Diego Maradona: From The Slums Of Buenos Aires

Diego Maradona & Lionel Messi
Diego Maradona holding the FIFA World Cup in 1986 (Dad, peep the pinky ring)

I would like to thank my husband, Nick, for giving me the idea to write this article. So, thank you, sweet husband of mine.

Even if you don’t watch soccer there are a few names you might know Pele, Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Diego Maradona. Maradona rose from being an unknown street rat in Bueno Aires to a God of the soccer world. His rise to fame happened quickly, and his knew found status and riches were both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes trying to differentiate two different personas can lead to your downfall.

Just a quick PSA before we rock and roll. If you notice any misinformation or inaccuracies in my articles, please feel free to tell me in the comments or through the ‘contact me’ section. This helps me conduct my research more thoroughly and helps me decide which sources I should and shouldn’t use. Things do slip through the cracks, and I would like you all to understand that. Just be polite about it, that’s all I ask. 

Diego Armando Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, to Diego “Chitoro” Maradona and Dalma “Dona Tota” Salvadora Franco, in Lanus, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was the fourth of seven children and the first boy. Maradona was gifted a soccer ball at the age of three and quickly fell in love with the sport. When he was just eight years old, he was noticed by a talent scout while playing in his local club Estrella Roja. When I was eight, I was worried about which Polly Pocket I would get for Christmas. In March 1969, Maradona was recommended for Los Cebollitas (The Little Onions), Buenos Aires’s junior team by his friend, Gregorio Cornejo. As a twelve-year-old ball boy he entertained spectators at Argentinos Juniors’ first division games by showing his ball skills during half time. 

In 1973 and 1974, Maradona led Cebollitas to two Evita Tournament wins and 141 undefeated games in a row, playing alongside Adrian Domenech and Claudio Rodriguez. They were regarded as the best youth team in Argentina’s Youth soccer history. Ten days before his sixteenth birthday, Maradona made his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors on October 20, 1975. He wore number sixteen and became the youngest player in Argentine Primera Division. On November 14, 1976, Diego Maradona scored his first goal in the Primera Division against Marplantense team San Lorenzo. After spending five years at Argentinos Juniors Maradona was transferred to Boca Juniors for $4 million (US dollars). Maradona signed a contract with Boca Juniors on February 20, 1981. Two days later he scored twice in his debut against Talleres de Cordoba. On April 10th, he played in his first Superclasico against River Plate at La Bombonera stadium.

Diego Maradona was transferred to Barcelona after the 1982 World Cup for a then-world-record amount of £5 million ($7.6 million). Under manager Cesar Luis Menotti, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey in 1983. On June 26, 1983, Maradona scored in Barcelona’s El Clasico win against Real Madrid, He became the first Barcelona player to be applauded for his talents by arch-rival Real Madrid fans after scoring a goal. The only other Barcelona player to receive an ovation from Real Madrid fans was Ronaldinho in November 2005 and 2015. Maradona’s time in Barcelona was marred with illness, injury, and controversial incidents on the pitch. He first fought a bout of hepatitis, then suffered a broken ankle in a La Liga match in September 1983 when he suffered a reckless tackle by Athletic Bilbao’s Andoni Goilkoetxea, nicknamed “the Butcher of Bilbao”. With treatment and the aid of rehabilitation, Maradona returned to the pitch in just three months.

In the 1984 Copa del Rey Final at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid Diego Maradona was directly involved in a violent and chaotic fight against Athletic Bilbao. Goikoetxea hit Maradona with another hard tackle and was taunted with racist insults related to Maradona’s dad’s Native American ancestry by Bilbao supporters throughout the match. Maradona finally snapped after being provoked by Bilbao’s Miguel Sola after Barcelona lost 1-0. Maradona and Sola began to aggressively exchange words. Honestly, I probably would have done the same thing since my mama didn’t raise no bitch, and if she did it was my brother. I’m kidding! I love my brother!  

This confrontation earned an emotional reaction from both clubs. Sola mimicked a gesture from the crowd which involved using expletives towards Maradona and shouting a xenophobic term. Awesome SAT word, right? Diego apparently had enough because he headbutted Solda, elbowed another Bilbao player in the face and kneed a third player in the head, knocking him out. The Bilboa players quickly surrounded Maradona and Goikoetxea delivered a high kick to his chest. This caused the other Barcelona players to step in and backup Maradona. A full-on brawl broke out with Maradona in the center of the action. He kicked and punched anyone wearing a Bilbao shirt. Spain’s King Juan Carlos (I) witnessed the brawl alongside 100,000 supporters inside the stadium. More than half of Spain watched on their televisions as this match turned into an MMA fight. Fans started throwing solid objects towards the pitch, aiming at players, coaches, and even photographers. This incident sealed Maradona’s transfer out of the club. 

Diego Maradona was subsequently transferred to Napoli in Italy’s Serie A for another world record fee of £6.9 million ($10.48 million). He arrived in Naples on July 5, 1984, where he was welcomed by 75,000 fans. Before Maradona’s arrival, Italian football was dominated by teams from the north and center of the country, such as A.C Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, and Roma. Maradona reached the peak of his professional career with Napoli, and soon earned the captain’s armband. His time there elevated the club to its most successful era. Murals of Maradona were painted on the city’s ancient buildings, and many newborns were named in his honor. The team’s attacking trio formed by Maradona, Bruno Giordano, and Careca was dubbed the “Ma-Gi-Ca” (magical) front line. Napoli won their second league title in 1989-90 and was runner up in the league twice in 1987-88 and 1988-89. Despite primarily playing in the role of an attacking midfielder, Maradona was the top scorer in Serie A in 1987-88. He was the all-time leading goal soccer for Napoli with 115 goals until 2017, when Marek Hamsik broke his record. Maradona might have been successful on the pitch during his time in Italy, but problems in his personal life increased.

He started heavily relying on cocaine and received a $70,000 (US dollars) fine from his club for missing games and practices. Maradona claimed his club no-shows were due to stress. By stress he means cocaine. He was hit with a scandal involving an illegitimate son and was soon under suspicion over an alleged friendship with the Camorra crime syndicate. After the 1990 World Cup, he faced intense backlash and harassment from local fans after Argentina beat Italy in a semi-final match. After serving a fifteen-month ban for failing a drug test, Maradona left Napoli in 1992. He signed with Sevilla, where he played for one year. In 1993, he played for Newell’s Old Boys and in 1995 returned to Boca Juniors for a two-year run. In 1996 Maradona played in a friendly match alongside his brother Raul for Toronto Italia. In 2000, he captained Bayern Munich in a friendly against the German national team. Napoli officially retired the number ten shirt (the number Maradona wore) in 2000. On Dember 4, 2020, Napoli’s home stadium was renamed Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in his honor.

During his time with the Argentina national team, Diego Maradona scored thirty-four goals in ninety-one appearances. He made his international debut at age sixteen, against Hungary, on February 27, 1977. In the 1978 World Cup Maradona was left off the Argentine squad by manager Cesar Luis Menotti who felt the seventeen-year-old was too young to play in such a huge tournament. In 1979 he played in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Japan where his solidified his title as superstar of the soccer world. Maradona and Lionel Messi are the only players to win the Golden Ball at both the FIFA U-20 World Cup and FIFA World Cup. Maradona did so in 1979 and 1986. Messi emulated this in 2005, 2014, and most recently in 2022. In 1982 Maradona played his first World Cup tournament in Spain. He did not live up to expectations in Argentina’s opening match. Tensions were high within the team, with the younger, less experienced players clashing with the older, more experienced ones.

Argentina was eventually defeated in the second round of the tournament by Brazil and eventual winners Italy. Maradona played in all five matches without once being substituted, he scored twice against Hungary and was foul repeatedly in each of the matches. During the match against Brazil there was poor officiating and numerous violent fouls. Maradona’s temper got the better of him and he was sent off with five minutes remaining after committing a serious retaliatory foul. Diego Maradona captained the Argentine national team to victory in the 1986 World Cup, winning the final against West Germany (now just Germany). He played every single minute of every match, scoring five goals, and making five assists. Argentina defeated Uruguay in the first knockout round and went on to defeat England in the quarter finals. During this match Maradona scored his infamous “Hand of God” goal. On replay it was determined that the goal was scored after Maradona struck it with his hand. When later questioned about the goal; Maradona coyly described that he scored the goal; “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.  

On August 22, 2005, Diego Maradona finally acknowledged on his television show that he had hit the ball with his hand purposely (WHICH IS A HANDBALL), and zero contact with his head was made. He further confessed that he immediately knew that the goal should not have counted. This became an international fiasco in World Cup history and was met with disdain by many England players and supporters. Maradona’s second goal of the match, scored just four minutes after the controversial hand-goal, was later voted by FIFA as the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup. In 2002 a Channel four poll conducted in the United Kingdom voted Maradona’s performance as number six on the list of 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.

Diego Maradona captained Argentina again in the 1990 World Cup, leading them to another final. During this time the team was missing three of their best players due to injury and Maradona himself suffered an ankle injury that affected his overall performance. Argentina was almost eliminated in the first round after suffering two losses. They eventually finished third in their group, barely making the cut to go on to the round of sixteen. In the quarter-final Argentina beat Yugoslavia in penalties. Maradona’s own weak penalty kick was blocked by Yugoslavia’s goalkeeper. Argentina lost the final against West Germany. The only goal in the match was a controversial penalty scored by Andreas Brehme in the eighty fifth minute. Maradona played two matches in the 1994 World Cup before being sent home after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping (a central nervous system stimulant).  

After scoring a goal against Greece in one of the two matches, he had one of the most remarkable World Cup goal celebrations. He ran towards one of the sideline cameras shouting with a distorted face and bulging eyes, his emotion showed sheer elation of his return to international football. This would be Diego Maradona’s last goal for the Argentine national team. 

In his autobiography, Maradona claimed that his positive doping test result was due to his trainer giving him the energy drink Rip Fuel. A likely story, sir. He stated that the U.S. (where the tournament was being played) version of the drink, unlike the Argentine one, contained the chemical, and after running out of his Argentine dosage, his trainer unwittingly bought the U.S. formulation. That was a well-thought-out answer, I’ll give him credit for that. FIFA expelled Maradona from the 1994 U.S. World Cup. Argentina was subsequently eliminated in the round of sixteen by Romania. Diego also claimed that he had an agreement with FIFA, on which the organization pulled back, to allow him to use the drug for weight loss before the start of the competition in order to be able to play. This failed drug test would be the end of his seventeen-year international career.

Maradona was described as a “classic number ten” in the media. He was a traditional playmaker who usually played in a free role. He was either an attacking midfielder or a second striker. At times he was deployed as a central midfielder, in a 4-4-2 formation. Maradona was given the nickname “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”) for his precocious talent. He was praised for his dribbling ability, vision, close ball control, passing, and creativity. He is thought to be one of the most skillful players in the sport. Although he had a small physique he had strong legs, a low center of gravity, and amazing balance. He was quick on his feet, agile, fast, and able to withstand physical pressure while running with the ball. He was able to change direction quickly, making him difficult for opponents to defend against.

Former Dutch player Johan Cruyff saw similarities between Maradona and Messi’s dribbling abilities. He stated that they both seemed to have the ball attached to their boot (cleat). They are both also thought to be strategic and intelligent team players, with excellent spatial awareness, and highly technical with the ball. Both are short but strong, being able to hold the ball long enough to find a gap for an assist with a defender on their back. Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are both praised for their scoring abilities. Maradona would often speak about a range of issues on behalf of the players off the pitch. He had an overpowering personality and a positive effect on his peers. 

Hounded by the press for years, Maradona once fired a compressed-air rifle at reporters who he felt were invading his privacy. Former teammate expressed his feelings about Maradona stating; “He is someone many people want to emulate, a controversial figure, loved, hated, who stirs great upheaval, especially in Argentina… Stressing his personal life is a mistake. Maradona has no peers inside the pitch, but he has turned his life into a show, and is now living a personal ordeal that should not be imitated.” In 1990, the Konex Foundation from Argentina granted him the Diamon Konex Award, one of the most prestigious culture awards in Argentina. For his important personality in Sports in the last decade. In April 1996, he had a three-round exhibition boxing match with Santos Laciar for charity. In 2002 Maradona donated the Cuban royalties from his autobiography to “the Cuban people and Fidel.”

Diego Maradona won FIFA Player of the Century in 2000. He won the internet-based poll with 56.6% of votes against Pele’s 18.53%. Despite this, FIFA added a second award and gave it to Pele, this meant the title of player of the century ended in a draw. Maradona came fifth in the vote of the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. In 2001, The Argentine Football Association asked FIFA for authorization to retire the number ten shirt. FIFA did not grant the request, even though Argentine officials have maintained that FIFA hinted that they would. On June 22, 2005, Maradona returned to his former club Boca Juniors as a sports vice-president in charge of managing the First Division Roster. In August 2005, he made his debut as host of a talk-variety show on Argentine television. In May 2011, Maradona became manager of Dubai club Al Wasl FC in the United Arab Emirates. He was let go on July 10, 2012. He went on to become “spiritual coach” at Argentine club Deportivo Riestra. Maradona left that role in 2017 to become manager of Fujairah, in UAE second division. He left at the end of the season after failing to earn a promotion within the club. 

Maradona was announced as the new chairman of Belarusian club Dynamo Brest and in September 2018, he was appointed manager of Mexican second-division side Dorados. On June 13, 2019, Maradona stepped down from the role, citing health reasons. In September 2019 he was unveiled as the new head coach of Gymnasia de La Plata. He left the club after only two months. However, he rejoined the club two days later. Diego Maradona stayed with the club until his death in November 2020. His coaching staff resigned following his passing.

After Argentina national team manager Alfio Basile in 2008, Maradona immediately proposed his candidacy for the vacant role. On October 19, 2008, AFA chairman Julio Grondona, confirmed that Maradona would be the head coach of the national team. Maradona managed Argentina for the first time when they played against Scotland. Argentina won 1-0. With two matches remaining in the qualification tournament for the 2010 World Cup, Argentina was in fifth place and faced the possibility of failing to qualify. After Argentina managed to win their last two matches and pull out a qualification, Maradona used abusive language at the live post-game press conference. He told members of the media to “suck it and keep on sucking it”. FIFA gave him a two month ban on all football activity. The ban ended on January 15, 2010, and Maradona was given a warning about his future conduct. Argentina was knocked out in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup after losing to Germany.

After their defeat, Diego Maradona told the media he was reconsidering his future as Argentina’s manager. Maradona was offered a new four-year contract with the national team on July 15th. However, on July 29th, Maradona claimed that the AFA president and director of national teams had “lied to”, “betrayed” him, and sacked him from the role.  

Diego Maradona married his long-time fiancée Claudia Villafane on November 7, 1989, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The couple had two daughters, Dalma Nerea born April 2, 1987, and Gianinna Dinorah born May 16, 1989. Maradona and Villafane divorced in 2004. During the divorce, Maradona admitted that he was the father of Diego Sinagra. The two met for the first time in May 2003 after his son tricked his way into a golf course in Italy where Maradona was playing. In 2014, Diego Maradona was accused of assaulting his girlfriend, Rocio Oliva, allegations which he denied. The couple split in December 2018.

From the mid-1980s to approximately 2004, Diego Maradona was addicted to cocaine. His cocaine use started in Barcelona in 1983. By the time he was playing for Napoli, he had developed a serious addiction to the drug. This interfered with his ability to play the sport he loved. In the midst of his drug crisis in 1991, Maradona was asked by journalists if a hit song “Mi enfermedad” (“My Disease”) was dedicated to him. I never found an answer to that question, so I don’t know what he told the journalist. Maradona’s drug abuse got him banned from football in 1991 and 1994. His health also suffered from his extended cocaine use. He had a tendency to put on weight and suffered increasingly from obesity. On November 6, 2005, Maradona underwent gastric bypass surgery. Three months after the surgery Maradona began making public appearances again with a notably thinner figure. 

Maradona was admitted to a hospital in Buenos Aires on March 29, 2007. He was treated for hepatitis and the effects of alcohol abuse. He was released on April 11th but was readmitted two days later. In the following days, rumors sparked about his health, including three false death claims within a month. Maradona was eventually transferred to a psychiatric clinic that specialized in alcohol-related issues. He was discharged from the clinic on May 7, 2007. A day after his release he appeared on an Argentine television broadcast and claimed that he had quit drinking and had not used drugs in two and a half years. In March 2009, Italian authorities announced that Diego Maradona stilled owed the Italian government €37 million ($39,936,320 U.S dollars) in local taxes. €23.5 million ($25,364,960 U.S. dollars) of which was accrued interest on his original debt. They reported that during this time Maradona paid €42,000 ($45,328 U.S dollars), two luxury watches, and a set of earrings.

During the 2018 World Cup match between Argentina and Nigeria, Maradona was shown on television cameras behaving erratically, with an abundance of “white residue” on the glass in front of his seat in the stands. Honestly, the residue could have been anything. It even could have been smudges from fingerprints or whatnot. Maradona later claimed that his behavior was a result of overconsuming wine. He underwent surgery after a hernia caused internal bleeding in his stomach in January 2019.

On November 2, 2020, Diego Maradona was admitted to a hospital in La Plata, Argentina. He had gone in for supposed treatment for psychological reasons. A representative of Maradona’s stated that his condition was not serious. A day after being admitted he underwent emergency brain surgery to treat a subdural hematoma. The surgery was successful, and Maradona was released from the hospital on November 12th. He continued outpatient treatment. On November 25, 2020, Diego Maradona suffered cardiac arrest and passed away in his sleep at his home in Dique Lujan, Argentina. He was sixty years old. Maradona’s coffin was draped in Argentina’s national flag and three Maradona number ten shirts lay in state at the Presidential Palace. On November 26, 2020, Diego Maradona’s wake, which was attended by tens of thousands of people, was cut short by his family. His coffin was relocated to the rotunda of the Presidential Palace after fans took over an inner courtyard and clashed with police. Maradona was buried next to his parents at the Jardin de Bella Vista cemetery in Bella Vista, Buenos Aires.

In May 2021, seven medical professionals were charged with homicide over Diego Maradona’s death. They were found to be in violation of their duties and could face between eight and twenty-five years in prison if convicted. On June 25th, psychiatrist Augustina Cosachov was summoned by the Prosecution Office of San Isidro and underwent formal questioning, she agreed to answer more than 100 questions regarding the medical treatment given to Maradona in that field. After seven hours of interrogation Cosachov’s lawyer Vadim Mischanchik spoke to the press and denied that her prescription medication could have worsened Maradona’s heart condition, and that Cosachov further denied any responsibility in his death. On June 28th, multiple arrest warrants were requested by a plaintiff lawyer against Cosachov, Doctor Leopold Luque, psychologist Carlos Dias, and Doctor Nancy Forlini in direct connection with Maradona’s alleged negligent death. 

On July 1, 2021, prosecutors in the case refused to ask a judge to issue arrest warrants against all the professionals, citing that they considered the request had been a media stunt for the case, coinciding with Doctor Luque’s interrogation. In June 2022, a judge ruled that eight medical professionals should face trial for criminal negligence and homicide related to Maradona’s death. 

“One day, I hope, we will play football together in heaven.” – Pele (speaking about Diego Maradona’s passing) 

Sources:

“Diego Maradona” – Wikipedia

“Diego Maradona Death” – NPR “Diego Maradona:

The God of Napals” – Goal.com

“The Tragedy of Diego Maradona” – The New Yorker

“The Legacy of Diego Maradona” – CBS Sports

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent article. so many things in this article that I didn’t know about Maradona.
    He was an awesome player. I was fortunate to be able to watch a few games.

    Liked by 1 person

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