|Wednesday, December 2, 2020|
" The destiny of one's life is entirely of God's." Cyril C. Nwokeji
p till his death, yours sincerely couldn't make out who was more highly talented between Diego Maradona and the great Edison Arantes Do Nascimento, aka Pele! This was mainly because yours sincerely didn't have the opportunity to observe Pele's soccer career as much I did to Maradona's. Yours sincerely unlike the case with Maradona, hasn't gotten the opportunity to watch a full ninety minutes match played by Pele, save for a few minutes of film clips. So the controversy for me till the present, with regards who was a greater player, still lingers!
However, the aim of this piece is not to compare both men s' soccer abilities but to pay tribute in my own little way to a player who helped change the face of modern soccer for good: Diego Armando Maradona!
Diego Armando Maradona, was certainly not born into riches, but on the contrary, into poverty, abject poverty for that matter! He lived and grew up in the equivalent of the Brazilian "Favelas", a very poor ghetto in Buenos Aires! He, at a very early age, kept faith with destiny, by embracing the round leather; which with benefit of hindsight was not only a ticket out of poverty for him and his family, but was a ticket to soccer stardom and fame on planet earth!
He did so well at it that at the age of eleven years, he was scouted by the Argentinian first division team: "The Newell's old boys". The scouts wondered how an eleven year old boy could be so good at kicking the round leather! They initially thought he was older , but his birth certificated proved him right. He was reported to be so good with ball that he could juggle the ball(keeping it in the air for unusually long periods at a time), while crossing a rail bridge built for pedestrians to safely cross rail lines of the train, without letting the ball touch the ground, until he crossed the bridge completely !!!!!!!
Another issue for his new club, was his small stature, which was smaller than that of boys of his age. This was certainly due to the consequences of poverty! He was subsequently put on decent diet and medications, which facilitated his growth and the development of decent mass of muscles, to enable him become physically complete to compete at the highest levels of Argentinian soccer.
Eventually, he graduated from the youth team of his team to the senior team. He was instantly a soccer sensation! And attracted the attention of scouts all over the globe!
He was subsequently transferred for a club record fee to " Boca Juniors", also in the Argentinian first division! At Boca Juniors, he was instantly a big hit! And European scouts came calling.
Meanwhile at the national team level, his 'stocks' rose to a high level, and he was invited to be part of the Argentinian team that prepared for the 1978 World cup competition on home soil. He was about seventeen years old! He was however denied a place in the final list of twenty-two players, not on account of his soccer skills, but on grounds of a "lack of experience", to compete at the highest levels of soccer!
It was a big blow to a seventeen year-old boy, who on account of his soccer skills should have been in the Argentinian national team of 1978! He cried his eyes out at the disappointment, but the then Argentinian national team selector/ coach: Cesar Menotti, thought otherwise!
However, he subsequently put aside that set back and lead Argentina to victory at the maiden edition of the 1979 " Junior World cup" competition, now called "Under-20 World cup" competition!
At that competition, he showcased his skills to the entire globe! Subsequently, FC Barcelona of Spain came calling with a lot money. They got the young man's signature, but he joined them at the beginning of the 1982/83 soccer season.
Before joining FC Barcelona, he finally played for his country Argentina, and represented them at the 1982 World cup competition, in Spain. He was not only the cynosure of all eyes, but was the main point of virtually all teams' defensive tactical organisation!
Right from the opening match against Belgium, the defenders never spared him! He was kicked , shoved and sometimes they tried stopping him through neat tackles! In other words, they tried to stop him through orthodox and unorthodox means!
For a young man of twenty- one, the pressures of the world cup were certainly too much! Pressure from the highly expectant public and pressure on the field of play. He finally caved in to this pressure by reacting aggressively to a tackle by a Brazilian player in the second round match, he was subsequently given a red card and so ended his world cup dreams and by implication his country's!
The world press descended heavily on him, castigating him for "indisciplined behaviour"! It hurt him badly and may have contributed to his subsequent drug abuse at FC Barcelona!
His transfer to FC Barcelona of Spain, heralded the start of a new adventure for Diego Maradona, outside the shores of South-America.
He did quite well at FC Barcelona, but his conflicts with the management of FC Barcelona and the coach meant his stay at the club wasn't for a long time.
He subsequently transferred to Napoli FC, in Italy. It was at this club, Diego reached the zenith of his performance at club level! Napoli FC , was before the advent of the era of Diego Maradona, a moderate Italian first division side! It was even a surprise to soccer pundits he could have been bought by Napoli FC, considering the club's financial standing, being a moderate first division team! It was as if Diego Maradona, wanted to write his name in the annals of soccer, as a truly soccer great by choosing to go to a moderate team, as opposed to going to a top first division team, many of whom wanted him! A moderate team he would help make a great team through his uncanny soccer artistry! The surprise at his transfer to Napoli FC, was not lost on the Italian press, that captured his transfer thus: "The poorest city in Italy buys the best and most expensive player in the world!"
He subsequently transformed the fortunes of Napoli FC on the field of play, helping make the team champions of Italian soccer for the first and only time thus far : winners of the Italian league titles -"the Scudetto"- twice!!!!!! He also won the UEFA cup with Napoli!
As earlier stated, through his soccer artistry, he transformed a moderate Italian first division team, to a great team!!!!!! An ever since, the team has not achieved that level of success!
In the words of an Italian soccer commentator: " He brought the son to Napoli"; as his heroics on the soccer field with Napoli FC, also brought publicity to Napoli and the concomitant foreign exchange inflow that came through increased tourism!
The Neapolitans with benefit of hindsight, made a smart investment by buying Diego Maradona!!!!!
At the 1986 World cup competition, Diego Maradona, kept faith with destiny, with regards his place in the annals of soccer greats. He knew winning the World cup was a conditio sine qua non, to be called a truly soccer great!!!!!! Thus, he realised he had to be mature on and off the soccer pitch, to avoid a repeat of what happened at the 1982 World cup competition!
Thus, at 1986 World cup competition, the world saw a different Diego Maradona, with regards temperament!
He lead a rather moderate Argentinian team, in an exemplary manner on and off the soccer field! He lead them to victory after victory on the field of play, and noteworthy was the match against England in the quarter-finals. He scored the famous "hand of God " goal ; and, apparently, as a consequence of the heavy protestation of the English players after the Referee allowed that controversial goal, Diego Maradona, embarked on the famed dribbling run through the English defence, that saw him take out seven English players and the goalkeeper in his wake, before making hay for the second Argentinian goal. It was as if he told the English in direct terms, he was good enough to score against them, notwithstanding the "hand of God goal" !!!!!
He finally piloted his team to the World cup final, for a date with the Germans!
At that final match, Diego Maradona, apparently, as a consequence of the nerves generated by the World cup final match, was given the yellow card for incessantly complaining to the Referee! Apparently not wanting a repeat of what happened at the 1982 World cup competition, cleverly reorganised his playing tactics for the match. Instead of being at the fore front trying to get the goals, with the concomitant wild challenges from the German defenders, who were primed to stop him, from their tactical organisation, and the possible loss of temperament that would result in a certain expulsion, having already bagged a yellow card, this time around, became the play-maker instead of the point man!
This worked wonders as the Germans having concentrated heavily on him, lost sight of the other Argentinian attackers! Through two decent text book passes from the master himself, attackers: Jorge Burruchager and Jorge Valdano, scored the second and third Argentinian goals that sealed victory for Argentina! Argentina, thus, under impulse of Diego Maradona, won the second World cup competition in their history!!!!!
Diego Maradona, at the 1986 World cup competition, put up what till date, is the best individual performance of any player at the World cup competition!!!!!!!! He lead a rather moderate Argentinian team to victory at the 1986 World cup competition and, thus, sealed his place in the annals of soccer greats !!!!!!! Needless saying he became the peoples' hero , not only in Argentina, but in the whole wide world !!!!!!!! In the words of the then Argentinian President, Cristina Krishna: "No player ever in the history of Argentina, has given the Argentinians so much happiness through the round leather as Diego Armando Maradona" !!!!!!!!!
At club level , he transferred from Napoli FC to FC Sevilia in Spain. His adventure in Sevilia, knew moderate success and, he, subsequently, returned to Argentina, to continue his soccer career.
At the 1990 World cup competition, in Italy, Diego Maradona, lead a very moderate Argentinian team to defend their hard won trophy. At the opening match against Cameroun, the Argentinians with Maradona, lost by 1-0. They put up a dismal performance, so much so that the then Chairman of "Leventis FC " of Ibadan Nigeria, John Masteroudes, at the NTA studios in lagos, was so disappointed with their performance that he said, Argentina and Maradona should pack their bags and go home, since they had nothing to offer the world!
The Argentinians under impulse of Diego Maradona, bounced back from that bad start and got to a second consecutive World cup final showdown with Germany!
At the semi-final match , Argentina defeated the hosts Italy on penalty shoot-out! The match ended scoreless after ninety minutes! It was reported that the Italians who were apparently the better side, could have won the match, but for their fear of Diego Maradona, on the field of play, which prevented them from going all out against the Argentinians!
It is noteworthy that in that match, which was played in Napoli, the Neapolitan fans supported Argentina, instead of Italy, their country; apparently, as a consequence of the influence of Diego Maradona, who played for Napoli FC!
An Italian friend whom I met in Belgium, later that year, who was disappointed at the Neapolitans, for supporting Argentina, instead of their country Italy, told me in reaction to that match that the Neapolitans were Africans and not Italians!
Maradona and Argentina, however, lost the final match to the better German team, who dominated the match for all of ninety minutes. This was not surprising since the Germans, in the words of their then coach : Franz Beckenbauer, had players who were the best in their positions in the world! Yours sincerely couldn't agree more! The Germans deserved their victory, at the 1990 World cup competition!
Diego Maradona, cried his eyes out at the cup presentation ceremony! Such was his love for his country at the loss of the 1990 World cup final!
At the 1994 World cup qualifiers, Diego Maradona, who had retired from international soccer, was called- up by Dr. Carlos Bilardo, the then Argentinian coach, to help ensure qualification for the 1994 World cup competition, at a time the qualification for the World cup ran into troubled waters. Argentina had to play a two-legged play off match against a team from Oceania, to ensure qualification for the 1994 World cup competition, in the USA. Diego Maradona answered the national call, came out of international retirement, and helped his country qualify for the 1994 World cup competition.
At the 1994 World cup competition , the Argentinian team was very average, just like the previous Argentinian teams, Maradona played for, even the 1986 World cup winning team! But the presence of Diego Maradona, always helped tilt them to a higher level! Such was the talent and influence of Maradona on any team he played for. He could make a very average team rise to a much higher level. He proved this fact for club and country !!!!!!!
At the 1994 World cup competition , Diego Maradona, spear-headed Argentinian victories against Greece and Nigeria. Against Nigeria, he gave the vital passes that resulted in two goals against Nigeria that ultimately gave them victory! The Nigerian defenders were reported to be nervous whenever they confronted Diego Maradona, during the course of the match!
After the match against Nigeria, Diego Maradona had a positive drug's test and was expelled from participation at the world cup competition! His expulsion subsequently heralded the premature exit of Argentina from the 1994 World cup competition, as they were defeated by a moderate Bulgarian team! This further buttresses the earlier point made about the standards of the Argentinian national teams with or without Diego Maradona!
This scenario heralded the end of Diego Maradona's soccer career! He subsequently tried his hands on coaching without much success.
In conclusion, Diego Armando Maradona, will go down in history as one of the most highly talented, if not the most highly talented soccer player ever( nay thus far) on planet earth!
May his soul rest in perfect peace! Amen !!!!!!!!!!
The book "Super Eagles of Nigeria : Pride of Africa", can also be gotten through the author. One can contact the author through : email@example.com Please note in this case, payment of postage costs will be necessary