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We are starting our Footballing Legends series with the flawed genius who gripped the world with his superlative skills, dazzling dribbles and impeccable ball-control, Diego Armando Maradona. Love him or hate him, everyone marveled at the footballing genius of Maradona. He was perhaps the most exciting player to step onto a football pitch; you knew that when the ball fell to his feet (or his hand) that something magical could be about to happen. Maradona was was quickly snapped up byArgentinos Juniors when it became apparent that he had special footballing talent. He made his debut for them at just 15 years old, and impressed so much that he was selected for Argentina, and made his debut at 16 years of age. Over the next five years, Maradona would become the star at Argentinos Juniors, with a fantastic goals-to-games ratio, scoring 116 goals in 166 appearances, a phenomenal feat for any youngster. At 20 years old, Maradona signed for Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s biggest clubs, for £1 million. In one and a half years hemoved on to yet bigger and better things, using Boca as a stepping stone to reach his true calling, the greatest stage of it all-the World Cup. In 1982, Maradona was selected for his first World Cup tournament wheredefending champions Argentina were expected to repeat the performances of four years previously. Despite Maradona bagging two goals, he couldn’t help his team to further than the second round. However, at just 21 he had experienced his first World Cup, playing every minute until he was sent off against Brazil with just five minutes left on the clock. The World Cup had also alerted the world to the talent of this young boy from Buenos Aires, and Barcelona broke the bank to sign him, paying a then world record fee of £5m to secure his services. His time at Barcelona, however, didn’t go as planned- an illness and then a career-threatening tackle nearly made it £5m wasted. But Maradona wouldn’t let that get in his way and he was soon back on the pitch doing what he did best, strutting his stuff.However, it was off the pitch that the main problems lay for him. Frequent disputes with Barcelona board members, and rumored cocaine abuse was enough for him to demand a transfer from the Nou Camp. He joined Serie A side Napoli for another world record fee, this time £7 million. It was here that he enjoyed his most successful period as a player, and guided Napoli to the most successful period in their history. Yet, it was at the 1986 World Cup where his finest hour would come, leading his country to the World Cup trophy in Mexico. He dominated the tournament, running rings around the best of defenders on his way to scoring five goals and providing five assists, including the assist for the winning goal in the final, ensuring that he, the best player in the world, would lift the World Cup.
The highlight of the tournament though was the quarter-final against England, which showed the two sides of Maradona better than ever. His first goal was the infamous “Hand of God,” which everyone in the world apart from the referee noticed Maradona had actually handled into the net.Yet the second goal showcased his genius when he dribbled 60 yards past all the England players that came before him, including goalkeeper Peter Shilton on his way to scoring the goal that was voted Goal of the Century. In 1990 Maradona captained his country to another World Cup, and once again got them all the way to the final. However, his performances didn’t hit the heights of four years previously. Argentina lost 1-0 to West Germany to a late penalty. Maradona left Napoli after seven years at the club and cementing his place as the greatest player in their history. This also came after he had failed a drugs test for cocaine. The demise of one of the greatest players ever had begun. He had stints at Sevilla, Newell’s Old Boys and a return to Boca, but he was a shadow of the player he once was.Still, he managed to make it to the 1994 World Cup but after just two games, he failed another drugs test and was sent home, effectively ending his playing career. Following his retirement, he entered rehab for his addictions and had to overcome obesity problems. He finally came back to coach his beloved national side to the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006, where they fell to a well-oiled German machine, ending his fairy tale return to the limelight. Scoring goals was what he was known for, and 258 goals in 492 club appearances speaks volumes of the man’s ability to find the net; in his international career he managed 34 goals in 91 caps.
Often regarded as one of the top two best of all time on a football pitch, the tricks that he displayed on the field endeared him to his fans, who have gone on to organize the religion of the “Church of Maradona”, having 200 founding members and tens of thousands more members via the church’s official web site. All that is left for us now is to reminisce over him dribbling full-speed on the right wing or doing a Rabona to provide an assist, or relive those magical moments on tribute videos. El Diego, we miss you.