• Andrew Starc

The Greatest: Diego Maradona's best on and off-field moments

Rest in peace Diego Armando Maradona, the greatest footballer of all time.

What makes Diego the greatest? It’s not just his on-field accomplishments and unique footballing genius, the likes of which we’ll never see again.

It’s also the Argentine’s larger-than-life personality. His legend as football’s mad genius and the drama which followed him during, and after, his playing career.

Maradona may not have scored as many goals as Pele, Messi or Ronaldo. But statistics can't tell the story of the dazzling skills and legendary moments he created on and off the pitch. At times, he was simply unplayable.

Diego was the first global footballing superstar – a man of the people who oozed passion and is worshipped to a degree no other player is.

Watch Maradona brought to tears whilst serenaded by street performers in Argentina

Such is Diego's God-like status among Argentines that a religion was founded in his name – Iglesia Maradoniana, or Church of Maradona – which boasts to 200,000 members.

Maradona was often seen in the crowd at Boca Juniors and Argentina matches, where he would stand shoulder to shoulder with everyday fans, supporting his team more passionately than they.

Diego's reaction to Messi's goal against Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup epitomised his passion. He looked like a man in religious ecstasy.

The most naturally gifted footballer in history

There have been many gifted footballers, but only a select few are considered geniuses of the game. Players like Ronaldinho, Zidane, Cruyff, Ronaldo R9, Pele, and Messi.

None of them, however, graced the ball with more natural ability and precision than Maradona. The famous video of Diego warming up pre-match while playing for Napoli is case in point.

Even some of the game's greats were stunned by Maradona's training ground skills.

In the below video, former England striker Gary Lineker describes the almost otherworldly tricks he and other football greats witnessed Maradona perform pre-match, including an extreme version of keepie uppy.

French football legend Zinedine Zidane also spoke of Diego's unbelievable skills. In the below video, he describes watching Maradona hit the cross bar from the six-yard box multiple times in succession – a feat Zidane attempts to replicate, with little success.

Maradona's best moment – winning the 1986 World Cup for Argentina

Then, of course, there were his on-field moments and achievements.

An outspoken leader on the field as much as he was a fantastic player, Diego almost single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina.

Out of the 14 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament, Maradona scored five of them and assisted another five – including the winning goal against West Germany in the final.

He attempted 90 dribbles – three times more than any other player. Diego was also fouled a record 53 times, winning Argentina twice as many free kicks than any other player.

Maradona went on to win the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament.

His most memorable goal of the group stage, came against Belgium – his second of the match.

But his most memorable goals of the 1986 World Cup – and the most memorable in history – came in the quarter final against England.

Maradona scores the 'Hand of God' goal

In the space of four minutes, Maradona managed to score both the most famous and most infamous goals in history.

Six minutes into the second-half, the Argentine makes a penetrating run towards the box, before passing to a teammate. The pass is intercepted by an English defender, who tries to clear the ball but miscues his kick.

The ball loops into the penalty area, where Maradona out-jumps keeper Peter Shilton – who's eight inches taller than him – to tuck the ball into the net with the outside of his left hand.

Post-match, Diego told press that the goal was scored "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God." It was henceforth known as the 'Hand of God'' goal.

It was a sore point for English fans for many years, and came at a time when Argentina and the UK were officially at war in the Falklands. The quarter-final was the first match of what later became one of football's biggest rivalries.

In his autobiography ‘Touched by God,’ Diego speaks about the goal and the enmity going into the match.

“It was England, let’s not forget, and the ‘Malvinas’ [Falklands] were fresh in the memory,” he said.

“It floated down to me like a little balloon. Oh boy, what a treat. Shilton thought I was going to hit him. But I jumped like a frog.I got an idea, to put my hand and my head in.”

“The one who realised what happened was (Terry) Fenwick. But apart from him, nothing, no one else. I kept on running, never looking back.”

The Argentinian players had been banned from celebrating goals by their manager. But after scoring, Maradona encouraged his team mates to do so.

“This time, I needed them. I really did. (Sergio) ‘Checho’ Batista was the first one to come over, but slowly. He asked me: ‘Did you use your hand?’ I told him ‘Shut the fuck up and keep celebrating!’ We were still afraid they would disallow the goal.”

“As a kid in Fiorito I would score goals with my hand all the time. And I did the same thing in front of a hundred thousand people, but no one saw it.”

Maradona scores the 'Goal of the Century'

Four minutes after the 'Hand of God' goal, Maradona scores what is widely regarded as the greatest individual goal of all time.

Maradona receives the ball from a teammate inside his own half. He pirouettes with the ball to evade two defenders, then sets off on a mazy run through the English half. In 10 seconds he covers 60 yards, whilst dodging two more defenders, before finishing with a feint that fools the keeper, before slotting the ball into the net.

What's more, he did it on a notoriously uneven pitch that today's players would consider almost unplayable.

Speaking about the goal, Diego says once he made it into the penalty box, he originally wanted to pass to a teammate.

"I made the play to give it to Valdano, but when I got to the area they surrounded me and I had no space. Therefore, I had to continue the play and finish it myself," he said.

He also commended the English team for not fouling him during his run to goal.

"I don't think I could have done it against any other team because they all used to knock you down; [the English team] are probably the noblest in the world"

The goal is also famous, particularly in Hispanophone countries, for the over-the-top commentary of Uruguayan journalist Víctor Hugo Morales

In 2002, it was voted the 'Goal of the Century' on the FIFA website.

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