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Diego Armando Maradona is widely considered to be the best player ever to grace the football field. Regardless of his playing ability, he is certainly one of the most controversial figures the sport has ever seen. Here is a look back at the life of the diminutive but contentious man.
Born and raised on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, his talents were first spotted playing for his local side Estrella Roja, aged just 11. He was quickly picked up by Argentinos Juniors, where he eventually debuted aged fifteen, going on to score 116 goals in 166 league appearances, spanning five seasons. Boca Juniors payed £1 million for his services in 1981 and he helped them to the league championship in 1982, scoring 28 goals in 40 games for the club.
The national side called soon after Maradona had turned professional and he debuted in February 1977, in a 5-1 friendly win over Hungary. The 1978 World Cup came too soon and he was left out of the squad that went on to clinch the trophy on home soil. His first international goal came against Scotland at Hampden Park, as Argentina won 3-1.
By the 1982 World Cup, Maradona was an important part of the national side and although Argentina disappointed during the competition, the player earned himself a move to Spanish giants Barcelona for a then world-record fee of £5 million.
His time in Spain was not easy, suffering badly through injury and illness before falling out with directors and demanding a move, which eventually saw him transferred to Napoli for £6.9 million, another record breaking fee. He still managed 38 goals in 58 Barca appearances, winning three medals in 1983.
During his seven years in Italy, Maradona enjoyed the most successful spell of his career, winning two Serie A titles, a UEFA Cup as well as two other domestic medals. He also enjoyed international success, winning the World Cup in 1986 as captain and narrowly failing to defend the title in 1990, losing out in the Final to West Germany.
The first of these tournaments featured the infamous match between England and Argentina, in which Maradona deliberately punched home the opening goal, before scoring what would later be voted FIFA Goal of the Century, single handedly beating five players with eleven touches and cooly firing past Shilton. Controversy about the “Hand of God” raged, but critics were silenced with two goals in the semi-final, before setting up the winner in the final.
By now, his personal problems were building. He developed a cocaine habit and was repeatedly fined for missing matches and training, not to mention allegations of fathering an illegitimate son. A failed drugs test saw Maradona hit with a 15 month worldwide ban and his career would never recover. He returned to the game with Sevilla, where he played for a year before returning to his native Argentina.
On the international front, he played just two games in the 1994 World Cup before being sent home after failing another drugs test, this time for the stimulant Ephedrine. He never played for Argentina again, after winning 91 caps.
Turning his hand to coaching, he had two short and unsuccessful managerial jobs, lasting no longer than four months, which led to him coming out of retirement as a player. He returned to former side Boca Juniors, where he scored 7 goals in 31 games, before finally calling time on his 37th birthday.
After quitting football, his health deteriorated and he struggled with obesity. In and out of rehab with his cocaine problem, he eventually suffered a heart attack in 2004. The following year he had gastric bypass surgery to fight his weight problems, but was back in hospital after less than a month with hepatitis and alcohol abuse related problems.
Later that year, he hosted a chat show in his native Argentina, where he remains something of a celebrity. In 2007 he claimed to have stopped drinking and that he had been drug free for more than two years.
The news that broke at the end of October 2008 surprised many. Diego Maradona would be the new Head Coach of Argentina after the resignation of Alfio Basile, his first game in charge was on November 19th at the scene of his first international goal, Hampden Park, against Scotland. He was also, for a brief period, in charge of a club based in the UAE, Al Wasl.
As magical as he was in his playing days, with the question marks against his health, his tax evasion case and his dip into the field of management it remains to be seen how the great man will fare in that realm. One thing is for sure though, we’re in for a roller coaster ride.
Written by Dominic Field
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