Maradona – football world's greatest rebel

Wearing his heart on his sleeve
Diego Maradona reacts after being shown a yellow card in the 1986 World Cup final. File photo: Reuters

He played, he won and he conquered. The world was at his feet but Diego Armado Maradona was a fallen hero. His greats skills on football pitch were inversely proportional to his propensity to  self destruct in real life.

A flawed genius alright but a generation of football fans loved him for his unpredictability, for his childish irresponsibility and for having the guts to take on the officialdom. The world of football lost its greatest rebel and also its fantastic player when Maradona passed away due to heart attack at his home in Buoneas Aires on Wednesday.

His football was like his unpredictable personality. He could coax the football to do anything on the pitch. He was devilish with his tricks and threaded the ball with pinpoint accuracy between a maze of legs to find the net. He had the vision, skill, power and dexterity. As a  footballer he was a complete package. 

In the world of professional football, genius is often measured by the number of trophies in players' cupboard. Maradona had the most prized of them all - the World Cup and he single- handedly won Argentina their second World Cup. At a time when individual skills were at a premium, Maradona scored the most poetic goal of the century as he blew the rugged English defence to smithereens in the quarterfinal at the giant Azteca Stadium. A few minutes earlier his sleight of hand gave him the infamous Hand of the God. The 1986 World Cup was his finest as player but it was a matter of time when the world around him crumbled. After leading Napoli to the Italian league title for the first time ever in 1987, he found it increasingly difficult to handle fame. 

His much documented cocaine addiction and his brushes with law became too frequent. A man who was revered in Napali soon became a traitor as he was first caught for cocaine abuse and banned for 15 months. The daggers were drawn and his arrogance and his dalliance with mafia saw him serve controversies on a platter to his detractors. 

Enjoying to the full
Diego Maradona smokes a cigar with former Reuters Cuba correspondent Andrew Cawthorne. File photo: Reuters

He took on the might of FIFA and desisted the omnipresence of TV which dictated the life of footballers. He wanted FIFA to give a fair share of its revenue to the players and wanted a scrutiny of their accounts. He also didn't want TV channels to dictate match timings. He was dead against playing in the hot sun during USA 1994 when matches were held in the afternoon to suit the timings of TV audience in the West. He was a marked man and they caught him with a random dope test during the World Cup. He was send home in disgrace. But Maradona and his followers believed he was targeted. He was tested positive for Ephedrine, which was not considered a stimulant in US and in many countries, but was banned in international sports. Maradona protested and said in one of his many interviews that Ephedrine was used by athletes in other sports like hockey. He said it was  a conspiracy against him by FIFA and its president Joao Havalange. He had stirred up the hornets' nest by asking the offensive question to the world's most powerful sports body and paid the price.

But his life took a downward spiral after his retirement as he fought his much documented fight against drugs addiction and alcohol while living in Cuba. But he bloated beyond recognition and had to do surgery to reduce weight. He survived a heart attack in 2004 and his managerial stints were nothing sort of disaster. Soon after his 60th birthday, it was known that Maradona was not in good health and his end came a little too quickly. In the frigid world of soccer, we needed someone to serve us magic and it was there on platter when Maradona was on field. Even though it was on realms of fantasy. Thank you, genius.

Not his cup of tea
Maradona's managerial stints were nothing short of disaster. Photo: Manorama Archives
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