Few people have captured the imagination of the Argentine public as much as Diego Armando Maradona. A bull of a player with exceptional close control, balance and on-field vision, the diminutive no. 10 was the finest footballer of his generation and arguably of all time – though the latter title is now seriously contested by his compatriot, Lionel Messi. Born in a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Maradona’s playing career (1976–97) was peerless. He made his first-team, first-division debut for club Argentinos Juniors in 1976, when he was just 15. Maradona wore the colours of seven clubs in total, including Boca Juniors, Barcelona and, most famously, Napoli, where he is still venerated as the player who brought southern Italy’s poorer brother glory and silverware. He also led Argentina to win the World Cup in 1986, a campaign that included one of the most celebrated of all World Cup games, the quarter-final played against England, just four years after the South Atlantic conflict. Maradona scored two goals, including the infamous “Hand of God” goal, in which he tapped the ball in with his hand, and a second, legitimate goal considered to be one of the finest ever scored.
Like many geniuses, though, Maradona was flawed – in his case, by the excesses of alcohol and, particularly, drugs. He was suspended in 1991 for testing positive for cocaine, and then again for the banned substance ephedrine during the 1994 World Cup. After a low point in 2004 where he was hospitalized following a cocaine-induced heart attack, he bounced back to host his own talk show in 2005, where guests included Pele and Maradona’s friend Fidel Castro. In 2008 he surprised many when he took over as coach of the Argentine national side and during qualifications for the 2010 World Cup was strongly criticized for his tactics (or lack of them) – which led him to more notoriety, this time when he launched an obscenity-laden tirade against the press following Argentina’s qualification. He lost his job after a humiliating 4-0 defeat by Germany in the South Africa finals, but was soon after appointed manager of Al-Wasl FC, based in Dubai, earning €3.5 million a year.