Diego Maradona stands alone in football’s glorious outlawed age | Barney Ronay
Comparisons with Lionel Messi are futile Maradona belonged to a wild, violent game unrecognisable to modern players, as his new volume shows
If it had been up to the Argentines, each of the players would have gone out there with a machine gun and killed Shilton, Stevens, Butcher, Fenwick, Sansom, Steven, Hodge, Reid, Hoddle, Beardsley and Lineker. At first glance it seems fair to say Diego Maradona hasnt actually mellowed much. So begins one of the key chapters of his brilliant new rehashed, repeated, elegantly toddled off autobiography Touched By God, which is out in the UK next month.
Certainly, the proposed machine-gunning of Englands entire satin-shorted first XI builds for an arresting mental image. Otherwise Maradona is conciliatory, playful and entirely unapologetic on the subject of that 1986 World Cup quarter-final, staged four years after the Falklands War that saw the British army overwhelm a callow Argentinian invasion force, sent out in Flecha tennis shoes to fight the worlds third-biggest military power.
This is the meat of his new volume, the fevered machinations before, during and after the 1986 World Cup a period in the life of Maradona that still pulsates with an extraordinary sense of destiny. Touched By God even appeared at a softly opportune moment the coming week, review copies clonking through letterboxes the day after Peter Crouch had scored his own sneaky tribute handball-header for Stoke City against Arsenal, to no great fanfare or outrage. Then again, Crouch is basically a humorous player, a 6ft 7in centre forward made of elastic bands and old deckchair portions who resembles less a real-life Premier League all-star than a satirical cartoon of an English footballer produced by some especially acerbic French caricaturist.
The ghost of peak El Diego has been flickering in the background for more significant reasons too. It is 30 years the coming week since Maradonas career apex, his first Serie A title victory with Napoli the season after Mexico 86. It was a triumph crowned with strangely primitive festivities in Naples, where effigies were dragged through the streets, fireworks popped all summertime and Maradona himself, gorged on success and idolatry, began to drift for the first time into the arena of the unwell.
Fast forward three decades and by an odd coincidence, both Jrgen Klinsmann and Carles Puyol have been quoted the coming week recurring the same flawed truism about Lionel Messi the idea that to be considered genuinely great Messi, who plays in a squad sport, must win the World Cup. Never mind that this reasoning suggests Messi would already be the greatest if only Gonzalo Higuan, monarch of the big-stage miss, was better at finishing. The point is, as ever, that this is precisely what Diego did, his unbeatable trump in this game of all-time greats, a World Cup won in the most urgently personal way.
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