Very few possess the great quality of excelling in their field and yet at the same time be appealing to the whole world. Argentine football great Diego Armando Maradona, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 60, belonged to the category of rare champions. Maradona's charisma made him a darling of both the masses and purists of the sport alike.
He led Argentina to glory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Overlooked by coach Cesar Luis Menotti as a teenager in the 1978 edition on home soil when La Albiceleste won the World Cup for the first time, Maradona's World Cup ended in tears four year later in Spain when he was red-carded against Brazil as Argentina crashed out in the second round.
Mexico 1986 was all about Maradona. He was at the peak of his prowess and was fiercely motivated to prove his worth on the big stage. He scored five goals and single-handedly led Argentina to triumph. He notched up a brace, including the infamous 'Hand of God' goal and the 'goal of the century', in the 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinals and followed it up with a brace in the 2-0 win over Belgium in the semifinals. Fittingly, it was Maradona's defence-splitting pass to Jorge Burruchaga that settled the final 3-2 after West Germany had rallied from a two-goal deficit to make it 2-2 at the Azteca Stadium.
Maradona never reached the dizzy heights of Mexico in the World Cup again. Though he led Argentina to a runner-up finish in the next edition in Italy he was far from his best. His World Cup campaign ended in ignominy in USA 1994 as he was banned for doping.
Whether it be with Boca Juniors, Barcelona or Napoli, Maradona dazzled at the club-level. He was simply adored in Naples where he guided Napoli to Serie A triumphs in 1987 and 1990. He was an absolute magician who could do anything on the field. He was the ultimate showman and never shied away from making it clear that he was the best.
Maradona was a flawed genius. He had his fair share of trouble with alcohol and drugs. Maybe his shortcomings made him more popular across the continents. He was a brutally honest man too as revealed in his book 'Touched by God'.
He cared for the Argentine people and it was precisely the reason he decided to take over the reins of the national team in 2008. Maradona believed he could extract the best out of Lionel Messi and land Argentina a third World Cup in 2010. It was not to be as the Germans demolished them 4-0 in the quarterfinals. His coaching stints whether be in the Middle East or in Argentina were never really successful.
Maradona's greatest strength was that he could strike a chord with anyone through his exploits on the field. No other player would have been subjected to so many rash tackles in his career. Maradona's speed, ball control and dribbling skills meant rival defenders mercilessly brought him down. Yet in a flash he would be back on his legs and orchestrating the next move.
It's highly unlikely anyone will touch the hearts of football lovers the way the little man from Lanus in Buenos Aires did. Adios, Diego!