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Legends: Diego Maradona

The Golden Boy was one of a kind

By

Legends: Diego Maradona
Michael Kunkel/Staff/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images

One of the age-old debates in soccer centers on who is the best player of all time: Pele or Maradona?

The argument is multifaceted, but if one of the deciding factors were controversy, Diego Armando Maradona would win hands down.

From his infamous 'Hand of God' goal to the firing of a compressed air rifle at reporters outside his house, Maradona's past is checkered, but his genius never questioned.

His technique was sublime and left-foot magical. His strength, dribbling skills and close control combined to take him past defenders, the end result often a goal or an assist for a teammate.

In his autobiography, Maradona appears to harbor resentment against many in the game, those he believes have wronged him over the years. He is nothing if not honest about his feelings, and his outspoken views continue to cause a stir in in the game, long after retiring as a player in 1997.

Quick Facts:

  • Name: Diego Armando Maradona
  • Nationality: Argentinean
  • Date and Place of Birth: October 30, 1960 in Lanus, Argentina
  • Position: Attacking Midfielder/Second Striker
  • Clubs: Argentinos Juniors (1976-1981), Boca Juniors (1981-1982), Barcelona (1982-1984), Napoli (1984-1991), Sevilla (1992-93), Newell's Old Boys (1993), Boca Juniors (1995-1997)
  • International Career: 1977-1994 (91 caps, 34 goals)

The Early Years:

Maradona was raised in Villa Fiorito, a shantytown on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. One of six children in a poor family, he says in his autobiography that his father never allowed him to go without a meal, but that he had to work in a factory from 4 am each day to do so.

El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Boy) made his professional debut with Argentinos Juniors against Talleres de Córdoba on October 20, 1976, just 10 days short of his 16th birthday. He scored in excess of 100 goals for the club, but despite his mesmerizing form, a call-up from Cesar Luis Menotti for the 1978 World Cup was not forthcoming.

Maradona joined Boca Juniors in 1981, although it was only a fleeting stay. He helped them win the championship before moving to Barcelona.

Controversy in Barcelona:

His transfer fee was a world record but Maradona found the temptations of the city too much to resist, and it was in 1983 that he allegedly started using cocaine.

The city holds few pleasant memories for Maradona. He rowed with directors, suffered a bout of hepatitis, had his leg broken by the "Butcher of Bilbao" Andoni Goikoetxea, while failing to win a league or European title. He did win a Spanish Cup and the now defunct League Cup, but it was a period of underachievement.

A move to Napoli would re-ignite his career.

Napoli's Favorite Son:

El Diego came to be idolized by the Napoli fans as he led the club to Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990. This was an astounding feat, and a proud era for the south of Italy in their quest to compete with the north and such powerhouse clubs as Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

Maradona's characteristics matched those of the city and its people; defiant, unapologetic and passionate. The tifosi (fans) adored him and he paid them back with a string of beautiful goals and a genuine affinity for the club. Napoli also won the 1987 Coppa Italia and the 1989 Uefa Cup as Maradona's presence ushered in an era of unprecedented success at the Stadio San Paolo.

But his drug addiction continued, and a 15-month suspension after failing a drug test for cocaine saw him leave the country in disgrace. Links with the city's Mafia - the Camorra - also did little to enhance his reputation and he left for Spain in 1992.

A move to Sevilla didn't work out and after a brief stint at Newell's Old Boys, he finished his career at his beloved Boca Juniors.

International Career:

One of Maradona's fondest memories is playing for his country in the 1979 World Youth Championship in Japan. He inspired his team-mates to victory, in the process putting behind him the disappointment of not traveling to the World Cup the year before.

Spectators at the 1982 World Cup did not see the best of Diego, although he did score twice against Hungary. His tournament ended in controversy, as he was sent-off against Brazil after getting frustrated with the tight marking of the Selecao defenders.

Four years later in Mexico, the captain brought his 'A' game, scoring five times, including that famous double against England. The first was his 'Hand of God' effort as he punched the ball over goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the net. His second was sublime as he beat every player in his path and rounded the goalkeeper. Another brace against Italy carried his side into the final, where they beat West Germany 3-2.

Maradona also helped Argentina progress to the final in Italy four years later, but his contribution was hindered by an ankle injury. None of his determination had been diminished, however, but he could do nothing to stop a 1-0 defeat to West Germany in the final.

El Pibe was sent home in disgrace from the 1994 World Cup in the USA after two matches. He scored against Greece but after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping, FIFA expelled him from the tournament.

Thirty-four goals in 91 internationals makes Maradona Argentina's second highest scorer after Gabriel Batistuta, but it was more than just goals he brought to the table during one of soccer’s most controversial careers.

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