Sad news at the announcement of the death of one, if not the greatest footballer, Diego Maradona, aged only 60, after a life that was lived.
Yes being English that quarter final in Mexico in 1986 is the first thing to come to mind when the news came that Maradona had died. How could it not, two incidents that will forever be remembered, two of the most famous goals not just in World Cup history but the whole of football history. Both that were very much Maradona, very much Argentina because as someone said “Maradona is Argentina, and Argentina is Maradona”.
It wasn’t just the Falklands they were angry about in that hot, packed Azteca stadium, there was still resentment over Rattin’s dismissal in 1966, again a quarter final, and Sir Alf calling them “animals”.
So 51 minutes into the game Maradona picks the ball up just outside the centre circle, in the England half, he just ran through the England midfield and defence, playing it wide to Valdano who miss controlled it only for Steve Hodge to boot it up and back into the area, where Maradona now onside leapt and met the ball with his arm to knock it by Shilton.
Maradona said later that it’s an Argentinian thing, cheating, it’s all part of the game. “The Hand of God”.
Four minutes later he picked the ball in his own half with two England players on him, a spin and he’d left them behind, again. They were floundering as he rounded Shilton and score “the goal of the century”. Villain to genius. There’s Maradona summed up in two moments.
Yes at the time I was angry at the player for that first goal, angry at the ref for giving it but then that anger turned. That arm of Maradona, it was bent, Shilton’s arm was outstretched. Shilton was six foot. Maradona was a far, coked up, dwarf. How exactly was Shilton beaten? It helped gloss over England’s failings at that tournament, and the following two tournaments, along with the failure to qualify for the previous tournament. That first goal helped Bobby Robson stay in the job as everyone forgot the rubbish that preceded it and focused on that one incident.
So with Maradona’s death again it raises the question over the greatest footballer. Pele, Cryuff, Best, Maradona or one of later ones, Ronaldo and Messi?
Well if you look at the players who won the World Cups with Pele would they have done so without him? Well they did in ’62 and those other teams probably would have, especially the ’70 team. Pele also never tested himself in Europe. The Dutch didn’t win it with Cruyff, losing in the final, and matched their achievements without him. Best never got close on internal duty. The ’86 Argentina side that won it were just a one man team but would they have done so without that one man. Can’t say I believe the ’90 side would have even reached the final without his presence. Messi has managed to match that losing final but that’s it.
As said Pele never played European football – the games in Escape to Victory don’t count – while Cruyff was all conquering with Ajax, not so much with Barca. Best was with United for a short period, Messi and Ronaldo have ruled the last decade and a half. While Maradona was kicked and kicked his way out of Barca with three cups, the club he joined and left in a world record transfer fee. His next club, Napoli, haven’t won the scudetto since he left and they hadn’t won it before he arrived. The same goes for any European trophy.
Hell it’s all in the eye of the beholder. All I know is for all the faults he was one hell of a footballer and probably the best…