Meditations On A Maestro

“I know I’m not one to change the world but I’m not going to let anybody into my world to tell me what to do…Nobody will ever make me believe that my mistakes with drugs or in business have changed my feelings. Nothing. I am the same as always. I’m me, Maradona. I am El Diego.”

What if you hadn’t made that monumental leap with arm raised, hand outstretched, at six minutes past the hour of one on that sweltering Azteca day of the 22nd of June 1986?

What if that iconic second goal, that you so gracefully achieved by weaving your way through the massed ranks of English defence with consummate ease, had been the one that you are fondly remembered for? The only goal you scored that day. Your legions of fans and admirers never having to qualify their contentions as to you being the greatest when dismissed by naysayers as being a charlatan and a cheat.

“He should be ashamed of himself,” they say.

“But three minutes later…,” the faithful always feel the need to counter.

What if you hadn’t out-jumped a man several inches taller than your diminutive frame? Would you have left the field of play that day clasping hands with a fellow professional? As equals? Just as your natural predecessor in his famous yellow jersey had done with another lionised defender of English pride, sixteen years previously? Would you have been hailed as an ambassador for the game you played with such imperious majesty, held up as an example of the sporting ideal?

Would your goalkeeping nemesis of that day have invited you to play at his testimonial? Your famous quote, ‘How many people go to a goalkeeper’s testimonial anyway?” notwithstanding. Would Shilton’s eyes still glaze over with barely suppressed bitterness and anger whenever he mentions your name in an interview? Even when attempting to dance for the huddled masses on primetime Saturday evening television, he could not contain his righteous sense of being wronged. In the same manner as your other vanquished foe, would Terry Butcher, have still refused to offer the hand of reconciliation with you when you brought your Argentine squad over to these Isles to take on the Scots?

Would you have been more favourably looked upon if you were not born in the barrio? Would you have been more sated in your appetite for life, without the burning desire to heave yourself out of poverty, challenge the status quo and play with histrionic and extravagant flourishes? Your paranoias and vendettas not as openly vociferous and articulate. Keeping your mouth shut in order to retain sponsorship deals and plaudits from politicians and businessmen. Would you have been so vehement in your political beliefs, reluctant to sear your flesh with the image of your idol Che Guevara, unwilling to denounce perceived wrongdoers like George W Bush as ‘human garbage’? Or openly criticise the Pope by saying, “I’ve been to the Vatican and seen the gold ceilings. And then I hear the Pope saying the Church was concerned about poor kids. So? Sell the ceilings, mate! Do something!”

What if you had never fallen into the hellish cycle of drugs and organized crime? Would you have lived a healthy and wholesome existence, free of the media glare? Another bland journeyman footballer among many. Would your redemptions and recoveries be less scrutinised by the voracious appetites of the world’s press corps and less willed for by the millions who idolised you? Would you have inspired award-winning filmmakers to commit your presence to celluloid posterity or indeed five young Englishmen with astounding footballing trickery to journey and busk through South America in the hope of maybe meeting you? Would your every shrug, grimace, plea and frenzied advance towards the camera be so played over and remarked upon? Would you have been the only player in history to have been led off by a nurse for a drug test if you hadn’t been Maradona? And would we have not marvelled and delighted at your touchline stances at this year’s World Cup as we hoped for your Argentine charges, replete with the young pretender to your mantle, to provide you with the crowning glory of your career? As it transpired, success was elusive but your presence was incarnated once again when the ball struck the hand of a Uruguayan that led us all to question the morality of the game we love – your instinctive act of twenty-four years ago being used as an ambivalent symbol yet again.

What if you had elected to play for a northern Italian club over the poor relations of the south’s Napoli? Would northern dominance and superiority continue to weigh upon the downtrodden shoulders of Neapolitans as the industrial north reaps the benefits of economic wealth and power? What if you had not offered these people a brief moment of respite and escape as you dazzled on the pitch and delivered silverware to an area more infamously celebrated for its ties to organised crime and long-standing vendettas?

And what of your countrymen and women? What if you had not offered them hope and inspiration after years of dictatorships and economic failures? Would people continue to worship at the Church of Maradona or call their first-borns Diego or forgive you your wildest extravagances? Would you be the symbol of adulation still? Or continue to spellbind successive generations as they are introduced to your blessed talent through the means of the new media?

What passed through your mind’s eye in that split second as your arm came upwards? What if that goal had been disallowed? Does it matter?

Because after all, every one of these things did happen and the game of football would have been a far starker place without you. And for that, in some strange way, we thank the Hand of God.

Happy 50th Birthday, El Diego.

(Diego Maradona celebrated his half century on 30th October, 2010)

This post was first published as “A Special Day” on the excellent In Bed With Maradona – some of the most thought-provoking and passionate football writing on the web. Take a peek.

Further reading: El Presidente – World Cup Dispatch – 13th June

Matthias Sindelar and the Death of Austrian Football by Greg Theoharis on In Bed With Maradona


 

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8 Responses to Meditations On A Maestro

  1. Winston Cuthbert November 1, 2010 at 12:58 am #

    Thank you for this excellent barrage of questioning rhetoric. Your article prosaically encapsulated the mass of contradiction that is El Diego, exemplified by the referenced ninety minutes between England and her soon-to-be combatant Argentina: the pitiful and the sublime in one game; a microcosm of life. Which is perhaps why El Diego is an may always be more talked about than the relatively dull Pele: because he allows us to recognise good and evil as one within all; as valid and necessary as up and down, left and right, back and front. I too salute El Diego on this, his 50th anniversary. 1960 wasn’t that great a year for English football…

  2. Peter White November 2, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    “And for that we thank you” WE do not Gregory, WE do not.

    I would comment that genius is always flawed but then we saw the genius of Alan Shearer and he didnt seem that flawed.

    • Winston November 2, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

      Alan Shearer is a genius? Without flaws? Peter, am I correct in thinking you are comparing Diego Maradona to Alan Shearer? If so, I think you should think again. And before you think of retorting, think again. As Aretha sang in all her raw glory, you better think! One man is possibly the greatest footballer ever, the other is a celebrated workhorse who fouled throughout his career to get away with scoring a record number of goals consistently matched by that other great English centre forward of the Nineties, Andy Cole. Shearer won one Premier League title with Blackburn – that’s it – throughout his entire career. Andy Cole won the first division title with Newcastle, five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, two FA Community Shield, the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup with Manchester United and the Football League Cup with Blackburn Rovers. That was Andy Cole compared to Alan Shearer. Should we now compare Shearer with Maradona?

      • peter white November 3, 2010 at 10:19 am #

        Not really one for replying to threads but will give it a go.

        You asked am I comparing Diego Maradona to Alan Shearer? And I can see why you thought that I was. The rest of your reply seemed to then turn on Mr Shearer and dismiss him as if he wasn’t one of the stella players of his generation. The rest of your reply seems to compare Alan Shearer to Andy Cole which I shall address in time.

        I wasn’t really comparing shearer with Maradona. I think that shearer was a genius but a different kind of genius, a less obvious one. His gift was that of goals rather than the more celebrated gift of dribbling and passing/providing the killer ball. Is one better than the other? Is one more valuable to a team than the other? I don’t know, perhaps they are equally as important.

        Perhaps I would have been wiser to have compared Maradona to Beckenbauer/Cryff or Bobby Charlton. If you take Mr Charlton for example, although I was not about when he was in his prime, I doubt very much that he was falling out of nightclubs/ drink driving or getting into fights. He was world class/ would walk into any team/ He was genius. I guess we all have flaws but he didn’t have flaws like best/gazza and the topic of my ramberlings……….maradona.

        My point was “To be a genius you don’t have to be flawed”. Oh, and that and I don’t like Maradona, but to put that in context, Stuart Hill made me cry at primary school when I was 6 and so did Maradonna, and I still havent forgiven Stuart Hill, so I see no reason why Maradonna should receive special treatment from me!

        Now shall we turn to Mr Cole vs Mr Shearer. Forgive me for asking but are you a Manchester United fan like Nina? I do hope not. If you compare their goal scoring records you will see that Shearer has a significantly better return than Cole. Please don’t start rumours by saying that Cole matched him. It simply isn’t true.

        Shearer 441 premier league appearances with 260 goals. The all time record holder by some distance.

        Cole 414 premier league appearances with 188 goals.

        Would shearer have scored more if he had been at Utd instead of Newcastle? Maybe. To say Cole was better than Shearer because he won significantly more domestic honours is to be blunt, a little naïve. Was the squad of Man Utd better than that of Newcastle? of course it was/is. Was Alex Ferguson a better manager than all of the managers that Newcatle eventually gave P45’s to in the last 15 years? Clearly

        I think the point I would make is this. At shearers peak before suffering knee ligament injury he had scored over 30 league goals in the last 3 consecutive seasons. The last player to do that? No one. Greaves came close, twice in fact, but nobody has ever done that in top flight English football.

        Shearer was a brilliant striker, Shearer was a goal scorer. The likes of which comes along once in a generation actually probably once in every five generations.

        One other point I would like to come back to you on was why you feel that shearer was a “workhorse who fouled throughout his career to get away with scoring a record number of goals consistently matched by that other great English centre forward of the Nineties, Andy Cole”

        Actually Shearer was consistently matched by Cole in one respect. The number of fouls he made. Cole received 38 yellow cards in his 414 appearances and Shearer just 1 more in his 441 appearances. Red cards you might say? Here Shearer is some way behind Cole. Shearer got sent off once in the league and Cole 6 times.

        In future I will be much obliged if you don’t compare Shearer with Cole where goal scoring is concerned and when brandishing anyone as a dirty footballer, make sure it is Cole that you mention and not Shearer.

  3. gregtheoharis November 2, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    Sorry Pete! Winston’s got this one covered. No need for me to respond. Shearer! Honestly…

  4. Steve HUghes November 3, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    Good post. He’s not my favourite character but life would certainly be more boring without him. Everyone has their own heroes and he fits the bill in many ways. Many people don’t like King Eric, but I loved him for the same reasons people choose to love Maradona. If I wasn’t English I’d probably be more of a fan, but you never forget getting robbed, especially – as Peter says – if you were robbed when you were six (or seven in my case). Just ask Irish children what they think about Thierry Henry. As Winston says though, you need good to have evil. Just waiting for Messi to screw up now….

  5. gregtheoharis November 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    It would appear that once again this little Argentine hero of mine has caused yet another debate – and for the sake of preventing further to-ing and fro-ing I would like to say this.

    The article consists of a series of numerous questions, primarily with a what if… scenario. I guess I was prompting readers to use their imagination and let me know how they think history might have been changed if this one particular event had never happened. The fact remains however, that this one event did change the course of footballing history forever and that regardless of patriotism or sadness on the part of the English, being honest to yourself as a football fan, you must see that this player was a genius of huge proportions. This was not an invitation to compare him to anyone else, just assess him for his individual talent.

    He has led such a checkered life, with so many tangents coming off the epicentre that is football – and for that reason will always be the subject of many debates. I am not English and don’t feel what you feel and I am sure if the same scenario had happened in the Euro 2004 final and Ronaldo had scored a goal with his hand, I too would have found it hard to forgive. But I would like to think that if Ronaldo had scored a goal like Diego did three minutes later, I would be able to say ok, the guy is a little b*****d but ‘he sure plays a mean football’.

    And talking of a genius and mean football, l wonder how Gareth Bale’s hand-to-ball co-ordination is coming along…

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