goals in World Cup history, as team captain Maradona beat out England’s keeper in mid-air with what is now known as the “hand of God”—a glaring handball missed by the referee. But it was his second goal that dropped jaws all over the world plainly due to its pure brilliance and skill: Maradona, inside his own half, sped past four English players and danced through the goalkeeper in scoring what is regarded by many as the “Goal of the Century”.
Pretty soon, Argentina was in the finals, pitted against a stacked German team, who had heavily marked Maradona the entire game. But the superstar managed to complete a superb pass to teammate Jorge Burruchaga to break the 2-2 deadlock in the 86th minute. The goal led Argentina to win its second World Cup title—a moment now immortalized in the iconic photograph of Maradona triumphantly holding up the World Cup trophy.
Aside from his international success, Maradona was also able to find a home in Naples, Italy, where he was welcomed by fans and had the best club football stint for his entire career. There, Maradona made his way to Napoli’s history books, as he led the team in winning their first Serie A championship in 1987. The Maradona-manned squad would eventually end up winning the Serie A twice and the Coppa Italia, the Italian Supercup, and the UEFA Cup once.
Hero of heroes
Talks about the “Greatest of All Time” in football are some of the best conversations among fans and analysts. The list continues to write itself, as a new generation of names like those of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo enter the mix. But only few are revered to be among football’s pillars—a tier reserved only for the likes of Pelé and, of course, Maradona.
Argentina’s “Golden Boy” will surely go down as one of the best, if not the best, who ever touched a football. Even modern day stars like Lionel Messi, Robin van Persie, and Gianfranco Zola are confident to proclaim that Maradona was their inspiration to strive for greatness.
Messi was inspired by Maradona’s football story to walk the same path and to bring the Argentinian team back into title contention. Van Persie drew from him the motivation to also vie in the World Cup. For Zola, his close relationship with Maradona as a young player in the league pushed him to reach the Hall of Fame level that the Golden Boy had attained.
Evidently, Maradona was a football icon young bloods look up to coming into the sport and will surely be remembered as the one of the greatest legends to ever grace the football stage.