On Wednesday, football lost one of the finest players to grace the field after Diego Maradona passed away at the age of 60.
The Argentinian possessed outrageous skill, balance and imagination coupled with an infectious love for the game. Maradona also endeared himself to those he played with and against like almost no other. Here’s what they’ve had to say about him over the years.
Maradona at Napoli
“Maradona is a God to the people of Naples,” said Fabio Cannavaro, who was in the Napoli youth system during Maradona’s time with the club. “Maradona changed history. In 80 years, we had always suffered, fighting against relegation, yet in seven seasons with him we won two leagues, a UEFA Cup, two Italian Cups. I’m a fan too and to live those years with Maradona was incredible. Being on the pitch when they won the Scudetto was amazing.”
Maradona for Argentina
Maradona made 91 appearances for his country, scoring 34 goals and singlehandedly inspiring Argentina to 1986 World Cup glory.
“For Maradona to win a World Cup on his own, and let’s face it, that’s what he did as the rest of the team were ordinary, was an amazing achievement,” said former England midfielder Glenn Hoddle. “He was the best player I’ve seen.”
“In Argentine football there is a before and after Maradona,” said Julio Grondona, former head of the Argentine football association.
“Diego, for all Argentinians, is God. And he always will be,” said Boca Juniors forward Carlos Tevez.
Goal of the Century
Maradona’s most iconic moment in an Argentina shirt is his slaloming run and finish from the halfway line against England at the 1986 World Cup. It is regarded as the greatest goal ever scored.
“When Diego scored that second goal against us, I felt like applauding,” said former England forward Gary Lineker “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.”
“Diego apologised to me after he scored the second goal against England,” said Argentinian teammate Jorge Valdano. “He could see me unmarked at the far post the whole way but he couldn’t find a gap to get the ball to me.
“The fact is I felt offended. It was an insult to my profession. I mean, even on a run like that he still has the time to look up and see me. As a player I was nothing compared to him. He was incredible.”
He was of course assisted by teammate Hector Enrique, who gave the ball to Maradona inside his own half from about five yards away…. “With a pass like that, how could he miss?” Enrique said.
Maradona the Player
How can you begin to describe the genius of Maradona on a football pitch?
“What Zidane could do with a ball, Maradona could do with an orange,” said Juventus and France great Michel Platini.
“With him on the ball, you didn’t know where he finished and where the ball started.” said Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho.
“Beyond everything else, no ball ever had a better experience than when it was at his left foot,” said Argentina teammate Jorge Valdano.
“The best of the lot, no question,” said Brazil icon Zico. “In my generation, my era, he was simply the best. I saw Maradona do things that God himself would doubt were possible.
“He always had someone marking him, he always had someone hanging on to him, and yet he could still always conjure up wonderful pieces of magic. A genius.”
Maradona the Person
Maradona was also one hell of a character with a towering, eccentric, infectious personality.
Paul Gascoigne recalled playing against Maradona in a pre-season friendly for Lazio during the Argentinian’s year with Sevilla, with the former England midfielder enjoying a few drinks on the flight over.
“In the tunnel I went to Diego: ‘Diego, I’m tipsy’,” Gascoigne explained. “He went: ‘that’s okay Gazza, so am I’.”
“Off the pitch, I always liked his simplicity,” said Gianfranco Zola, who played alongside Maradona at Napoli. “He was Maradona, yet with the team he seemed just like an ordinary lad like the rest of us. He didn’t behave at all like a football star.”
The Greatest of All Time?
The debate will continue to rage on regarding where Maradona ranks in terms of all-time greats of the game. 90min ranked him as number one, and this is a popular consensus among many.
“The crucial difference with Pele is that Maradona wasn’t surrounded by great players; he had to carry the team himself,” said former Manchester United forward Eric Cantona. “If you took Maradona out of Argentina, they would not win the World Cup, but I think Brazil without Pele would still have won.”
“There will never be anyone like Maradona again, not even if Messi wins three World Cups in succession or scores a bicycle kick from midfield,” said Maradona’s Argentina teammate Hector Enrique.
“Even if I played for a million years, I’d never come close to Maradona,” said Lionel Messi. “Not that I’d want to anyway. He’s the greatest there’s ever been.”
The difference between Messi and Maradona, at least in terms of perception if not talent, is perhaps best summed up by journalist Roberto Lioi on Twitter, himself quoting an Uber driver.
“Messi is what every Argentine would like to be. Maradona is what we are.”
In His Own Words
“If I die, I want to be born again and I want to be a footballer. And I want to be Diego Armando Maradona again. I’m a player who’s given people joy and that’s enough for me, it’s more than enough.”
Edited by Tiyani wa ka Mabasa