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FEATURE | Diego Maradona: A player to remember, for the right reasons

Throughout the decades, there have been many great players who have changed and evolved the game of football. Johan Cruyff, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Zinédine Zidane, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are just a few players who have put their stamp into the game. 

Last month, the football world lost one of the greatest players to ever play the game as Diego Maradona passed away at the age of 60. It was a devastating loss to the game. The debate still remains as to who holds that status, but right now it’s time to thank Maradona for what he has done for the game.

When Maradona made his debut for Argentinos Juniors on October 20, 1976, this was the beginning of something special for football. He went on to play with Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, Newell’s Old Boys before he arrived back to Boca Juniors to finish his playing career. 

The World Cup match between Argentina and England always comes to mind for fans for the infamous “Hand Of God” goal, in addition to his drug abuse and health issues off the pitch. These should not overshadow a player who had tremendous skill and revolutionized the game. The Argentine was a traditional playmaker, who also had the ability to play in many different positions. He was versatile and could play as a second striker in a front two, as an attacking midfielder, or as a central midfielder in an offensive role. 

What Maradona was able to do during games was inspiring. His quickness, vision, ability to control the ball and creativity were dynamic. What was astonishing was his dribbling skills, as he displayed against England in the World Cup of 1986 with his second goal of the game. He passed through the whole England squad single-handedly and capped off an impressive win which led to his country winning the World Cup. 

Maradona has numerous achievements in his career, yet the one that always stands out to me, as a Serie A fan, will be his time with Napoli. He joined the club on July 5, 1984 during a time when the city of Naples was lacking a mayor and had issues with housing, schools, buses, employment and sanitation. None of this mattered to Maradona, who wanted to join Napoli and help turn the club’s fortune around. 

Prior to Maradona’s arrival with Napoli, they won just two trophies and never accomplished the feat of winning a Scudetto in their history. It was an era that was dominated by Juventus and Inter Milan who won 22 and 12 league titles, respectively. However, that all came to an end in 1987 as after 61 years Napoli won their first Scudetto under Maradona’s reign. In 1989, they followed up with their second Scudetto when they defeated Fiorentina on the second last match day with Maradona leading the way.

That he did, as he reached the peak in his career with the Italian club and inherited the role of captain. Additionally, he helped them win two Scudetti, one Coppa Italia, one UEFA Cup and one Supercoppa Italiana. He became the face of Naples and was loved by many. Since his passing, Napoli has put forth great tributes in their matches to recognize and remember their beloved Argentine. 

During his time with Napoli, the second leg versus Juventus in the 1988-89 UEFA Cup Quarter-Final was a historical moment to remember. Napoli lost their first leg 2-0 against their rivals, Juventus. In the second leg they returned to the Stadio San Paolo and were in front of a loud crowd. Maradona wasted no time as he scored in the 10th minute, and then his teammate Andrea Carnevale followed with their second goal right at half time. 

The score remained that way and the match went into extra time. At the 119th minute, Alessandro Renica scored to lift Napoli through to the next round. It was Maradona’s opening goal that initiated the comeback and, as always, he was a vital part to their success.  He showed his ability to fight off the defender, draw the foul and earn his side a penalty. He converted from the spot with great composure.

Aside from making his mark in football, he has inspired many players and changed the shape of the game. Messi and Ronaldo are prime examples as they have been able to learn so much from Maradona. The Argentine’s ability to play the game motivated them to learn and become better players. 

So, let’s not focus on Maradona’s weaknesses, but appreciate what he’s done to make the game better. He’s helped teams such as Napoli overcome a devastating period and led them to glory. He helped Argentina win a World Cup, which is no easy task to do as numerous well-established countries are still waiting to lift their first World Cup.

Thank you, Diego Armando Maradona – for not only allowing us to celebrate such great moments but for making football a much better game. You have inspired many to become better players and have taught us so much about the game of football. You will be missed but you will never be forgotten.

Jerry Mancini

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