History and Culture

Maradona, a God Among Men

Sam Ginsburg

By | June 12, 2010 | 23 comments

If you needed to pick one day in history to sum up Diego Maradona’s life, it would easily be June 22, 1986. In front of a crowd of almost 115,000 people in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, the Legend from Lanús was leading the Argentine National Soccer Team against rival England in a quarterfinal match of the FIFA World Cup Tournament. Most athletes would be happy to make just one of the most memorable moments in the history of their sports on its biggest stage. But on this day in 1986, a single moment of glory wasn’t enough for Maradona. Then again, very few people would have the cajones to claim that Maradona is anything like most other athletes.

It all started six minutes into the second half, with the two football powerhouses deadlocked in a scoreless tie. A fellow teammate tried to set up Maradona, but the pass went awry, ending up at the foot of an English defenseman. Attempting to clear the ball out of the zone, the Brit connected awkwardly and unintentionally lobbed it towards the goalkeeper. As the ball hung in the air, Maradona, whose listed height of 5’5” may be as generous as that of Mother Theresa, broke for it and jumped in front of the goalie. With his arm tucked close to his body, the Argentine reached out and poked the ball with his fist, sending it over the goalkeeper and bouncing into the goal. Though it seems obvious on television replays and YouTube videos, it was then impossible for the referee to see what had happened in real time. Maradona would say after the game that the goal was scored partially with his own head, and partially with the “Hand of God.”

While this is the goal that most Londoners prefer to talk about, what happened next was even more amazing. Four minutes after the “Hand of God” goal, Maradona received the ball about ten yards from the middle of the field. He then proceeded to run 60 meters, making more than half of the English team look foolish as they tried to stop him. (Just in case their kids or grandkids are reading, the embarrassed British players were: Stephen Hodge, Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick and goalie Peter Shilton.) Ten seconds later, the ball was again in England’s goal, and Argentina had a 2-0 lead. This amazing feat was voted “The Goal of the Century” by FIFA in 2002.

Argentina won the game 2-1, and went on to win the World Cup, though some England fans still claim that the victory was illegitimate. Argentina supporters often retort that the British should have been disqualified for playing two different men named “Terry.” Nevertheless, the game serves as the perfect metaphor for the life of Maradona. Only he could mix excellence and controversy so perfectly, and have so much fun doing so.

Maradona’s incredible skill, humble beginnings and outspoken nature have made him a mythical and irreplaceable figure in Argentine culture. For example, since Maradona’s jersey bore the number 10, cashiers routinely ask for “un Diego” when selling goods costing $10 pesos.

This football legend’s only real competition to the title “Greatest Footballer Ever” is Pelé, although most knowledgeable soccer fans who are not already loyal to Brazil know that this comparison isn’t even close. As the rest of the world attempts to anoint the fleet-footed Leo Messi as the heir apparent, Argentines scoff at the notion, knowing that there will only every be one true Number 10.

Whether he was starting for Argentinos Juniors, Napoli or the Argentine National Team, there has always been more to Maradona than just football. The public often loves watching their heroes fail, possibly so they can feel, if just for a second, a little closer to greatness. Maradona has given his fans plenty of these opportunities. Mixing financial problems, custody disputes and health issues, his personal life has kept Argentina enthralled for decades. Perhaps the most publicized of these issues is his drug use. He has had alcohol and cocaine problems throughout the years, and was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup for testing positive for illegal ephedrine doping. Maradona claimed innocence, though his sordid past did not help his image in front of the FIFA jury.

Maradona has always been outspoken about his political beliefs. A vociferous supporter of both Carlos Menem and Hugo Chavez, he has a picture of Fidel Castro tattooed on his left leg to match the Che Guevara tattoo on his right arm. He has spoken out publicly against the United States and former President George W. Bush (though, who hasn’t done that?). Even more recently, Maradona expressed his support for Iran by sending an autographed shirt to be displayed in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Museum. His frankness has only added to his legend and has transformed him into a character that really is bigger than life.

As the current head coach of the Argentine National Team, Maradona has been given a new pulpit from which he can speak his mind. Although after years of controversy and glory, Maradona’s hijinks are rarely surprising. Not long ago, Pelé questioned his longtime rival’s status as a role model for children, citing his history of drug abuse. Maradona responded by saying that Pelé “lost his virginity to a man.” Nobody even blinked. If  anyone else would have said that, chances are he would lose his job. With Maradona, however, it’s just another day at the office.

Maradona’s popularity is not limited to Argentina. He is one of the most well-known celebrities in the entire world, and continues to inspire awe in those who watched him play. For instance, the Church of Maradona was founded in Rosario in 1998. Today the church has over 100,000 registered members, from more than 60 different countries. Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho admitted to wanting an autograph for his son when he heard Maradona was coming to Italy to watch a game. Likewise, Scottish halfback Alan Hutton made a similar request leading up to an international friendly against Argentina.

With the 2010 World Cup fast approaching, Maradona will likely garner even more attention and will certainly add to his ever-growing legend. He will have even more microphones shoved in his face, and will be in the center of the world. And that’s right where the world, especially Argentina, wants him to be.

Sam Ginsburg
LPBA Staff

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  1. David

    07/07/2009 - 7:50 pm

    Hoping Maradona is at the center of the world for the 2010 world cup?

    Not me. I'm seriously hoping the dirty little drug-fueled cheat fails to get Argentina to the 2010 world cup, which would be a pretty remarkable failure, but one that I wouldn't put past such an inept manager as Diego. And I know a lot of people that are with me on this one (and not just English and Brazilians).

    The current Argentine team may be largely a bunch of diving, hacking cheats too, but even though don't deserve a boss like him!

    Come on Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay!!! 🙂

  2. diego10

    08/07/2009 - 5:28 pm

    Booooooooooooooo! Argentina will pull it out, we usually do. Nobody's perfect, not even a god like Maradona. Have fun jumping off the Argentina bandwagon now because there won't be room for you to climb back on later when we're sweeping through South Africa!

  3. David

    09/07/2009 - 4:50 am

    Typical arrogant Argentine response diego10! Just what I was expecting.

    Argentina have no chance in 2010, even if they are lucky enough to get there. After all, you've never won a world cup without some kind of cheating, and in today's game, that just doesn't work anymore. The winning team will almost certainly either come from Europe (no, Argentina isn't in Europe, although it would like to be), or Brazil, who are are much more professional outfit than Argentina these days.

    Well, at least you'll have your tango music to angst out to after another inevitable failure…

  4. diego10

    09/07/2009 - 10:43 am

    easy man, nothing wrong with having pride in your countries national sport! i can understand people not liking maradona (though i still love him), but what's with the hatred on argentina? can't we all just get along?

  5. DC Jimmy

    09/07/2009 - 11:01 pm

    HAHA, if anyone is being "typical" it might be the guy claiming the Argies constantly cheat. Sounds like someone is a little bitter about '86 still.

    '06 the Argie team was sick and many of those players are entering their prime now. Their current leadership is questionable seeing how bickering matches are taking place over the field rather than why they are losing to Bolivia and other mediocre teams. They need a "Phil Jackson" (LA Lakers), that can rally these allstars into a unit, a real team that juegan por la camiseta. We'll see if Maradona can pull it off. Messi, Tevez, Saviola, Gago, Heinze, …big line up.

  6. David

    10/07/2009 - 2:07 am

    @diego10 – it is more than "pride in your countries national sport" (which, by the way is pato, and not football) when you claim that 1. Maradona is a god, and 2. that you'll be sweeping through South Africa in 2010, when 1. Maradona is a hugely flawed, at least certainly in the world of football management, and 2. Argentina are struggling to qualify for South Africa in 2010.

    How can Argentina win the thing when it looks like they might not even make the tournament? It is extreme, unqualified, over-optimism, that to me, is representative of the arrogance I found in many, many Argentines (more so than any other nation I have been to, bar Italy, but then those two countries have strong links so that isn't a big surpise). It isn't pride, it is arrogance, pure and simple. If I were you, I would accept that your national hero is a chump at football management, and start campaigning right now for him to be sacked and replaced by a decent manager before it is too late for Argentina to qualify for the world cup. Is that hatred? Hardly… I am offering constructive advice.

    And where did hatred come from? All I stated was that:

    1. Argentines are typically arrogant
    2. That European teams and Brazil have a better chance of winning the world cup than Argentina, and that Brazil are a more professional outfit
    3. That the Argentine music of tango (which I like on occasion, by the way) is full of angst
    4. That failure is always around the corner for Argentina

    I don't think many neutral observers would argue about these things. And that is exactly what I am – a neutral observer. I'm an Irish guy who lived in Argentina for over 4 years, and I have observed these things. Now I'm living in Brazil, and am finding it a more than refreshing change.

    @DC Jimmy – yes, it is typical to say that Argies constantly cheat, because that statement, is by and large, the truth. Just watch them play! A classic example last night was the Estudiantes vs Cruzeiro game, with the shameful Argentine tactics aimed at taking Kleber out of the game, with dirty hacks and shoves at every opportunity. That is, I am afraid, TYPICAL.

    And as for the '06 Argie team being "sick" – where did that get them? Not very far. And these days the team, albeit one with a fair few "stars", is a lot more disorganized, largely thanks to Maradona. We don't need to see if Maradona can pull it off – he has already shown, and is continuing to show, that he can't as a manager. Probably an LA Lakers coach changing across to soccer would do a better job than him!

  7. jack

    15/07/2009 - 4:22 pm

    soccer sucks and maradona´s an idiot.

  8. David

    20/07/2009 - 7:50 pm

    Maradona sucks and soccer iss an idiot's way to refer to football 😉

    1. james

      20/07/2009 - 11:46 pm

      do you mean the 300,000,000 plus americans or just jack?
      a little respect, david…
      p.s. soccer still sucks!

      1. David

        21/07/2009 - 1:45 am

        A little respect? I think the lack of respect was shown by jack who, when saying that football sucks, couldn't even be bothered to get its name correct.

        To clarify – I think using the word soccer to refer to football is idiotic (although not necessarily everyone that does it is an idiot) plus it shows a lack of respect (there goes that word again) for the inventors of the game, and that diego10, DCJimmy, jack and james, from their replies, all appear to be idiots. Although not all of them refer to football as soccer. So, in conclusion, sometimes idiots show traits of not being idiots, and sometimes non-idiots show idiotic behavior. The latter of which I am perhaps verging into right now, arguing on the internet and all…

  9. Carlos

    21/07/2009 - 6:12 pm

    Bolivia 6 – Argentina 1

    I look forward to seeing you sweeping through South Africa!
    Maradona will be back on the coke before the end of the group stages…that`s if you get there!

    1. David

      21/07/2009 - 8:28 pm

      That's the spirit Carlos! 🙂

  10. peter

    22/07/2009 - 1:43 pm

    get a life, david!
    if the word soccer offends you then try to have it removed from every english dictionary in the world.
    soccer is a sissy's sport!
    grow some balls and stop insulting people you don't know.

    1. David

      28/07/2009 - 7:22 pm

      Get a life Peter!

      Look, we can all be big and clever and insult people we don't know on teh internets, just like you 😉

  11. paul perry

    22/07/2009 - 7:04 pm

    people please!
    so it's soccer in the US and football throughout the rest of the world…big deal!!!
    can't we all just get along!

    p.s. i know jack and he's no idiot…

    1. David

      28/07/2009 - 7:26 pm

      Peas and love, man.

      Come on, grow some balls! Occasionally people have to take a stand, a different opinion, and cause some friction, otherwise the world would be very dull.

      When insulting a sport, at least you should address it by it's correct name. If one country doesn't use the correct name, I guess the only conclusion that can be made is that country doesn't take the sport seriously…

  12. franco

    23/07/2009 - 12:59 pm

    soccer is by no means a sissy's sport., paul..
    just because the players jump on top of each other, kiss, cry and fall when barely touched…doesn't make it a sissy sport. trying to get opponents kicked out of the game is part of the strategy…it's not a sissy sport. badminton is a sissy sport!

    1. paul

      23/07/2009 - 6:32 pm

      hi franco, i never said, or wrote, that it was a sissy sport.
      in fact, it's a physically grueling activity.

  13. Gaucho Sloucho

    23/07/2009 - 7:42 pm

    Peter, Paul……..is Mary going to comment next?

    As a 15 yr+ smoker I can say football is no joke. I'd be lucky to play for more than 10 minutes these days.

  14. diego10

    28/07/2009 - 9:30 pm

    not sure why i was called an idiot, but might as well add more fuel to the fire…

    nobody gives a sh*t about pato. it may be the "national sport," but everyone knows that argentines bleed for football (or soccer, or whatever you want to call it, jaja.)

    if you asked every argentine if they had to pick one sport for the rest of their lives, 94 percent would pick football, 3 would pick rugby, 3 would pick basket ball and NOBODY would pick pato. well, maybe my grandpa…jaj

  15. Bye bye Maradona

    07/09/2009 - 8:12 am

    Maradona oversees Argentina's first loss at home in the world cup qualifiers in years.. lose against Paraguay this week and it could be "goodnight Diego".

    Argentina seriously need to get rid of the little cheat as soon as possible. There may still be the chance of qualification if an intelligent manager can be brought in for the last few qualifiers…

  16. lionel

    26/04/2010 - 8:41 pm


    an irishman talking about another countries failures

    dont make me laugh


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