Diego Armando Maradona is many things to many people. To some, he is the ultimate villain. The cheat who could score with his hand with the sole intention of deceiving the referee. To others, he is a bad role model. His statements are vulgar and negative, while his drug history is unprecedented for such a huge icon.
Yet, nobody would argue as to his innate natural ability. In terms of control of the ball, manipulation of it and eventual use of it, there has probably never been anybody as great as Diego Maradona.
All that culminated in that ridiculous goal against England at the 1986 World Cup final. Receiving the ball in the midst of three players in the center circle, he wriggled his way out and then began his long run towards goal. Players were left in his wake, all the more stunning by the speed at which he travelled and the close control with which he had of the ball. More importantly was his speed of thought.
To maintain that sort of fast motion and still think of rounding the goalkeeper requires such quick levels of reasoning. Even surprisingly is that on the far side, Jorge Valdano was free and a simple pass would have seen the Real Madrid man score an easy tap in. But while it was simplistic to think that at such speed Maradona could not see his teammate, that simply was not the case. Apparently, Maradona would confirm to Valdano that he always saw him there but could not find the perfect moment to release the ball to him.
It was the sort of calculations that only the quick mind of a genius can come up with.
Still, the calculations did not end there and Maradona led Argentina through in the semi-final. The final itself was also a different matter. Realising that the Germans were intent on man marking him, he drifted deep, creating space for his teammates to exploit.
And when West Germany’s resilience saw the game balance on a string, it was Maradona who finally had enough and decided to thread the needle with a visionary pass to Jorge Burruchaga. That assist decided the final.
Maradona however had not just been a mere larger than life presence. He had elevated himself to the point of silencing his doubters. Indeed, if there is pressure facing Lionel Messi going into this year’s World Cup, then the pressure facing Maradona in 1986 was so much grand.
Unlike Messi, Maradona had not yet lifted a European club to such scaling heights. Coupled with the flop at the 1982 World Cup, Maradona was threatening to become a footballer who had never realised his full potential.
Instead, that potential was all released, probably fuelled by the hunger of previous failures. Always the rebel, Maradona rebelled against his current image to form a lasting image.
It was then that the greatest footballer in the world rose to the highest peak of his powers at the highest level possible. If every footballers dream is to single-handedly lead his nation into the world cup and captain his country in a starring performance en route to winning the trophy, then it is Maradona who actualised that ideal.
No other footballer has so dominated the World Cup as Maradona did in 1986. Similarly so, no other captain ever has.
[images courtesy of imortais do futebol]