Saturday, November 28, 2020

Adiós, El Pibe de Oro!

This post was inspired by my hardcore Arsenal fan friend, Teg, who has the same intention of celebrating the life of D10S (Dios = God, 10 instead of 'I' and 'O'). I agree D10S is too big a figure in the football world that it is a big sin not to dedicate & tribute a post to Him.

Diego Maradona (1960-2020) is probably among the most talented and ranked genius level footballer, if not the best, that has ever graced the football grass! He can easily be ranked among the top 5 football echelons on earth ever among his countryman, Lionel Messi, of course Pelé of Brazil, R9 (the original Ronaldo) and the CR7 of Portugal. Let's not get into the debate of who is the best ever as this is an exercise in futility given that there were and are many great footballers who play/ed in different eras and it is almost unfair/impossible to compare them given the different circumstances of the eras. Other arguments that will make the comparison difficult or almost impossible or unfair include the lack of stats, injuries succumbed, the change of rules, the different technologies available, the countries, the clubs and the opponents, especially defenders a footballer ever faced in his career.

Of course, when we want to celebrate the life of a great footballer, we solely judge him by his skills on the football pitch and the impact it brings to the world in the sporting sense. I think that is the fairest barometer to rate a footballer's performance and ability, solely by how good he/she is/was playing football. This is especially for a character like Maradona, who has an extremely controversial character off the field that I am sure many people dislike him so much that they will not even rate him among the crème de la crème of the football world. There are/were many great footballers in history/now whose antics are/were so undesirable that they will disqualify if the off pitch moral compass evaluations are to be considered.

For me personally, a great footballer is someone who can single-handedly (headedly/footedly if you must be accurate) decide a match, especially crucial big matches that will determine the biggest prizes football has to offer. Other attributes that are required include the ability to dribble through tight spaces, to score goals from all areas, angles and ways and finally to be able to assist, especially those mouth-watering defense splitting passes that just made the defenders froze for being too late to counter. The last determination factor of the greatness is the odds of your team vs. your opponents. This means how many great superstars you have as your supporting cast in your team vs. how many great superstars you have as your rivals and opponents. The greater the difference / margin, the more difficult the odds for you to win titles and hence, the greater your impact if you can win against such big odds. 

For Maradona, he went to a club so low key or 'negligible' in Italy & Europe history without a single known player in the squad in an era where the league was the strongest in Europe, the odds were almost unreal. It is like the present day Leceister fairy-tale but without rich owners so it was much worse. He won the league twice, the Italian Cup once as well as the UEFA Cup once so it was not coincidentally that lightning ever struck twice at the same location while all the other big clubs faltered and underperformed at the same time. It was pure genius to be able to achieve this. I went through the Napoli squads of those 2 winning seasons of 1986/1987 and 1989-1990. The only name I can recognize is Gianfranco Zola in the 1989-1990 squad. We know Zola went on to be the greatest Chelsea player when he played there from 1996-2003. Maradona also played for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, FC Barcelona, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys but didn't achieve much around those clubs. There was an article written on his time in Sevilla, which was not covered much in the documentaries. It described more about him as a person, teammate and club player which everyone adored.

Maradona played in an era where players were not as protected as today by referees. Maradona still holds the world record of the top 3 most World Cup fouls won with the highest in 1986 with 53 fouls in 7 games. This is followed by the 1990 edition with 50 fouls won in 7 games and finally the 1982 edition with 36 fouls won in 5 games. That is an average insane number of 7.57 fouls (1986), 7.14 fouls (1990) and 7.2 fouls (1982) per match. That to me amplifies his greatness by a huge margin. Imagine if Neymar Jr is playing in that era, how many dives you will see per match? He will probably spend most of the match spinning on the grass until the referee blows the whistle to end the half/match...

Pelé had Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão and Clodoaldo in the 1970 World Cup squad, often considered the greatest football team in history. He was pretty much injured in the 1962 edition. While we should truly acknowledge his greatness in the 1958 edition, though he has great players like Garrincha and Mário Zagallo in the squad. It was then where the youngest player to play in the final match at 17 years and 249 days, the youngest to play in a World Cup and also the youngest to score a hattrick. R9 had Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Cafu, Lúcio, Dida, Denílson, Gilberto Silva, Edmílson, Juninho Paulista, Kaká and Roberto Carlos in the 2002 World Cup. It will be a criminal not to win the title. As for Maradona, the 1986 World Cup squad had 2 names I recognize, namely Jorge Valdano and Oscar Ruggeri. 

The above summed up the magnitude of his genius and the impact he brings to the football world. It is his insane ability to achieve the impossible given the odds stacked against him that I feel makes him stand above the rest. The other 4 great players I mentioned above played in conducive environments blessed with higher chances to win titles and surrounded by supporting casts that made winning titles easier.

For his off field antics, we can argue that because of his extreme poor background coupled by the burden to support his big family, it may have pushed him to drugs, tobacco and alcohol to overcome the pressure and stress. We can argue that clubs like FC Barcelona and Napoli should have given the then young boy who went to the foreign land far away for the first time more protection from all these negative elements. He didn't receive much formal education and perhaps that has been the reason for his indulgence in them without knowing the dangers and the consequences. We can disqualify him as a role model for what he had done off the field but I truly believe it was just unfortunate that things went so wrong and I could not put the blame solely on him alone. His political and his anti establishment views made him a favourite among the people in Argentina, South America and the world, especially the underprivileged and poor in society. In the eyes of the world, the admiration is on his willingness to speak and daringness to shoot no holds barred against the rich and powerful, including FIFA. The match he played in the mud in Naples for charity, defying his club orders, is a great example of a people's champion who is always willing to do his best for the poor, marginalized and underprivileged!

In conclusion, I will remember him as one of the greatest geniuses to have graced the football field on earth. I shall celebrate the fact that his ability to perform in the most difficult circumstances at the biggest stages of the football world is a true mark of a legend. RIP, legend!

Some of the videos and beautiful songs that will remind us of the great D10S: 

Hero: The Official Film of the 1986 FIFA World Cup (1986) is the official FIFA movie of the Mexico World Cup in 1986, where the folklore of Maradona was truly born. The supporting casts in the movie include Elkjaer, Francescoli, Platini, Lineker, Rummenigge, Butragueno, Socrates, Laudrup and Sanchez. There are 2 songs which are related to the 1986 World Cup. Special Kind of Hero by Stephanie Lawrence was the theme song of the tournament while Me das cada día más by Valeria Lynch was used in the movie.

There are a few movies based on Maradona with the more notable ones directed by Emir Kusturica called Maradona by Kusturica (2008) and another one directed by Asif Kapadia called Diego Maradona (2019). The Kusturica movie focuses more on his off field stories, especially his political views while the Kapadia movie focuses more on his on field stories. The former feels more like Kusturica as a fan who was documenting his time with Maradona while the latter is a more balanced on and off field Maradona.

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