Maradona - The Living Legend

International football legend Diego Maradona, the first superstar of football, who made it look all easy. From leading Argentina to the FIFA World Cup, to him being sent back home following a drug intake incident during the '96 world cup, he surely has seen it all.
The left-footed Maradona, who had been battling drug addiction, suffered a severe heart crisis in Uruguay back in 2000 due to a cocaine overdose. He then began a long recovery in Cuba, but since an overweight Maradona returned to Argentina, speculation and concern had grown over his health. Recently, he uploaded an image of himself via Twitter in a much fitter form, far from the Maradona who couldn't carry his weight around.

In his colorful 20-year career, Maradona won the Italian and Argentine league titles and led Argentina to the World Cup victory in 1986, and the second place in 1990. But the story started long before that. In 1970 precisely, when the 10-year-old Diego was tried for Los Cebollitas, a junior team. Thereafter, Los Cebollitas remained unbeaten for 136 matches and he had started his journey to become a legend. This gave followers a fair idea of what was to come.

Born in Villa Fiorito, Diego chose to play with Argentinos Juniors, though he was being wooed by the best clubs since 1976. By 1977, he was invited to train for the national team. A place in Boca Juniors came next, along with historically stupendous economic deals. His destiny lay in Spain and specifically, the Barcelona Football Club, who bought his services for a whopping $1.7 million back in 1982.

In 1984, he moved to Napoli for a record-busting $4.1 million, and transformed a mediocre club to one of the best in Italy. During their stint with Napoli, the triumvirate of Maradona, Giordano and Careca broke all sorts of records and statistics. During his fifth season with them, Napoli won the UEFA Cup for the first time. With a doping controversy and consequent health problems pursuing him, Maradona had to flee Italy. He was the world champion in Mexico '86 and the world sub-champion in Italy '90 with 21 matches in four World Cups. For his country, he played 91 matches and scored 34 goals, and thus became the flag bearer of Argentine football.

His two greatest goals were undoubtedly those for Argentina's 1986 World Cup quarter-final victory against England. The match was the first between Argentina and England since the Falklands War. In the second half, England's goalkeeper Peter Shilton and Maradona went for a back pass intended for the goalkeeper. A short Maradona leapt but couldn't reach the ball. But the street-smart footballer knocked the ball into the back of the net with his hands. The referee allowed the goal to stand.

A few minutes later, Maradona took the ball up in his own half, spun round and left players trailing, then evaded several tackles and blocks before scoring the goal effortlessly. Sir Bobby Robson, the England manager, applauded the wonderful goal. "That first goal was dubious; the second one was a miracle, a fantastic goal. It's marvelous that every now and then the world produces a player like Maradona. I didn't like his second goal, but I admire it," he said.

He was named the Best Player of the FIFA World Cup in 1986.

In 1991, Maradona failed a dope test for cocaine and was banned for 15 months. He performed in his fourth World Cup in the United States in 1994 but tested positive for a cocktail of drugs the day before he was due to make a record 22nd appearance in the tournament.

His downfall has been spectacular, painful and ugly, both genius and dupe, icon and pawn. A cocaine addiction and a grotesquely broken ankle did not help his cause either. He got embroiled with crime syndicates in Naples. Ill-timed comeback attempts coupled with disastrous coaching spells and private life mishaps have turned Maradona into a sad parody.

Though much-maligned today as a pale shadow of his former god-like, brilliant self, as a self-obsessed megalomaniac, there's no denying the fact that Diego Armando Maradona was the first global sporting superstar who kicked off the multi-million-dollar global industry of football.

The 1982 World Cup archives has one of his best pictures, where the entire Belgian defense is in a line, peeping from one behind the other. On the foreground is Maradona, his back to the camera, his left foot tantalizingly over the ball. The collective fear in the Belgians' eyes tells us what Maradona was and the legend that he has been.
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