Wednesday November 25 2020
Maradona: the best ever?

Diego Maradona changed the history of Napoli and Italian football. He wasn't perfect, but his gift for the game will live forever, writes Giancarlo Rinaldi.

For those of us of a certain generation there are just three words needed to make you get misty-eyed about football. Asked for the greatest player you have ever seen, you just blurt them out without any hesitation: Diego Armando Maradona.

From the grainy footage of his boyhood skills to lifting the World Cup with Argentina, we followed his every step in awe. His skills were audacious and carried out at a time when defenders were allowed much more freedom to test out your shin guards than they are nowadays. Even his pre-match warm-up was a spectacle in itself.

By the time he got to Italy, via Barcelona, he was at the peak of his powers and the welcome he received in Naples hinted at the scale of the talent they knew they had just purchased. In return for their adulation he helped to deliver a string of trophies to the Stadio San Paolo which the club has never seen before or since. At a time when Serie A was the undisputed king of European leagues, he took a side without Scudetti and gave them two in the space of a few seasons. His legend was complete.

It is hard to do justice to what a whirlwind he was for the Italian game. He took on the traditional power-bases of the north and regularly brought them to their knees. And all of it was done with the swagger of the street kid that he always remained.

It is probably just as well he played in the days before the internet and social media took hold or he would surely have caused systems to crash on a regular basis. His showreel of great skills and goals could have filled YouTube for a fortnight. Some of the greatest defenders of the day are still in therapy for the torment he inflicted upon them.

Yes, he was a colourful character, that goes without saying. His off-the-field antics risked overshadowing his playing ability – especially at the end of his time in Italy and the twilight of his career – but they could surely never completely eclipse his sublime style. He was crystal clear class in just four syllables. Ma-ra-do-na.

And what a team Napoli put together around him. Along with Bruno Giordano and Antonio Careca he formed the Ma-Gi-Ca attacking trident that sent shivers down the spine of Serie A. Diego could cut you apart himself but then, if the mood took him, he could set up one of his talented teammates. The more you tried to eliminate his threat, the more he seemed to enjoy it.

There are such a string of iconic images and actions associated with his career that it is hard to single out just a few. A line of Belgian defenders watching him mesmerised, a ridiculous free-kick against Juventus seeming to defy the laws of gravity and that dribbling goal against England in the game of the Hand of God are some that spring to mind. But that is just the tip of an astounding iceberg of amazing moments.

Life after playing football was not so straightforward but at every anniversary of a Neapolitan Scudetto or his birthday we wallowed in memories of his tremendous talent. It felt like when he set off running towards goal there was nothing and nobody that was going to stop him. You knocked him down and he got back up again to attack you once more.

The news that he was gone came through on a cold November afternoon and only made it feel more bleak. He had dribbled round him a few times, but he had found an opponent he could no longer elude. Napoli in particular, but Italian football in general, will mourn his loss.

We can have the debate about the greatest of all-time some other day but his name will surely always be part of that discussion. He wasn’t perfect – who is? – but his gift for the game of football will live long in the mind even now that he is no longer with us. Serie A got to see him in his pomp and that is something for which we should all be grateful. Now all we have left are the memories - but what memories they are. The goals and the glory, the magic and the madness, the controversy and the class all made him something so special that we are unlikely to ever see again. It adds up to one of the saddest farewells our favourite sport has ever had to say. Addio Diego.


Have your say...
They say there's a fine line between madness and genius and Maradona certainly fitted that bill. Can you imagine what else he would have achieved if he was the "model professional", the greatest pure talent the world of football has known and a benchmark of the modern superstar footballer. RIP Diego
on the 27th November, 2020 at 4:09pm
I think what makes him even more special is when you look at him, you don't see an elite athlete, you see a normal man. But put a ball at his feet and he became Super
on the 27th November, 2020 at 12:05am
did. Not to mention the boots compared to the ones used today. To not only compete but sometimes come out on top against that Sacchi's Milan with his Napoli is something many people overlook. That Milan side was incredible but he managed to make Napoli compete with them. Ended the monotony of that great Juve side (Platini retired at 29) which was only revived by Lippi long after Maradona had left Napoli. Captained Napoli to a UEFA cup too, All this while dealing with demons and pressure. GOAT
on the 26th November, 2020 at 8:22pm
There really shouldn't be a ? as he was just too unique. Kudos to the likes of Pele, R9, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Cruyff, Zico, Baggio, the messi/CR7 rivalry but there is 1 Diego. Thankfully there are vidoes of his keepy uppy with golf balls, oranges and rugby balls on youtube. Impossible how he could communicate with a football and it does what he wanted. Quality of the opposition, pitches, terrible tackles, heavy balls, playing not in the cool 8pm but hot 2 pm kick off times and still did what he
on the 26th November, 2020 at 8:15pm
you think of the class of defenders in the late 80s and early 90s in serie a maradonna pretty much beat them on a regular basis. Than you add the trophies he achieved with napoli and Argentina in a time where these sides were unexceptional.
on the 26th November, 2020 at 1:33pm
The GOAT simple as that, it is great to see the modern greats still playing at 39, hopefully, CR7 and Messi will continue also I just thank God that they do not have to put up with the punishment Best, Diego and later Ronaldo R9 endured trying to play the beautiful game but getting little support from referees and the federations. Now the situation has gone full circle with all the diving and antics.
on the 26th November, 2020 at 1:29pm
I believe that he is the GOAT, in terms of the levels that he reached. I very much doubt that the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Pele (who have the edge when it comes to professionalism, longevity, but always had a superior players surrounding them ) etc could have taken those Napoli and Argentina sides to the very top. Take into account the quality of the defenders that he came up against, the less open nature of the game, tackles from behind being allowed, the shabby pitches....
on the 26th November, 2020 at 1:04pm
The greatest, his role at Napoli hasn't been bettered & in 86, he won it for Argentina.
Pele's victories were in strong Brazil teams. Maradona lifted Argentina to glory in a weaker 86 team than the 78 one & again at Napoli. He was also a great leader driving his team mates to do better than their abilities allow. His flaws shortened his later career but careers were shorter then too! His achievements are unrivalled. Pele, Messi, Ronaldo, Cruyff Meazza, Zico are greats, they just aren't Maradona
on the 26th November, 2020 at 12:07pm
A beautiful piece. Thanks GR
on the 26th November, 2020 at 10:24am
Sad to see him go. What a true legend. These questions are always silly and it depends on whether you prioritise a short career filled with numerous moments of genius or a longer career also filled with numerous moments of genius. That is the big difference between say Pele and Maradona, and indeed between Maradona and Messi. Pele and Messi did over decades whereas Maradona did it over maybe a decade. But what half a decade. Neither Pele nor Messi single handily won titles for teams. That is
on the 26th November, 2020 at 5:33am
He was past his best by the time I started watching football, but he was THE name in world football when I was young.

And unlike many of the snowflakes today, he did it on poor pitches against not only rough defenders, but some of the greatest defenders ever.

The standard of defending today is certainly not up with the levels he played against.

A true great of football.
on the 26th November, 2020 at 3:44am
The season before Maradona joined Napoli, they were one point from being relegated. If Messi were to join Udinese and they became league champions within 3 seasons, then the comparison can be made.

Until then Maradona stands alone.
on the 26th November, 2020 at 12:42am
...he had his demons and faults. a mad genius.
shame he left sooner than he should have. tho it feels like hes been a legend, and name has echoed for centuries. what he did with Napoli would be like if Messi/CR7 went to Fiorentina or Cagliari and won 2 scudetti and 2 cups !!
definitely one of the forever forefathers of football.

honorable mention BAGGIO just cuz.
on the 25th November, 2020 at 11:12pm
as incredible as Messi and C.Ronaldo are in world soccer today like truly watching once in lifetime sport greatness like Ali, or Mike Tyson, Jordan, Gretzky. Maradona was in his own atmosphere. he played and peaked at the beginning of the golden era of world soccer. he brought it into 80s-90s... and mind you he played when it was a much rougher game when defenders tried to break your legs. dazzled europe playing with Barca and Napoli taking the latter to great heights. and like great artists ...
on the 25th November, 2020 at 11:00pm
THE BEST. Pele Ronaldo Messi CR7 on and on and on could not clean his shoes. No one even came close the his talent and what he accomplished. RIP you will live forever in this world through the this and generations to come.
on the 25th November, 2020 at 10:16pm
Good article. As a 39 year old Englishman, who has followed Italian football since the mid 90s, Diego was an idol of mine growing up seeing old clips and videos of him. Actually have an Argentina Number 10 shirt on now. If it weren't for Baggio, he would have been my favourite, its not totally surprising that he passed at the young age of 60, but what a life.

As a player he inspired me on how I played game. Number 10, similar build. RIP Diego, thank you for the memories.
on the 25th November, 2020 at 9:07pm

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