Imagining football without Diego Armando Maradona is near-enough impossible, but sadly he has passed away, aged 60.
Not only was the Argentine maverick one of just a handful of footballers who have truly transcended the beautiful game, he was also indisputably one of the most talented players to ever set foot on a pitch
Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and Lionel Messi all lay claim to being true sporting superstars. There can be no doubt that Maradona features on this prestigious list.
But what made “El Pibe de Oro” so special?
The fact is, whether you love or hate him, Maradona was always remarkably difficult to ignore.
In Argentina and Naples, however, it’s simpler: he is a god.
Raised in a shantytown in a province of Buenos Aires, Maradona was given a ball to play with aged three and never looked back.
A short and tenacious playmaker renowned for his incredible dribbling skills and ability to create something out of nothing for himself and his teammates, he helped win titles at every club he played for in Argentina, Italy and Spain.
The pinnacle of his career came at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where his extraordinary displays propelled him to world stardom.
And no match encapsulates both his genius and madness as perfectly as the quarter-final against England.
Maradona showed the world he possessed those traits in both of his goals – arguably two of the most famous goals in football history.
His first came after he punched the ball over the despairing leap of Peter Shilton and into the back of the net.
Later declaring the goal as the “Hand of God”, Maradona even had the audacity and arrogance to celebrate goal in front of the same linesman who failed to see the infringement.
His second was a work of art, rightly described as “The Goal of the Century” as he slalomed through the English defence before slotting home.
In total, he played in four World Cups, and scored 34 goals in 91 international appearances for Argentina.
It was at Napoli where Maradona reached the peak of his professional career. He was handed the captain’s armband soon after arriving and was seen as the saviour of the club.
He elevated the team to the most successful era in its history in a period when North-South tensions in Italy were at breaking point due to the economic differences between the two peninsulas.
Under his leadership, they won their first ever Serie A Italian Championship in 1986/87 and just like that his DNA was ingrained in the history of the city.
Mock funerals for Juventus and Milan followed with a new Neapolitan empire declared, while murals of Maradona were plastered across ancient buildings and newborn children were named in his honour.
The next campaign, Maradona formed a blistering trio with strikers Bruno Giordano and Careca – duly named “Ma-Gi-Ca” (magical) – and they steered Napoli to a second league title in 1989/90 to send the the city into an unprecedented euphoria.
But having risen to become arguably the most famous sportsman on the planet, Maradona’s life quickly became embroiled in controversy.
His appetite to party became prominent whilst playing for Barcelona in the 1980s, and, to the dismay of the sporting world, his career trajectory took a downward spiral when he tested positive for cocaine in 1991 and received a 15-month suspension.
Three years later, there was more trouble and another suspension when he tested positive for ephedrine during the World Cup in 1994.
With his physical skills diminishing with each passing day due to injury and his over-indulgent lifestyle, the twilight of Maradona’s playing career back in his native Argentina.
He returned to Boca Juniors – the club he spent a solitary season at in 1981/82 after breaking onto the scene at Argentinos Juniors.
After two years at Boca, he would soon announce his retirement on the eve of his 37th birthday in 1997.
Nevertheless, like his playing days, drama was never too far away from Maradona when he retired.
Having been hospitalised for heart problems in 2000 and 2004, Maradona took centre stage once more hen he was hired to coach the Argentina national team in 2008.
And despite boasting the likes of Lionel Messi in his ranks, his stint as the national team coach came to a cruel end following a 4-0 thrashing by Germany in the 2010 World Cup’s quarter-finals. – talkSPORT