On Nov. 25, the Grim Reaper that is 2020 took its toll on one of the most famous, and greatest, soccer players to ever step on the pitch. On that day, Argentina and Napoli legend Diego Armando Maradona was pronounced dead in his home country from a heart attack. In honor of his death, I’ll be talking about his rise in the beautiful game, along with the many flaws the Argentine carried.
Diego was born and raised in Villa Fiorito, one of the poorest slums surrounding Buenos Aires, Argentina. With very little infrastructure, Diego would often result to playing “fútbol”, or soccer, to close out the reality that he lived in. When he was about eight-years-old, Maradona played for Argentinos Juniors’ youth team, “Los Cebollitas,” and that’s where Diego would start to make a name for himself. When he turned 15, Diego would make his debut for Argentinos Juniors’ senior team. From there on, until he was 18, he would score 116 goals from the 166 appearances he made for the club. After a successful start to his early career, Maradona moved on to play for Boca Juniors in 1981, where he would help the Argentine club secure the championship that same year. Despite making 40 appearances for the club, and scoring 28 goals, he was immediately regarded as a club legend.
Following his short tenure with Boca Juniors, Maradona would get recognized by Spanish supergiants Barcelona for a then-record breaking $8 million and move across the pond. Despite the creativity and skillset the midfielder brought from his home country, the only trophy he managed to win with the club was from Copa del Rey due to a significant ankle injury along with conflicts with the club’s president. After his second year at the Catalonian club, Maradona made his next move to Italy, specifically S.S.C. Napoli.
Italy was the major hotspot for all of the best players at the time. The majority of them played for clubs like AC Milan, Juventus and Inter, for instance. Unlike the Italian supergiants, Napoli wasn’t a successful club, as they only secured two trophies prior to Maradona’s arrival. At the end of the 1984/85 season, Maradona’s first year at the club, the southern Italian club finished in 8th place. By Maradona’s second year there, Napoli surprised everyone by finishing in 3rd; by his third year, he helped the club secure its first-ever Scudetto trophy. He later secured a second Scudetto with the club in the 1989/90 season.
Not only was Maradona successful in the clubs he played at, he also had iconic moments playing for Argentina. Diego made his first appearance in the 1982 World Cup, but he is more well-known for his campaign in the 1986 World Cup, specifically his quarter-final game against England. Years prior to the particular match, the Falklands War had emerged between the two countries, with England emerging victorious. Because of this outcome, this game was essentially a second war. This was the same match where Maradona scored two famous goals: one where he went on a solo run with the ball to score, and his more famous goal – the “hand of God.” The game ended 2-1, with Argentina advancing. Argentina would go all the way to the World Cup final where they faced West Germany and won 3-2, securing their second World Cup trophy.
While Diego was in his absolute heyday, some factors in his life would quickly take that away from him. After winning the UEFA Cup with Napoli in 1989, Maradona had asked then-Napoli President Corrado Ferlaino for a transfer out of southern Italy, which Ferlaino refused because of the massive success Maradona brought to the club. Maradona developed a cocaine addiction later on, an addiction that saw him using the drug day in and day out. Because he would always play on Sundays, Maradona would use the drug Sunday nights until Wednesday; and from Wednesday morning until Sunday, he would cleanse himself by sweating the drug out of his body. As his addiction became more apparent, Maradona was asked by those around him to seek rehabilitation, but to no avail.
It wouldn’t be until Feb. 1991 that it became public knowledge that Maradona possessed cocaine from Italian crime syndicates due to wiretapped calls. Because of this breakthrough, Maradona was in a much greater spotlight than before. After Napoli’s game against Bari, Maradona had to take a mandatory anti-doping test, and to no one’s surprise at the time, he tested positive for cocaine. As a result, the Argentine was suspended from playing the sport for 15 months, and left Napoli with his family soon after. Maradona would suffer a similar suspension a few years later, but for using ephedrine in the 1994 World Cup.
During the 2000s, Maradona suffered heavily with obesity, along with an on-and-off drug addiction, which caused him numerous health scares. He managed a variety of clubs after his professional life on the pitch, as well as his short tenure as the coach for Argentina from 2008-2010. As a coach, his teams never really flourished in the same way he did when he was younger.
A sad decline for one who was, and still is, argued to be one of the greatest players ever to step on a soccer field. However, many acknowledge that he was two different people, often referring to “Diego” as one person and “Maradona” as another. All in all, rest in peace to not just an Argentine legend, but a soccer legend. A flawed genius.