Maradona @ 50: Memories for a lifetime
Bikash Mohapatra salutes Argentine football leagend Diego Maradona, who turns 50 today.
'Even if there was a hand, it was the hand of God.'
A memorable one-liner by someone, the utterance of whose name will bring to mind that famous/infamous incident.
Yes, his first goal against England in the 1986 World Cup, courtesy an unpenalised handball, has since been labelled the 'Hand of God'.
However, Diego Maradona is way beyond that goal.
Arguably the best player in the world, Maradona synonymous with the Beautiful Game.
Today, October 30, the Argentine legend celebrates his 50th birthday.
Therefore, let's begin the look back at his eventful career by greeting him.
Happy Birthday, Diego!
Image: Diego Maradona raises his arm after scoring the winning goal against England
'The Goal of the Century'
'It was as if we had beaten a country, more than just a football team.'
If Maradona's opening goal in that quarter-final against England was controversial, then there was no doubt about the brilliance of his second.
The Argentine made his way past five England players, covering a distance of about 60 metres in the process, to score another memorable goal.
That goal is now referred to as 'The Goal of the Century', after a 2002 online poll conducted by FIFA.
And those two goals he scored in the match not only guaranteed Argentina a place in the last four but also made Maradona a legend.
It was a win to savour. As the quote above indicates, the match was played at a time when memories of the Falklands War (between England and Argentina) were still afresh.
Five years back, Maradona admitted on a television show that he had hit the ball with his hand purposely.
Image: Argentine World Cup star Diego Maradona holds his shirt following their World Cup semi final against England in Mexico
World Cup for Argentina, Golden Ball for Maradona
'God makes me play well. That is why I always make the sign of the cross when I walk out onto the pitch. I feel I would be betraying him if I didn't.'
Maradona's charge didn't stop there.
He led Argentina all the way, a 3-2 win over West Germany in the final ensuring the Albiceleste their second world title.
For the record, Maradona played every minute of every Argentina game, scored five goals, including two in the semi-finals against Belgium, and made an equal number of assists.
He was awarded the Golden Ball for his efforts.
Four years on, Maradona led an unimpressive Argentina side to final of the World Cup again.
However, an encore wasn't to be with a now-unified Germany getting revenge win.
Image: Diego Maradona (R), captain for the 1986 World Cup-winning squad, hands the trophy to then Argentine President Raul Alfonsin in Buenos Aires
17 years, 91 matches, 34 goals
'When I wear the national team shirt, its sole contact with my skin makes it stand on an end'
Playing for Argentina brought the best out of Maradona.
Having made his international debut at 16, against Hungary in 1977, Maradona scored his first goal for the senior team two years later, against Scotland.
In between, he helped Argentina win the World Youth Cup.
Maradona donned national colours for 17 years, playing in four successive World Cups in the process.
However, it was a controversial career, to say the least.
In 1991, he failed a dope test for cocaine and was banned for 15 months.
And in the 1994 World Cup, he tested positive for a cocktail of drugs the day before he was due to make a record 22nd appearance in the tournament.
That marked a dubious end to an otherwise illustrious international career for Maradona, a career that saw him earn 91 caps and score 34 goals.
Image: Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in this 1993 file photo driving the ball during a friendly against Brazil
Club success with Napoli
'They are judging me for the 12 years I played in Europe.'
If his international career was eventful, his club-career was memorable as well, that too sans controversy.
Having made his professional debut (for Argentino Juniors) even before he turned 16, Maradona earned himself a one-million-pound transfer to Boca Juniors in 1981, helping the Argentine powerhouse to the league title the same year -- his first domestic title.
After playing in his maiden World Cup in 1982, he moved to Barcelona in a 1.7 million pounds transfer.
However, Maradona endured a forgettable time with the Catalan giants, failing to win the La Liga.
In 1984, he signed on for Italian club Napoli for a then-world record 4.1 million pounds and helped transform a mediocre club into one of the best in Italy during a productive seven-year tenure.
Two league titles, or Scudettos (in 1987 and 1990), were interspersed with a triumph in the now defunct UEFA Cup in 1989.
His latter club career, with stints at Sevilla, Newell's Old Boys and Boca again were not much eventful and he made the headlines more off the field.
In November 1997, aged 37, Maradona finally called it quits.
Image: A papier mache statue of former Argentina international and Napoli soccer player Diego Armando Maradona is displayed in Naples
The Night of the No 10
'Your programme is going out to the world, and I think together we can do many things in the world to help a lot of people.'
Long after his playing days were over, Maradona returned as television host.
His talk show, La Noche del diez (The Night of the No 10), made its debut on August 15, 2005.
And it was sheer irony that his guest in the opening episode was a player with whom he has always been engaged in a war of words: Pele.
More on their relationship later. (By the way, the quote above can be attributed to Pele)
As regards the show, it mainly had football players and celebrities as guests. And, to his credit, Maradona ensured the show topped the ratings.
The guest list on the show, included amongst others, Pele, Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta, Zinedine Zidane, Hernan Crespo, Lionel Messi and even Mike Tyson.
Former Cuban president Fidel Castro also made an appearance on the show.
Image: Diego Maradona (L) hugs Lionel Messi of Spain's Barcelona during his weekly television show The Night of the 10 in Buenos Aires
Who was better?
'My mother says it was me and Pele's mother says it was him.'
While Maradona's has been a controversial career, it is war of words with the legendary Pele that grabbed the headlines most of the times.
It's mostly been about the fact as to who is the better of the two.
The Brazilian legend was once quoted as saying, "For 20 years they have asked me the same question, who is the greatest footballer ever? Pele or Maradona?
"I reply that all you have to do is look at the facts -- how many goals did he score with his right foot or with his head?"
Both shared the FIFA Player of the Century award, an honour the Argentine took with a pinch of salt.
"The people voted for me. Now they want me to share the prize with Pele, he said, adding, "I'm not going to share the prize with anybody."
The duo's verbal duel extended to the World Cup earlier this year, when Maradona, the then coach of Argentina, didn't take kindly to the Brazilian's remarks.
Image: Pele and Diego Maradona sit together at a reception in Rio de Janeiro on May 14, 1995
An eventful stint as Argentina coach
'To those who did not believe: now suck my dick - I'm sorry ladies for my words - and keep on sucking it. I am either white or black. I will never be grey in my life. You treated me as you did. Now keep on sucking dicks. I am grateful to my players and to the Argentinian people. I thank no one but them. The rest, keep on sucking dicks.'
The start to Maradona's stint as Argentina's national coach was anything but auspicious.
Having taken charge in October 2008, he had to endure a 1-6 away drubbing at the hands of Bolivia, a defeat that jeopardized Argentina's chances of making it to World Cup.
However, wins in the last two qualifying matches resulted in two things: Argentina's qualification for the flagship event in South Africa and the above statement by their coach.
For the record, the Albiceleste made a bright start to the campaign in South Africa before suffering a shock 0-4 drubbing at the hands of Germany in the quarter-finals, a defeat that ensured their exit and cost Maradona his job.
Image: Argentina's head coach Diego Maradona attends a practice session of the team at the squad's camp in Buenos Aires
What next Diego?
'Of course I would be interested in working in England.'
While there is talk of him returning as coach of Argentina, Maradona himself isn't averse to looking for other pastures.
Before Gerrard Houllier signed on for Premier League club Aston Villa, Maradona was quoted expressing his desire of managing the Birmingham club.
And, on the eve of his 50th birthday, the legend was quoted as saying that he would be keen to manage either Arsenal or Chelsea.
"I was looking at Arsenal and Chelsea," Sky Sports quoted Maradona as saying.
"Everything is so perfect there. The players are surrounded by everything they need," he added.
Where Maradona heads next will become obvious in the coming months.
Till then, though, let's just celebrate the moment.
Happy Birthday, again, Diego!
Image: Diego Maradona holds a ball during a training session at the squad's camp in Buenos Aires