In his 60-year life Diego Maradona was described as many things. A “genius” for his skills on the football pitch. A “hero” to millions of people, from Buenos Aires to Naples. And a “villain” for his activities away from the field.
He was also labelled a “cheat” for the “Hand of God” goal scored for Argentina against England in the 1986 Fifa World Cup – a tournament in which he starred in and would go on to lift the trophy.
Former England striker and now TV pundit Gary Lineker was playing in that quarter-final clash at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Lineker scored for England in the game, but it was Maradona who took the headlines with two goals.
The first was the controversial handball, but minutes later his second, a mazy run and finish, has gone down in World Cup folklore. It was declared “Goal of the Century” by FIFA.com voters in 2002.
‘No, I don’t think it’s cheating’
The goals and performance summed up Maradona’s genius. And twenty years later, the match – and its controversial moment – was a big topic of discussion when the two goalscorers came face-to-face again.
In the 2006 BBC documentary, When Lineker Met Maradona, the Argentine ace was questioned if the goal was handball or if it was the “hand of God”. Lineker asked: “In England it would be regarded as cheating, saying you knew that it was not fair play, how do you see that?”
Maradona replied: “No, I don’t think it’s cheating, it’s cunning. Is it cheating handling the ball? Oh no, no, no it’s not cheating. I don’t think it’s cheating, I believe it’s a craftiness.”
Some England fans will never forgive Maradona for his handball goal, but most have paid their respects to the 60-year-old following his death from a heart attack.
On Twitter Lineker paid tribute to the brilliant No. 10, saying: “By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego.”
‘Flawed football icon’
As well as being one of the greatest players ever to grace a football pitch, away from the field Diego Armando Maradona lived a roller-coaster life.
From his struggling childhood as one of eight children growing up in Buenos Aires to becoming one of the most famous faces on the planet, there were two sides to this maverick character.
When playing for Napoli in Italy from 1984 to 1991, he became “inextricably linked to the Camorra crime syndicate, dragged down by a cocaine addiction and embroiled in a paternity suit”, says the BBC. Then in 1991 the “flawed football icon” was given a 15-month ban after a positive drugs test and three years later was sent home from the World Cup after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping.
Having retired from playing, Maradona moved into management and had a two-year spell coaching the Argentina national team from 2008 to 2010.
He also battled health issues and later in life struggled with cocaine use, obesity and alcohol dependency. In early November, just two weeks before his death, he had surgery for a bleed on the brain.
Despite his troubles off the pitch, he will always be remembered as one of football’s most gifted talents.
“Maradona lived the way he played, with reckless joy,” said the Los Angeles Times. “In time, he became more than a soccer player. He became a populist symbol.”
Argentines say goodbye to ‘eternal’ Diego
In Argentina President Alberto Fernandez has declared three days of national mourning for Maradona and at the Vatican City Pope Francis is keeping his compatriot “in his prayers”, ESPN reports.
A Vatican spokesman said: “Pope Francis has been informed of the death of Diego Maradona. He looks back affectionately on the opportunities on encounter they had in recent years and remembers him in prayer, as he has done in recent days upon learning of his health condition.”
Argentina’s football team has been blessed with having two of the best players ever in history. Their current No. 10, Barcelona star Lionel Messi, paid tribute on Instagram: “A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal. I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”
‘Now is the time to grieve’
Maradona’s passing has been felt more than most by the city of Naples. During his time playing for Napoli, Maradona helped transform the Italian club, inspiring them to win the Serie A title twice, the Coppa Italia and Uefa Cup.
Maradona’s spell in Italy was the subject of a documentary widely considered as one of the best sports films ever made. Director Asif Kapadia tweeted: “Can’t quite believe DM has gone. Hard to process. He always seemed indestructible. I had 10 hours with the man!! I touched his left foot. We did our best to show the world the man, the myth, the fighter he was. The greatest #legend.”
Fireworks lit the night sky in Naples as fans celebrated the life of their adopted son. In a tweet the Italian club said: “The world awaits our words but there are no words to describe the pain we’re going through. Now is the time to grieve.”