By Ade Ojeikere
The sporting world is in a mourning mood. A gem is gone. He may have been controversial but such a nomenclature fits most exceptionally brilliant athletes, footballers inclusive. After Alf Common and David Jack, the third player to twice be transferred for world record fees is Diego Maradona. His transfers from Boca Juniors to Barcelona for £3 million, and then to Napoli for £5 million, both broke the record in 1982 and 1984 respectively.
For this departing legend, he stood tall playing for his clubs and country in amazing fashion, such that at the World Cup in a game between Italy and his country played in Naples, his immense contributions for Napoli FC, lured his Italian side’s supporters to root for their idol’s nation against their fatherland. Such was the commanding dossier of this energetic footballer, whose stock come once in a century.
El Pelusa recalled the build-up to the game (Italy versus Argentina) in his autobiography Yo Soy el Diego: “It was no ordinary semi-final. We were up against Italy, and in Naples too! When I spoke to the press, I was happy and I said that thing they would never forgive me for. It was true, though: ‘It upsets me that everyone is now asking the people of Naples to be Italians and to get behind the national team.”
Faced with the dilemma posed by their beloved Diego taking on their country, the Neapolitans hung up banners that read: “Diego in our hearts, Italy in our chants” and “Maradona: Naples loves you, but Italy is our homeland.”
Italy won her five matches, beating Austria, USA, Czechoslovakia, Uruguay, and the Republic of Ireland without even conceding a goal. Argentina virtually wobbled in the defence of their World Cup title, first by losing to Cameroon in the opening game, emerging as one of the best third-placed teams. Argentina’s poor display for long periods against Brazil in the Round of 16, they eventually won when Claudio Caniggia scored the only goal of the game from a delicious Maradona pass.
Diego Armando Maradona needs no introduction in football albeit sports for good and bad reasons. Yet, this writer is stunned that most pundits have chosen to garnish Maradona’s good sides with his flaws. Yes, it is right for balance but the much that has been written smacks of pains of the past than acknowledgment of Maradona’s remarkable contributions to the beautiful game. There isn’t any mortal in the world without a bad side. What Maradona brought to the game helped to reposition Argentina in all spheres and change people’s perception of the South American country. Talk about Argentina today, the first poser would be Maradona. Stretch the discussion further, the next name which comes to the table would be Lionel Messi. Not even the country’s economy or any other sphere of their lives. Such is the power of the game to unite a nation all the time.
At 10, Maradona joined Los Cebollitas – the youth team of Argentinos Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina – leading them to an incredible 136-game unbeaten streak.
Maradona was born in Lanús on October 30, 1960, as the fifth of eight children his parents had. He was very close to his parents and siblings, a fact that was demonstrated during a 1990 interview during which he produced stacks of phone bills which showed he had spent $15,000 a month calling his family from Europe.
Agency reports quoted Maradona 15 years ago in which he revealed that ‘getting old with his grandchildren would mean a peaceful death’ for him.
Asked what he would say in the cemetery to himself, according to agency reports, he said: ‘’Thanks for having played football because it’s the sport that gave me the most happiness and freedom and it’s like having touched the sky with my hand. Thanks to the ball. ‘’Yes, I would put on the tombstone, ‘Thanks to the ball’.’
Maradona failed a dope test in 1991where he was banned for 15 months, acknowledging his long-time cocaine addiction. In 1994, he failed another test for stimulants and was thrown out of the World Cup in the United States, where his manic scream at the camera after scoring for Argentina was another memorable image of his career.
Italy’s great, Paolo Maldini paid tribute to the late Diego Maradona on Wednesday stating that: “There are many images that are playing in these hours, an emblematic one is a friendly match he played in Acerra on a terrible mud pitch: this image should be shown to those players of today who complain about pitches now.
“On the pitch, he was an incredible opponent, it’s hard to see him as an enemy. You could beat him all the game, but he never complained. He brought so much joy to football. He was a controversial character, you can tell him anything, but for those who love football he will be an icon for always.”
“It’s hard for those who love football and for those who have played with and against him, he has seen a part of his childhood disappear,” he told Sky Italia (via MilanNews).
In fact, Gary Linker described Maradona as one who could draw any diagram with the ball on the pitch. Such was his wizardry and brilliance when the round leather game is concerned. Happily, soccer fans in Naples have been all tears and were unanimous in urging the Argentine government to rename Napoli FC’s stadium after their departed star.
Maradona is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.
Though Maradona was a fantastic goals scorer and footballer, his coaching abilities didn’t live up to soccer fans’ expectations. Imagine a Maradona evolving from being a player to a Jose Mourinho. It’s a fantasy that would never be. But mirroring the lives of these two sportsmen on the pitch, you can easily say they share one thing in common – falling and rising again. This writer has chosen to just mention the hand of ‘god goal’ fleetingly because it is being used in a derogative manner by the English to smear his feats. They have forgotten that Maradona had scored easily the best goal at the World Cup against them in the infamous ‘hand of god goal’. Yet, that goal has rubbed off the beauty of that solo effort goal, Argentina’s first against England. Since the ‘hand of god goal’, many players have scored such controversial goals but the English haven’t forgotten it even till Maradona’s death.
For as many times Maradona fell despite his huge and loud successes, he fought to get up again- the same is applicable to the story of Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese who given the coaching trade an elixir of life.
Easily, he is back at the top of the rung of the world’s most competitive European soccer competitions. He appears to have learned a few lessons on how to relate with his players when the going gets rough. He may not have spent too much on transfers in the last summer window, but his tactical recruitment of players is beginning to pay off. In fact, many sneezed at his choice of former England goalkeeper Joe Hart as a substitute to his club’s goalkeeper and captain, Hugo Iloris. Those who frowned at the Englishman coming wondered how Hart could displace the captain of a World Cup-winning team, Iloris. They reckoned that the Englishman is older than the French. But for José Mourinho, he enjoys doing what attracts people to where he is. He thrives in controversies.
When Tottenham Hotspurs’ owner opted for Mourinho as his manager in spite of what Pochettino achieved the previous season by losing in the finals of the UEFA Champions League to Liverpool, pundits shouted to the rooftop that he picked a serial winner. Mourinho guided Tottenham away from the lower rung to the fifth position where he snatched one of the Europa Cup tickets. Mourinho’s first year was quiet with spurs not playing the special one’s brand of football. But Mourinho wasn’t perturbed, waiting to make his mark by starting a new season.
The new season is in its tenth week and Mourinho is sounding the bell that he wants to lift the Barclays English Premier League diadem again. It is bad business for Mourinho to be at the top of the English game because he knows what to do to lift the trophy. He has been through this path before and if he succeeds in winning the EPL diadem for Tottenham, he would be regarded as the best coach ever in the English game. This writer is beginning to think that this year would be Mourinho’s since Liverpool and Manchester City are tottering. Tottenham’s 2-0 victory is a pointer to what the Portuguese tactician has in stock for his opponent. Little wonder, purists are waiting anxiously for the December 16 fixture between Liverpool and Tottenham at Anfield, a fortress the Reds have played 64 EPL games unbeaten. Can Mourinho stop the Reds? This is Mourinho’s stuff – to do the impossible. Jurgen Klopp had better watch his back and put on his thinking cap, lest Mourinho runs away with the precious three points. If Mourinho wins that game, it would define the season for Spurs.
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