Hand of God and feet of clay, Maradona lives to fight another day
- Branko Brkic
- 15 Oct 2009 09:46 (South Africa)
If the roller-coaster did not exist, it would have been invented to explain the incredible story of one Diego Armando Maradona. Born in poverty in a shanty town on the outskirts of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, he lives a life of highs and lows rarely seen in the sporting, or any other, world.
His highs were almost impossible: he was the world’s most expensive footballer by the age of 21 (bought in 1982 by Barcelona for $6.2 million), played in four world championships, won one in 1986 and played in the finals of 1990. Scored the most famous goal of the century against England in 1986 World Cup. Named the best player in the world in 1986. Named Player of the Century (together with Pele) by Fifa in 2000. Won so many club accolades that you don’t enough time to read about them all.
The lows were quite something too: the long history of drug abuse (he was banned for 15 months in 1991 by Italy for failing a cocaine test and was ordered off in the 1994 World Cup for ephedrine). In the same game against 1986 England he also scored the most infamous goal of the century, “the hand of God”. When he received his Player of the Century award, he left before Pele was given his. He was a dirty player, and according to many, a nasty character.
So Maradona, in one his highs, almost exactly a year ago in October 2008, was named Argentine national team coach, and given the task of ensuring Argentina qualifies for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, his tenure turned into a plunge back into the lows. The Maradona-led team, due in no small part to his coaching inexperience and nasty character, went through a string of bad results and found itself in real danger of not going to the World Cup for the first time since 1970. For the football-mad country that Argentina is, as much as they love their Diego, that is a fate worse than death. So Maradona’s life was threatening to turn into hell again. The thin line separating him from it was Wednesday’s away game against Argentina’s arch-rivals, Uruguay.
Winning the game against Uruguay was never easy; doing it in Montevideo was even more difficult. Argentina had everything to play for, and some of the great players of today (including Lionel Messi, the best player in the world), but still they only managed to defeat Uruguay in the 85th minute, sending the country’s spirits into the stratosphere - and Maradona’s life back onto the high plane.
How long he will stay up there is anyone’s guess. Argentina is, like Germany and Italy, famous for not doing well initially, but then almost always advancing to the top. And Maradona is a walking time-bomb that can explode at any moment. One thing is certain though, the World Cup in South Africa will definitely not be boring.
By Branko Brkic
Read the game report: CNN Sport
Photo by JMRobledo via Flickr