As Diego Maradona prepares to return to the forefront of international football it is quite fitting that he will make his managerial debut of the Argentine national squad in the cauldron of all English hatred, Hampden Park. Anyone that can somehow contribute to the demise of the England national football team is embraced with great affection north of the border, and it is no surprise that Maradona has been afforded cult hero status once again as he prepares his side to face Scotland in a friendly on Wednesday.
Before we get going let me preclude this by stating that in his prime Maradona was one of the best players to have ever played the game. His talents and skills driving the midfield of a powerful Argentina team made them a fearsome force in the sport. In terms of technical skills, he was one of the best. Note, I say one of the best. Many, consider him to be the greatest player to have ever played, and if you consider his own self-proclamations of footballing genius, maybe that is not surprising.
However, let us get something straight up front. Pele is bar none, the best player to have graced the world’s most popular sport. Pele, not only led his team to an unprecedented three World Cup championships in four tournaments, but off the field, he is a class act, a diplomat for the game, for his country, a true legend. To even try to put the subject of this article on a par with Pele is beyond laughable. Unless that is, you are able to make a case for Pele being an arrogant, cheating, drug-addicted egomaniac oblivious to anything outside of his own pathetic life. I seriously doubt that you can. Wait, did I say that out loud? Guess I’m not caught up in the latest edition of Maradona mania.
Argentina are a perennial world power of football that boast a wealth of talent in the likes of Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero, Lucho Gonzalez, and Maxi Rodriguez to name but a few. The rivalry, bordering on hatred between England and Argentina is well documented but in terms of footballing talent I give credit where it’s due. Don’t get me wrong; when our nations match up, I am as fanatical as any red-blooded Englishman vying for the Lions to bury the despised men in blue and white stripes. I still have the shirt depicting Beckham’s glory after scoring the penalty to beat the enemy at the 2002 World Cup finals – dubbed by some as the “Foot of God.”
The notorious, “Hand of God” incident in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Argentina ignited the fuel of hatred towards Maradona and left a foul taste after an otherwise enthralling battle between two very good teams. Before that incident, I felt he was a dangerous player that could derail our dreams of a world title. His second goal in that infamous match was truly an amazing feat as he dribbled over half the length of the field leaving five English players in his tracks, confirmed that fear. Sickening but amazing, and later described by England manager Bobby Robson as “a miracle.”
Being defeated on the field is acceptable, it’s hard to take, but when the game is over, if you come out on the losing end, even the most fervent and bias fan has to accept that their team ultimately lost to a better opponent. What true fans cannot accept is getting so close only to have their dreams shattered by such blatant cheating and then having that same player declare his act as the work of God. So God’s a football fan and he (or she) apparently has it in for England. Come to think of it though with the amount of tournaments that we’ve lost on penalty shoot-outs, maybe the little twit was onto something.
Back to Diego and he returned to the World Cup 4 years later as Argentina won through a series of penalty shoot-outs to advance to the final before losing to West Germany 1-0, on a penalty, in one of the dullest World Cup finals in history. USA ’94 ended Maradona’s international career when he was kicked out of the tournament for failing a drug test.
Maradona enjoyed incredible success at the club level reaching the peak of his playing career with Italian Serie A side Napoli. He played a major role in the team winning 2 Italian Championships and the UEFA Cup, amongst others during his time in Naples, and was the Italian Serie A top scorer in 1987. His drug addiction and a host of other personal problems ultimately led to his demise and he left Napoli in disgrace after serving a 15 month ban for testing positive for cocaine.
But, now after being through several rehabilitation programs, gastric surgery, a close brush with death, and spending some quality time with a few of his mates and idols in Cuba and Venezuela, he is ready to be born again and lead his beloved Argentina back to world glory on the football field. This latest venture begins Wednesday at the site where he scored his first international goal in 1979, and Hampden Park is the perfect venue to host the return of one of Scotland’s modern day patron saints. Trust me Mel Gibson has nothing on Diego and his hand puppets.
Ironically, Scotland’s assistant coach, Terry Butcher was on the field at the Azteca in 1986. I doubt that big-Tel will greet Maradona in the way that he really thinks befits this “legend” but, like any other England fan that remembers Mexico in ‘86, I also don’t think he will get carried away by the politically correct swath of adoration that has taken over the British media in the build up to the match.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how this latest chapter develops. In terms of justice, there will probably be none for the English fan unless, of course, our respective teams make it all the way to the 2010 final in South Africa, and God chooses to give England a hand, if he or she is really watching.