Our Diego, who is on the pitches,
Hallowed be thy left hand, bring us your magic. Make your goals remembered on earth as in heaven,
Give us some magic every day, forgive the English, as we have forgiven the Napolitan Mafia,
Don’t let yourself get caught offside and free us from Havelange and Pelé.
Despite being a parody of a prayer, to Argentinians Diego Maradona may as well be a deity. Unless Lionel Messi, or some future Argentinian starlet, can lead Argentina to a World Cup victory, then Maradona will stand alone as the undisputed greatest Argentinian soccer player of all time. Against England in ’86, he perhaps scored both the most famous and infamous goals of all time. The former involved a slashing, agile run starting within his own half, beating midfielders, defenders, and finally the goalkeeper to cap off a magical play that sent the crowd into an uproar. The other was just as exciting, but apart from the ball ending up in the back of the net, the two had nothing in common. A mistake by an English defender in his own penalty box lofted the ball over his own back line. Maradona, always ready to pounce, read the trajectory perfectly. Well, perfectly enough to cleverly disguise the use of his fist to propel the ball into the goal. In the wake of the Falkland Island dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina, this triumph was so much more than a goal. In the eyes of Argentina, it was justified retaliation. The goal would not resurrect the lives of those who perished during the conflict, but for a country that values little above soccer, it certainly provided a measurable amount of solace. The two goals can be watched below:
Maradona’s contributions on the field in the past for Argentina are undeniable. That being said, his contributions off the field have been equally exciting. Drug abuse, political action, and immature antics have characterized Maradona’s life off the field both during his time as a player and subsequently. Most who follow soccer and soccer history are aware of who Maradona was as a person during his playing years. His life after that is a bit more murky, at least it was to me until our class watched clips from Maradona by Kusturica, which provided insight into the contemporary life of Maradona, and prompted further research.
In February 2013, Brian Phillips tackled parts of Maradona’s present life in his piece Maradona, Then and Now. Tax fraud, honorary sports ambassador, illegitimate children (with multiple Diego’s!), political action, Argentine national team managership, etc. are but a few of the things with which Maradona has occupied himself in the wake of an illustrious (and somewhat tarnished) playing career. Perhaps most impressive among his post-career achievements was his ability to contribute to the decline in popularity of George W. Bush. In 2005, while a regional summit regarding an American free trade agreement progressed in a nearby government builidng, Maradona lead a rally of even greater magnitude, both in numbers and influence, out in the streets. He declared to the people:
I’m proud as an Argentine to repudiate the presence of this human trash, George Bush.
Strong words to say the least, but his speech inspired a movement across Argentina to mount opposition against the free trade agreement the American government was advocating. In the end, the committee was unable to reach an agreement, likely in large part due to the public role of Maradona.
While some athletes retreat behind a veil of security and anonymity post-retirement, could we really have expected Maradona to do so? His boisterous personality and affinity to controversy should have lead us to the conclusion that no, we should expect Maradona to seek the limelight as much as possible. How could he ever remain invisible when he has a hand of God?