Eventually he rests, the greatest of all time. Diego Armando Maradona died on Wednesday at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack in his native Argentina, just a few weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. Eventually it was his heart that collapsed and gave way after a high octane, passionate 60 years of living on the edge. The Argentine maestro led a colorful life, both on and off the field, and was astonishing fans with his breathtaking style and the institution furious with his blatant disregard for the rules inside and outside the field.
Maradona, who along with Brazilian icon Pele was selected as one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century Award, made Argentina famous at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and also won championships with Napoli and his beloved Boca Juniors won. which gives him almost sacred status in both Italy and Argentina. It was rumored that he was more popular than the pope – and this is something to say if you consider the deep Catholic traditions of both countries.
Maradona specializes in the spectacular. He was deceptively fast and totally unpredictable – the leader of Argentina’s attack. Able to spray passes while connecting the game with Jorge Burruchaga for Argentina or Salvatore Bagni in Naples, he was also able to move past bewildered defenders with a ballerina-like trajectory and often finish with a devastating effect with his left boot, strongest weapon.
He dominated matches like no player has ever done in the history of the match, and his style captivated fans while enchanting his opponents over a two-decade career that put Argentina on the world map.
“You took us to the top of the world,” Argentina’s Alfredo Fernandez tweeted as news of his death spread on social media. “You made us incredibly happy. You were the greatest of them all.”
Argentina’s ‘golden boy’ is best remembered for the two goals that led England to the 1986 World Cup. Their quarter-final at the legendary Estadio Azteca was eagerly awaited, just a few years after the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
It was a game that had more than just a sporting lead – there was a lot of niggle and national pride was at stake and Maradona made sure that Argentina would not lose a second war with a performance that few would ever forget .
Early in the second half, a hasty clearance from the English defense sent the ball high into their own penalty area and Maradona jumped, displaying a feline agile to jump over Peter Shilton, the English goalkeeper, while trying to hit the ball clean. Repetitions showed Maradona hitting the ball into the net, rather than hitting his head into the net. It comes more than three decades before the launch of VAR, it was a mistake that the match officials missed. The Argentine no. 10 would dedicate the purpose to the ‘hand of God’.
Although the goal probably became the most notorious in football history, Maradona’s second in that match was named the best ever seen at a World Cup. After getting a pass inside his own half, Maradona walked past the entire England defense before rounding off Shilton and hitting the ball into the net at a tight angle. It was pure genius of a man operating at the height of his powers.
He also led La Albiceleste, as Argentina is known, to the final of Italia ’90, to brutally deny a second consecutive World Cup title by a resilient West Germany. But his international playing career came to an ugly end in 1994 with the shame of a failed drug test during the World Cup in the United States. His infamous idiosyncratic lifestyle, which emerged when he was banned from football in Naples in 1991 for drug abuse, was catching up with him. It was his battles with addiction that would become regular global news for the rest of his life. Inevitably, health problems followed when Maradona retired, occasionally coaching with little or no success, of which Argentina’s capitulation during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the best, a tournament in which they if one of the favorites participated.
Maradona’s life was something of a paradox – a drama that carried the good, the bad and the ugly. But he can not deny his status as one of the most inspiring players the game has ever seen. The legendary Uruguayan radio commentator Victor Hugo Morales summed it up best during the famous Argentina-England match in Mexico. The emotion with which he called the second goal will be etched forever in the collective memory of those who were privileged to watch it. “What planet do you come from?” he shouted. When he exhaled: “Thank God, for football, for Maradona.” To say more would have been to spoil the moment, and appropriately I would not gild the lily either – thank you for the memories, Diego.