Diego Maradona stands alone in football’s glorious outlawed age | Barney Ronay

Category: Blog
390 0

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.

Diego Maradona clears the challenges of West Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher and defender Karlheinz Frster in the 1986 World Cup final. Photo: Bob Thomas/ Getty Images

That feat naturally predominates Touched By God, and yet the striking part of the book is not so much the old glories and grudges, but its startlingly vivid textural contrast. The extreme physicality of Maradonas era, the sense that football back then was an proscribe world and a place of wild human possibilities , not to mention a genuinely violent athletic most obviously on the pitch.

Maradona still holds the record for most fouls suffered in a World Cup( Mexico 86) and most fouls in a single World Cup game( 23 against Italy at Spain 82 ). And lets be clear. Were not talking dainty little tactical tumbles. These were often staged assaults.

Against South Korea in Mexico City, Maradona is punched in the face and left screaming in pain after one of them spiked me so hard it went through my sock and my bandages. Playing Peru, he is marked so savagely by Luis Reyna that as Maradona leaves the pitch to have his wounds tended, Reyna runs over to the touchline and been waiting for there for him to come out again, ignoring the rest of video games going on behind him.

Later, Maradona sets off having surgery on his injured knee, which swells up and bursts during a game. As he writhes in agony, team physician El Loco Oliviera marches on to the pitching with an enormous syringe and injects its mysterious liquid directly into his knee. Numbed, Maradona plays on. He is at this time the most expensive footballer in the world. It is this air of somewhat wild, unstyled amateurishness that glistens through Diegos reminiscences.

At Mexico 86, Argentinas players clean and shave outside in the fresh air, living in what was basically a jerry-built campsite. After his ankle is snapped by an infamous Andoni Goikoetxea lunge in 1983( it sounded just like a piece of timber splitting ), Maradona is carried off on a blanket and drive to hospital in a small borrowed van. Before one qualifier hes kicked in the knee by a random passer-by as he gets off the team bus, and remains up until 5am before the game trying to ice it in his bedroom. Imagine if this happened to Messi now. Someone would be shot. North Korea would launch a missile at the moon. The internet would break.

Plus, of course, theres that ludicrously effective con-job of a World Cup goal against England, remembered here in a vivid, celebratory passage, the best bit of which comes at the end as Maradona operates off punching the air. It turns out that in the moment he was also hissing frantically under his breath, pleading with his team-mates to come and rabble him before the goal is ruled out. Carlos Bilardo had forbidden his midfielders to celebrate goals in order to save energy. On the Tv pictures you are able to assure them looking awkward and confused as Maradona screamings behind his hand to get over there and hug him like its all normal and fine.

Back to reality: even as Maradona scored his unforgettable second aim he got a kick from Terry Butcher that left his ankle swollen to twice its size after the game.This is still the lasting imprint of Touched By God, the feeling of something entirely other. Not to mention another example of the basic pointlessness of comparings, of that endless, formalised quest for an all-time champion, for one of these giants to be named definitively as the greatest.

There is no real point of comparison here. Maradonas world is all pain and ragged edges, a game of blood and fortitude that feels utterly collected from the sealed edges, endless scrutiny and managed spaces of modern football.

It is simply another sport, another life wholly. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are at least present in the same timeline, pressed against the same surfaces, subject to the same pressures, a consumer selection between vying different forms of greatness. Maradona, meanwhile, stands alone, giant of a lost world that was neither better nor worse. But which remains even peering back up that grainy, fond lens gloriously ragged and gloriously undimmed.

Read more:

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  • No categories
Register now to get updates on promotions and coupons.
%d bloggers like this: