Diego Maradona dead: Football legend dies of a heart attack just two weeks after hospital release

Diego Maradona has died from a heart attack less than a month after turning 60.

The Argentinian football legend died at home, his lawyer said, just three weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain.

Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, having knocked England out of the tournament in a match which saw him score the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and another – widely considered to be one of the greatest goals of all time. 

Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time on the pitch, his life off the pitch was equally notorious – amid battles with drug and alcohol addiction.

Diego Maradona, Argentinian footballing legend and one of the greatest ever to play the game, has died at the age of 60 (pictured lifting the World Cup in 1986)

Diego Maradona, Argentinian footballing legend and one of the greatest ever to play the game, has died at the age of 60 (pictured lifting the World Cup in 1986)

Diego Maradona, Argentinian footballing legend and one of the greatest ever to play the game, has died at the age of 60 (pictured lifting the World Cup in 1986)

LAST PICTURE: Maradona's death comes just three weeks after he underwent surgery on a blood clot in his brain (pictured), and less than a month after he turned 60

LAST PICTURE: Maradona's death comes just three weeks after he underwent surgery on a blood clot in his brain (pictured), and less than a month after he turned 60

LAST PICTURE: Maradona’s death comes just three weeks after he underwent surgery on a blood clot in his brain (pictured), and less than a month after he turned 60

Maradona's Hand of God was responsible for England's elimination from the 1986 World Cup

Maradona's Hand of God was responsible for England's elimination from the 1986 World Cup

Maradona’s Hand of God was responsible for England’s elimination from the 1986 World Cup

Police cars are seen outside the house where Diego Maradona was recovering from surgery, in Tigre, on the outskirt of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

Police cars are seen outside the house where Diego Maradona was recovering from surgery, in Tigre, on the outskirt of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

Police cars are seen outside the house where Diego Maradona was recovering from surgery, in Tigre, on the outskirt of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

Diego Maradona kisses Claudia Villafane during their wedding at Luna Park Stadium on November 07, 1989 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Diego Maradona kisses Claudia Villafane during their wedding at Luna Park Stadium on November 07, 1989 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Diego Maradona kisses Claudia Villafane during their wedding at Luna Park Stadium on November 07, 1989 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Diego Maradona and Claudia Villafane stand in front of the altar during their wedding ceremony at Santisimo Sacramento Church in 1989

Diego Maradona and Claudia Villafane stand in front of the altar during their wedding ceremony at Santisimo Sacramento Church in 1989

Diego Maradona and Claudia Villafane stand in front of the altar during their wedding ceremony at Santisimo Sacramento Church in 1989

Argentinian ex soccer star Diego Armando Maradona (L) talks to Cuban President Fidel Castro, before recording Maradona's TV program "The 10's Night" in Havana 27 October 2005

Argentinian ex soccer star Diego Armando Maradona (L) talks to Cuban President Fidel Castro, before recording Maradona's TV program "The 10's Night" in Havana 27 October 2005

Argentinian ex soccer star Diego Armando Maradona (L) talks to Cuban President Fidel Castro, before recording Maradona’s TV program “The 10’s Night” in Havana 27 October 2005

Argentinian national soccer team head coach Diego Maradona (C) greets schoolchildren during a visit to Kgotlelelang Primary School in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, South Africa, 19 January 2010

Argentinian national soccer team head coach Diego Maradona (C) greets schoolchildren during a visit to Kgotlelelang Primary School in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, South Africa, 19 January 2010

Argentinian national soccer team head coach Diego Maradona (C) greets schoolchildren during a visit to Kgotlelelang Primary School in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, South Africa, 19 January 2010

Argentina’s president Alberto Fernandez decreed three days of mourning following Maradona’s death.  

‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the Argentine leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’ 

The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.

Nine ambulances were sent to his house at around midday on Wednesday in the exclusive gated residential neighbourhood of San Andres north of Buenos Aires where Maradona went to live after leaving hospital.

Local reports said one of the nurses caring for him had raised the alarm after discovering he had suffered a suspected heart attack.

None of the paramedics who rushed to the house were able to do anything to save him

Argentina’s former manager Cesar Luis Menotti said: ‘I’m devastated. I can’t believe it. I’m absolutely gutted. There’s no more I can say at this moment.

‘I thought at first the news of his death was fake news but obviously it’s what happened. It’s terrible and a tragic surprise because measures had been taken to make sure he was being looked after.’

Former US boxing champion Mike Tyson (L) and former Argentinian football player Diego Maradona after arriving to attend the screening of US director Steven Soderbergh's film 'Che' at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 21, 2008 in Cannes

Former US boxing champion Mike Tyson (L) and former Argentinian football player Diego Maradona after arriving to attend the screening of US director Steven Soderbergh's film 'Che' at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 21, 2008 in Cannes

Former US boxing champion Mike Tyson (L) and former Argentinian football player Diego Maradona after arriving to attend the screening of US director Steven Soderbergh’s film ‘Che’ at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 21, 2008 in Cannes

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to Argentinian retired striker Diego Maradona (L-R) ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final draw at the State Kremlin Palace

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to Argentinian retired striker Diego Maradona (L-R) ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final draw at the State Kremlin Palace

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talks to Argentinian retired striker Diego Maradona (L-R) ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final draw at the State Kremlin Palace

People wave to Argentinean football star Diego Maradona as he drives out of a hotel in southern Germany during the World Cup there in 2006

People wave to Argentinean football star Diego Maradona as he drives out of a hotel in southern Germany during the World Cup there in 2006

People wave to Argentinean football star Diego Maradona as he drives out of a hotel in southern Germany during the World Cup there in 2006

Maradona, left, greets Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, ahead of an inter-religious match for peace in September 2014

Maradona, left, greets Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, ahead of an inter-religious match for peace in September 2014

Maradona, left, greets Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, ahead of an inter-religious match for peace in September 2014

Maradona hugs Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2014

Maradona hugs Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2014

Maradona hugs Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2014

Cuban President Fidel Castro poses with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, his wife Claudia Villafane and their two children, during a visit to the Revolution Palace

Cuban President Fidel Castro poses with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, his wife Claudia Villafane and their two children, during a visit to the Revolution Palace

Cuban President Fidel Castro poses with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, his wife Claudia Villafane and their two children, during a visit to the Revolution Palace

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (right) embraces former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona during a rally in Buenos Aires, December 2, 2010

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (right) embraces former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona during a rally in Buenos Aires, December 2, 2010

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (right) embraces former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona during a rally in Buenos Aires, December 2, 2010

Soccer legends Diego Maradona (left) and Pele rest on a hammock during a reception in Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 1995.

Soccer legends Diego Maradona (left) and Pele rest on a hammock during a reception in Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 1995.

Soccer legends Diego Maradona (left) and Pele rest on a hammock during a reception in Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 1995.

Argentina national soccer team's head coach Diego Maradona is greeted by schoolchildren during his visit to Kgotlelelang School at Winterveldt on January 19, 2010, around 40km north west of Pretoria, South Africa

Argentina national soccer team's head coach Diego Maradona is greeted by schoolchildren during his visit to Kgotlelelang School at Winterveldt on January 19, 2010, around 40km north west of Pretoria, South Africa

Argentina national soccer team’s head coach Diego Maradona is greeted by schoolchildren during his visit to Kgotlelelang School at Winterveldt on January 19, 2010, around 40km north west of Pretoria, South Africa

Pope Francis (left) meeting former Argentinian player Diego Armando Maradona (R) in a private audience at the Vatican, Vatican City in September 2014

Pope Francis (left) meeting former Argentinian player Diego Armando Maradona (R) in a private audience at the Vatican, Vatican City in September 2014

Pope Francis (left) meeting former Argentinian player Diego Armando Maradona (R) in a private audience at the Vatican, Vatican City in September 2014

There is no suggestion there is anything suspicious about Maradona’s death, but state prosecutors are on their way to the house where the soccer legend died as part of a routine investigation.

Hand of God was ‘revenge for the Falklands’ 

Despite being known as one of the greatest ever to grace the pitch, Maradona’s legacy also includes a moment of infamy – when he handled the ball past England keeper Peter Shilton during the 1986 World Cup quarter final.

Speaking in a documentary released last year, Maradona remained unrepentant – calling the goal ‘symbolic revenge against the English’ for the Falklands War.

Speaking about the match, played four years after the war – which ended with British victory – Maradona said: ‘The hype made it seem liked we were going to play out another war.

‘I knew it was my hand. It wasn’t my plan but the action happened so fast that the linesman didn’t see me putting my hand in. The referee looked at me and he said: ‘Goal.’

‘It was a nice feeling like some sort of symbolic revenge against the English.’

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A team of psychologists are also understood to be on their way to the property.

During Maradona’s time with Italian side Napoli he won the Serie A title in 1987 and 1990, along with an Italian Cup in 1987 and a Uefa Cup in 1991.

But it was also during these years that his addiction to cocaine took hold. In 1991, the year he left the club, he was given a 15-month suspension for drug violations.

In 1994 he was thrown out of the World Cup in America after failing a drugs test, before retiring from football in 1997.

In 1999 and 2000 he was taken to hospital suffering heart problems, the second time requiring a respirator to breathe.

In 2004, he was again treated in hospital for severe heart and respiratory problems linked to his drug abuse. 

He has undergone two gastric bypass operations to control his weight and received treatment for alcohol abuse.

In January, he had surgery to stem bleeding in his stomach and in July he underwent a knee operation.

Three week ago he was admitted to hospital for surgery on a blood clot in his brain, before being discharged to recover at home.

It was there that he died on Wednesday.

His footballing career also included turns on the pitch for Barcelona, Sevilla, Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys and he was most recently manager of Gimnasia y Esgrima in La Plata, Argentina.

He also managed the Argentinian national team at the South Africa World Cup in 2010. 

The Argentine news outlet Clarin broke the news on Wednesday afternoon UK time, describing the news of Maradona’s passing as having a ‘worldwide impact’. 

A mural of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in the Spanish Quarter of Naples after the announcement of his death, in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020

A mural of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in the Spanish Quarter of Naples after the announcement of his death, in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020

A mural of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in the Spanish Quarter of Naples after the announcement of his death, in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020

Giant Diego Armando Maradona murals, in the Naples neighborhood of San Giovanni a Teduccio, painted by the artist Jorit

Giant Diego Armando Maradona murals, in the Naples neighborhood of San Giovanni a Teduccio, painted by the artist Jorit

Giant Diego Armando Maradona murals, in the Naples neighborhood of San Giovanni a Teduccio, painted by the artist Jorit

Maradona flashes victory signs to fans below at the Casa Rosada government house after meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires in December 2019

Maradona flashes victory signs to fans below at the Casa Rosada government house after meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires in December 2019

Maradona flashes victory signs to fans below at the Casa Rosada government house after meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires in December 2019

Maradona gestures as he attends a felicitation programme at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 6, 2008

Maradona gestures as he attends a felicitation programme at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 6, 2008

Maradona gestures as he attends a felicitation programme at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on December 6, 2008

Diego Armando Maradona, during a Serie A match between Napoli, S.S.C and Juventus Football Club at Stadio San Paolo on May 5, 1985 in Naples, Italy

Diego Armando Maradona, during a Serie A match between Napoli, S.S.C and Juventus Football Club at Stadio San Paolo on May 5, 1985 in Naples, Italy

Diego Armando Maradona, during a Serie A match between Napoli, S.S.C and Juventus Football Club at Stadio San Paolo on May 5, 1985 in Naples, Italy

Boca Juniors striker Diego Maradona covered in mud during a match against Racing Club, 14th May 1981

Boca Juniors striker Diego Maradona covered in mud during a match against Racing Club, 14th May 1981

Maradona of Barcelona during the European Cup Winners' Cup final match between FC Barcelona and Standard de Liege played at Barcelona, Spain on August 26th, 1982

Maradona of Barcelona during the European Cup Winners' Cup final match between FC Barcelona and Standard de Liege played at Barcelona, Spain on August 26th, 1982

 Boca Juniors striker Diego Maradona covered in mud during a match against Racing Club, in May 1981 (left) and playing for Barcelona in the European Cup Winners’ Cup final match between FC Barcelona and Standard de Liege in August 1982

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. West Germany won the match 1-0

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. West Germany won the match 1-0

Maradona of Argentina is brought down by Guido Buchwald and Lothar Mattheus of West Germany during the World Cup final at the Olympic Stadium in Rome. West Germany won the match 1-0

Maradona, second left, scores his second goal against England during the World Cup quarter final match, in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 22, 1986

Maradona, second left, scores his second goal against England during the World Cup quarter final match, in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 22, 1986

Maradona, second left, scores his second goal against England during the World Cup quarter final match, in Mexico City, Mexico, on June 22, 1986

Maradona celebrates after the Yugoslavia v Argentina match in the 1990 World Cup in Italy

Maradona celebrates after the Yugoslavia v Argentina match in the 1990 World Cup in Italy

Maradona celebrates after the Yugoslavia v Argentina match in the 1990 World Cup in Italy

Maradona (right) embraces his father 'Don Diego' before the start of the Copa Libertadores 2012 first leg semifinal football match between Argentina's Boca Juniors and Universidad de Chile at 'La Bombonera' stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maradona (right) embraces his father 'Don Diego' before the start of the Copa Libertadores 2012 first leg semifinal football match between Argentina's Boca Juniors and Universidad de Chile at 'La Bombonera' stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maradona (right) embraces his father ‘Don Diego’ before the start of the Copa Libertadores 2012 first leg semifinal football match between Argentina’s Boca Juniors and Universidad de Chile at ‘La Bombonera’ stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Maradona (C) embraces his daughters Dalma Nerea (L) and Gianinna Dinora (R) during a tribute match held in his honour at Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001

Maradona (C) embraces his daughters Dalma Nerea (L) and Gianinna Dinora (R) during a tribute match held in his honour at Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001

Maradona (C) embraces his daughters Dalma Nerea (L) and Gianinna Dinora (R) during a tribute match held in his honour at Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001

The sad news was confirmed by Maradona’s lawyer. Soon, tributes were pouring in from all over the world of football.

Maradona left hospital on November 11 just eight days after being admitted for emergency brain surgery.

The iconic former Argentinian footballer was driven away from the private Olivos Clinic just before 6pm on November 11 as hundreds of fans of photographers tried to get a glimpse of him.

Maradona was hospitalised the previous week and had to have an emergency operation to remove a blood clot from his brain.

Argentinian TV reporters travelling on motorbikes filmed the ambulance carrying him leaving before following the vehicle to transmit every inch of his journey.

The World Cup top player Diego Maradona of Argentina (left) and the World Cup top scorer Gary Lineker of England (right) at the Adidas Golden Shoe Awards in Paris, circa September 1986

The World Cup top player Diego Maradona of Argentina (left) and the World Cup top scorer Gary Lineker of England (right) at the Adidas Golden Shoe Awards in Paris, circa September 1986

The World Cup top player Diego Maradona of Argentina (left) and the World Cup top scorer Gary Lineker of England (right) at the Adidas Golden Shoe Awards in Paris, circa September 1986

Police officers outside Maradona's home on outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

Police officers outside Maradona's home on outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

Police officers outside Maradona’s home on outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday

His lawyer, Matias Morlahas said that the 60-year-old would continue to receive treatment for alcohol dependency. 

Maradona, who was the coach of Gimnasia y Esgrima in his home country, had been admitted to hospital on several occasions since his retirement. He almost died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000 and underwent years of rehabilitation.

Maradona, who was well known for having a wild lifestyle during and after his playing days, had a gastric bypass operation to lose weight in 2005 and was once more hospitalised two years later for alcohol-induced hepatitis.

He also fell ill at the last World Cup in Russia, where he was filmed passing out in an executive box when Argentina took on and beat Nigeria in Group D. 

An ambulance carrying Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona leaves the clinic where Maradona underwent brain surgery, in Olivos, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 11, 2020

An ambulance carrying Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona leaves the clinic where Maradona underwent brain surgery, in Olivos, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 11, 2020

An ambulance carrying Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona leaves the clinic where Maradona underwent brain surgery, in Olivos, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 11, 2020

Maradona had recently been in hospital for surgery after suffering a bleed on the brain

Maradona had recently been in hospital for surgery after suffering a bleed on the brain

Maradona had recently been in hospital for surgery after suffering a bleed on the brain 

Maradona pictured at the 2018 World Cup, where he watched Argentina from executive boxes

Maradona pictured at the 2018 World Cup, where he watched Argentina from executive boxes

Maradona pictured at the 2018 World Cup, where he watched Argentina from executive boxes

MARADONA’S LONG HISTORY OF DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE 

Maradona began taking cocaine in the mid-1980s – during the height of his playing days, going on to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol over the next two decades.

His drug use began in 1982 and reportedly grew worse in 1984 when he moved to Napoli and had connections with the Comorra.

In 2014, Maradona said of his drug use: ‘I gave my opponents a big advantage. Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn’t taken drugs?’

His first real punishment came in 1991 when he was banned for 15 months by Napoli after testing positive for cocaine. Later in the same year he was arrested in Buenos Aires for possessing half a kilo of cocaine, and was given a 14-month suspended sentence.

In 1994, Maradona was back in the fold with the Argentina national team, making headlines around the world for a now-famous screaming celebration into the camera lens after a goal against Greece. His tournament was to come to an early end, though, after he was expelled days later for testing positive for five variants of ephedrine, a banned substance. He was banned for 15 months, ending his international career.

In 1995, he moved to Boca Juniors but two years later he failed a drugs test for the third time in six years, putting an end to his playing career. Officially, a ‘prohibited substance’ is all that has been revealed about that test, but Boca president Mauricio Macri has said in interviews that cocaine was found in a urine sample.

In 1996, Maradona said publicly: ‘I was, am and always will be a drug addict.’

In 2000, the footballing legend suffered an overdose, and in 2004 he had a heart attack. A year later, he was forced to have gastric bypass surgery, and in 2007 he was back in hospital again, this time suffering hepatitis.

It is then understood he stopped taking drugs, telling a journalist in 2017 that he hadn’t taken drugs for 13 years and was feeling ‘great’.

He has been drinking alcohol since 2004, though, hitting the headlines at the 2018 World Cup for his bizarre antics at a number of Argentina games. A video emerged of him drinking tequila on a plane, and he claimed he ‘drank all the wine’ ahead of their win over Nigeria.

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OBITUARY: A genius on the pitch and a flawed idol off it – Diego Maradona rose from the poverty of the Buenos Aires slums to become one of the greatest ever despite controversy following him wherever he went

By Jeff Powell for MailOnline

To many, Diego Maradona is best remembered for the Hand of God goal that knocked England out of Mexico 86 and his later descent into drugs. 

But Jeff Powell, who was the first British journalist to recognise his genius, believes the little Argentine should be celebrated as the greatest player (bar one) to have graced the game. 

Diego Maradona, one of the all-time ultimate legends of football, has died at the age of 60

Diego Maradona, one of the all-time ultimate legends of football, has died at the age of 60

Diego Maradona, one of the all-time ultimate legends of football, has died at the age of 60

Two nights after Argentina’s tumultuous winning of the 1978 World Cup, the streets of Buenos Aires still thronged with millions of celebrants as Cesar Luis Menotti held court in the bar of a downtown hotel.

That most languid of football managers was savouring the moment of glory with his heroes.

As Menotti clinked glasses with Passarella and Ardiles, Kempes and Luque, a slight figure sat in a dim corner, too small to be noticed and too young to drink.

Diego Armando Maradona was occupying only a vague corner of Menotti’s mind.

The boy slipped away early into the night and not until dawn was breaking did Menotti have reason to discuss the future of that almost anonymous teenager.

Mario Kempes, the goal-scoring hero in the World Cup and its extraordinary final against Holland, had just informed his manager that he was unlikely to be released by his Spanish club for FIFA’s anniversary showpiece fixture, to which Argentina were committed a couple of months later.

As the players dispersed, in the reluctant way that triumphant gladiators do, I asked Menotti how he could possibly replace the great Kempes for such a prestigious occasion.

‘Did you notice that boy in the bar earlier?’ he asked. ‘He will be wearing the No 10 shirt the next time we take the field.

Maradona was one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time, even though in England he has been vilified for his 'Hand of God' goal against Bobby Robson's side in Mexico in 1986

Maradona was one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time, even though in England he has been vilified for his 'Hand of God' goal against Bobby Robson's side in Mexico in 1986

Maradona was one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time, even though in England he has been vilified for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against Bobby Robson’s side in Mexico in 1986

Maradona became a symbol of hope for his country as he rose from the Buenos Aires slums to play for Boca Juniors (above) and then achieved World Cup glory with Argentina

Maradona became a symbol of hope for his country as he rose from the Buenos Aires slums to play for Boca Juniors (above) and then achieved World Cup glory with Argentina

Maradona became a symbol of hope for his country as he rose from the Buenos Aires slums to play for Boca Juniors (above) and then achieved World Cup glory with Argentina

‘Let me give you one piece of advice. Be there.’ Maradona had been disappointed to be considered too young at 17 to be part of the home glory of 1978. But the advent of the unlikely looking genius who was to become the most potent challenger to Pele’s mantle of Greatest Footballer Of All Time would not be delayed much longer.

As advised, I travelled to Switzerland that autumn and watched in some awe as Maradona unfurled his phenomenal talent in Argentina’s reprise of their World Cup Final against Holland.

Such was my enthusiasm for the new wonder boy of the world game that several of my most distinguished sportswriting colleagues chided me gently for going over the top. But they had not been there.

When Argentina toured on from Switzerland, first to Hampden Park, then to Wembley, so the rest of Fleet Street saw Maradona’s brilliance for themselves – and were astonished. 

Not for nothing will the whole world of football now fall into mourning.

The facile tendency in England to vilify Maradona as nothing more than the culprit in the handball goal that defeated Bobby Robson’s brigade in the World Cup quarter-finals of Mexico 86 does no justice to one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time.

As Menotti described him on that long, hot night so many years earlier: ‘You will see that this boy, Diego, is a footballer made in heaven.’

His rise went far beyond his homeland - Maradona's ability places him among the greatest to ever play the game, alongside Brazil icon Pele. Here, the legendary attackers are pictured together in Paris in 2016 ahead of the European Championship that year

His rise went far beyond his homeland - Maradona's ability places him among the greatest to ever play the game, alongside Brazil icon Pele. Here, the legendary attackers are pictured together in Paris in 2016 ahead of the European Championship that year

His rise went far beyond his homeland – Maradona’s ability places him among the greatest to ever play the game, alongside Brazil icon Pele. Here, the legendary attackers are pictured together in Paris in 2016 ahead of the European Championship that year

Argentina’s love affair with their flawed phenomenon is all the stronger because he was born in the barrios.

Maradona, as he rose from the poverty of the Buenos Aires slums to play for the team which represented every poor boy’s dream, Boca Juniors, and then to illuminate Argentina’s World Cup exploits, became a symbol of hope for a people.

That he is a rascal, an incorrigible mischief-maker, a troubled human being and, ultimately, a waster of his own talent, only serves to make him all the more appealing to his fellow countrymen.

They like their genius to come wrapped in controversy and bubbling with volatility in South America.

That was one reason why Pele was so reluctant to embrace the natural successor to his throne. The other was that Maradona represented the most threatening challenge to the legendary Brazilian’s unique place in the pantheon of the game.

The unlikely body in which those mercurial gifts were to be found – short, squat, bowlegged and no-necked – made Maradona’s status in Pele’s beautiful game all the more difficult to acknowledge.

Yet it was that low centre of gravity which blessed Diego Armando with a remarkable dexterity on the turn and acceleration with the ball. It was that capacity to produce magical skills at electrifying pace especially in the deadly zone around goal – which still sets Maradona apart from even the sublime likes of Zidane, Ronaldo, Cruyff, Platini and all the rest of Pele’s apostles.

It was Maradona himself who described that goal against England in 1986 as 'The Hand of God'

It was Maradona himself who described that goal against England in 1986 as 'The Hand of God'

It was Maradona himself who described that goal against England in 1986 as ‘The Hand of God’

The most vivid demonstration of those talents came, as we should remember, against England in Mexico.

Robson and his players of the day remember it only too well.

No, not the cross nudged in with his hand but the other goal, the one he scored with a dazzling pirouette away from a posse of England players, an unstoppable run from the halfway line and a typically impudent finish. That stands, still, as the greatest World Cup goal of all time.

But what of the Hand of God?

Does that not diminish Maradona’s reputation as much as his misspent life?

Not, if pressed to the truth, in the estimation of Lineker, Robson and Co.

Whisper it gently when Peter Shilton is in earshot but, for the most part, the England team faulted their goalkeeper for not thumping his way through the head and body of the short Maradona to clear the ball. A calm study of the photograph of that incident now reveals Maradona with his eyes closed and his arm raised as if to protect himself from the expected impact of Shilton’s advance from his line.

Subsequently, he became the victim of his own, clever little phrase to describe that momentous happening.

Maradona and Argentina deserved to win that World Cup. Four years later, he was the captain and hero of the team which lost that trophy and I do mean hero.

Argentina staggered into the Final – which Germany reached by virtue of their expert penalty shootout against England – under the self-inflicted handicap of several suspensions as a consequence of their cynical football.

But Maradona was still trying to work his magic even though he had virtually been crippled by opponents desperate to subdue him. He showed me his ankles two days before the Final – a forlorn affair in Argentina’s case – and they were as black, blue and swollen as his self-abused body is now.

By the time he got to the United States in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers.

Mistaken though he had been in his means of trying to cling to the failing glories, he was a lost soul from that moment on.

The addictions, the scandals, the physical assaults on intrusive representatives of the media and the retreat to such absurd havens as Havana all spoke of his desperation.

Argentina still loved him but he no longer loved himself.

By the time Maradona (centre) got to the USA World Cup in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers

By the time Maradona (centre) got to the USA World Cup in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers

By the time Maradona (centre) got to the USA World Cup in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers

Maradona saw himself for what he is, the little fat boy who never grew up.

In the eyes of his nation, he was Peter Pan, an enchanting child, albeit in a grotesque, misshapen form.

Now, after bringing so many so much pleasure, he is due a full measure of our sympathy.

Think of him not as the Hand of God. Think of him as the second greatest footballer ever to grace the game. Perhaps the greatest.

Think of him not as a drugged fiend. Think of him as a broken doll in a toy hospital A Pinocchio awaiting the gift of life.

That blessing which the hand of God had delivered several times before. Until the Almighty decided the time had come to ring peace to this tortured soul.

Link hienalouca.com

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