There are few football players in the world that have lived, and that will ever live, who will be able to do what Diego Maradona could do on the pitch. In his prime, he was nothing short of a magician. Whilst the Hand of God may have broken English hearts it was still, as it says, the hand of someone beyond this world. Maradona will forever be considered one of the best football players ever, and his career was full of incredible accolades.
However, with every up comes an equally impressive down. His life was not always full of positives and – during the American World Cup in 1994 – he was convicted for serious doping charges. In addition, during his spell at Napoli, Diego Maradona was also known to suffer from drug addiction and be involved with the Italian Mafia. In summary, Maradona’s career was full of exciting twists and turns. But how did the Mozart of football end up having issues with substance abuse? Let’s find out.
With the Qatar world cup underway, one’s mind can’t help but wonder back to past tournaments and past magical footballers. A handful of name’s come to mind: Pele, Zidane, Ronaldo, Messi and – of course – Diego Maradona. These players all have one thing in common – they were above the rest. They were, simply put, unbelievable. However, in November of 2020, Maradona sadly passed away from a heart attack at the age of 60. 2 years on, let’s take a look at how he graced the game, whilst also being surrounded by controversy.
Career & Early Life
Maradonna was born on October 30th, 1960, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was brought up in a poor area of the country, with little financial support. However, at the age of 14 he signed with Argentinos Juniors. Then, at 16, he made his debut for the national team – making him the youngest player to ever do so. Even at a young age, it was evident that Diego had a rare ability to control the ball, run fast and score goals. He was small – only 1.65m – but he made up for it with a low centre of gravity and silky skills. After leading the national team to a Junior World Cup championship in 1979 – at the age of 19 – he then moved to Boca Juniors.
With Maradona, they instantly won the championship. Then, of course, in 1982 he was rightfully bought by the legends of Barcelona. He won the Spanish Cup with them in 1983. However, it was at this point that his career made an unpredictable turn. In 1984, he joined bottom of the Serie A team Napoli. What made him leave the Spanish giants and sign for the poor and downtrodden Italian side? The season before, Napoli were only 1 point away from relegation. Football Espana writes:
“Josep Lluis Nunez, the former Barcelona president, was the man who sold Diego Maradona to Napoli… in an old interview, (he) revealed that it was a combination of Maradona not living up to the image he believed Barcelona players should project, a drug issue and the promise of more money that made him sell the Argentine.”
Since the incredible Maradona documentary was released in 2019, a lot of home truths have come out. Diego, himself, admitted to taking cocaine at the age of 24 whilst playing at Barcelona. He has described it as the biggest mistake of his life. Nonetheless, in 1984, despite the odds, Maradona – the king of football – joined the bottom of the Italian league side Napoli. Who would have thought it?
Napoli & Argentina
To put this into perspective, Maradona joining Napoli is the equivalent of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo joining Burnley. Essentially, it is unheard of in football. Not only was Napoli a lower than average team in Italy, they were also very poor. They needed a questionable loan in order to purchase him. But, as you can imagine, when he arrived, he was the hero of the city. With Maradona in the team, Napoli somehow managed to win the league title in 1987 and 1990, as well as the cup in 1987.
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On the surface, Maradona was doing the impossible both for Napoli and Argentina. For his national team, he won the World Cup in 1986, scoring two of the most memorable goals ever. One was a silky dribble past the entire England team and, the other, was the famous ‘hand of god’. To put it simply, he scored with his hand and the referee didn’t notice. Oh well, he’s a legend. English legend, Gary Linekar, said:
“When Diego scored that second goal against us, I felt like applauding. I’d never felt like that before, but it’s true… and not just because it was such an important game. It was impossible to score such a beautiful goal… He’s the greatest player of all time, by a long way. A genuine phenomenon.”
However, whilst Diego Maradona was breaking records and achieving unbelievable success, his substance abuse was about to catch up with him.
Maradona’s cocaine habit started in Barcelona but it worsened in Napoli. The Italian mafia would help him find the substance, it was their way of controlling him. In 1991, he was banned from football for 15 months after testing positive for cocaine. This was a serious blow to his career. Any legendary football player wants to be on the pitch as much as possible so they can continue to break records and score goals.
He was then arrested again in Argentina for having half a kilo of coke on him later in the same year. This extended his ban. In response, Maradona left the country and did not return, joining Sevilla instead. He supposedly still owns over 30 million pounds in unpaid taxes, according to Italian authorities. However, he declined and never paid it.
Nonetheless, Maradona’s career wasn’t over. In 1994 he joined Argentina in the 1994 World Cup. He played well, but his tournament was over early due to failing another drug test. He tested positive for ephedrine, a performance enhancing drug. Ephedrine is performance-enhancer as it energises the user, stimulating the central nervous system. It improves endurance, alertness, reaction time and strength. FIFA consequently banned him for 15 months, which all but ended his international career. He was certainly made an example of. With his Napoli career over, as well as an International one, this was the end for him. He continued playing for a few more years and then retired in 1997. He has himself admitted to feeling completely lost after receiving such harsh bans – there was nothing left for him to do but turn to more drugs.
In his later life, he was in and out of addiction. He suffered an overdose in 2000 and had a drug-related heart attack in 2005. He never really recovered from his drug abuse and he sadly died from another cardiac arrest in 2020. Supposedly, after millions being made during his career, he was left with only £75,000 in his bank account. The god of football was dead.
Maradona played 490 games during his career, scoring 259 goals. He is considered one of the best footballers ever and his controversial life off the pitch will never change that. The man was a magician, and that will always remain fact. However, he did suffer from drug abuse. Diego was allowed to reach god-status, and be forgotten up in the clouds. Perhaps if he’d been a footballer today he would have been better looked after. The diet and lifestyle of footballers are strictly controlled in modern football.
Many have wondered how great Diego could have been had he never started taking the addictive substance of cocaine. Would he have done even greater things? The truth is, Maradona is another example of fame grasping a young person – with its fake promises of happiness – and introducing them to a world of wealth and loneliness. Perhaps he never had a chance. But still, all in all, we are incredibly lucky that the god of football graced the pitch. Drugs or no drugs, Diego Maradona was a magician with skills that we probably will never see again.
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