Diego Maradona is 60 today, and what a life he has led so far. Controversy, glory and a little more controversy to boot, the Argentine has seen and done it all. From goals and trophies to scraps and run-ins with the law, El Diego is one of the most intriguing and complex characters in sports history.
Born in Lanus to a family with little money, he was spotted by a talent scout at the age of eight and set on the path to stardom, his immense talent seeing him reach incredible heights but severe lows also. From his glorious warm-up routine at Napoli to the amazing and uplifting Live is Life soundtrack with just a football as a prop, to his eye-popping display at the 1994 World Cup, the world of Maradona is a crazy one.
Here we look back at some of his best and most lethal escapades from both sides of the white line.
Winning the World Cup single-handedly
It is one of the most infamous images in football history. Diego Maradona climbing into the air, eyes firmly shut and his left hand creeping high above the onrushing England goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Punching the ball into an empty net at World Cup 1986, it was dubbed ‘The Hand of God’.
Former England midfielder Peter Reid, who was completely left for dead by the pocket-sized wizard for Argentina’s second goal in the 2-1 quarter-final victory, isn’t having any of it, 34 years on though.
“I certainly don’t call it the ‘Hand of God’”, he groaned years later. “It was the hand of a cheating b******.” For all his devilish behaviour and bending of the rules, you can’t help but appreciate Maradona’s genius. That goal aside, he was simply mesmeric and magical as he captained his nation to their second World Cup triumph at the age of just 25.
When you’re as famous as Diego Maradona you’re going to get attention, and lots of it. Idolised as a God and adored as a football legend, the Argentine cannot go anywhere without being mobbed and having heaps of adulation thrown his way.
But that can be a lot to take, and in February 1994, just months before the World Cup in the US, he snapped, deciding to shoot some journalists who were hounding him outside his home in Moreno with an air-rifle. Four people were injured by the pellets and, in 1998, Maradona received a suspended sentence of two years and 10 months.
Breaking bread with the Mafia
Just as he is in his homeland, Maradona is hero-worshipped in Naples. Spending seven years with Napoli in the eighties until 1991, the playmaker lit up Serie A and the Stadio San Paolo, leading the club to two league titles.
However, such adoration didn’t just stick with the fans in the stands and soon he was courted by the region’s mafia. It is in the brilliant Diego Maradona documentary by Asif Kapadia that we see some of the most powerful people in Naples and the close relationship they forged with the Napoli star. The mafia are said to have used him by supplying him with drugs and girls.
“Sunday to Wednesday I was partying on cocaine. I would come home high on drugs,” he later admitted. The notorious Giulianos befriended the Argentine and it is said they lavished him with gifts as he turned up to their get-togethers.
However, things soon changed when he slotted home a penalty against Italy at the 1990 World Cup. After being compared to the devil by local press, Diego had to quit the country, and mafia, a year later.
Kick off at Barca
Flying through the air, Maradona made the sweetest of connections. But this wasn’t with the ball, in fact the game had already finished. Oh no, Maradona was connecting with an opposition player when all hell broke loose at the end of the 1984 Copa del Rey final.
Fierce rivals, the two sides started brawling on the pitch and Maradona was quick to dish out some kickings. Taking on Andoni Goikoetxea, also known as the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’, a man who had broken Maradona’s ankle in a previous fixture, he seemingly saw a chance for revenge and reacted angrily to Sola waving him off the park.
Maradona unleashed a flurry of blows with his trusted left boot and left carnage all around him. Astonishingly, this was his last act as a Barcelona player before leaving Spain for Italy.
For Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo, also see Pele versus Diego Maradona. For decades the iconic pair have been dubbed the two greatest players on the planet but they haven’t always seen eye to eye, with plenty of barbs being exchanged down the years, in a South American battle of Brazil against Argentina.
However, it was in 2000 that the pair engaged in their most memorable slanging match when Maradona claimed the Samba star had won the title of Greatest Player of the 20th Century ‘by forfeit’ and, to be fair, he had a point (for once).
El Diego was voted the winner via an online vote but after FIFA chiefs claimed some users were too young to have seen Pele play, a re-vote was ordered via the governing body’s official magazine and, of course, the Brazilian No 10 won the day.
FIFA split the award between the duo, but Maradona was so incensed he left the ceremony in Rome before Pele was handed his award, blasting, “The people voted for me. Now they want me to share the prize with Pele. I'm not going to share the prize with anybody.”