It’s a sad day for the footballing world.
Diego Maradona, one of the greatest footballers of all time, has passed away at the age of 60.
He played a total of 591 games for club and country, scoring 293 goals.
Known around the world for his sublime dribbling skills, the Argentinian wizard gained worldwide fame after he led his country to victory in the 1986 World Cup.
On 25 Nov 2020, Maradona died after suffering a cardiac arrest in his home, leaving his country and fans in mourning.
So, who exactly was Maradona? And why was he so revered?
Here are 10 facts about Diego Maradona, a man who was worshipped for his actions on the field, and troubled by his antics off it.
He Was Born to a Poor Family in Argentina
Diego Armando Maradona was born on 30 October 1960, in Lanus, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He grew up in a poor family in the shanty town of Villa Fiorito, where he shared one room with seven siblings.
His childhood was blighted with hardship, until football came along.
He Made His Professional Debut at the Age of 15
Maradona’s talent was spotted by a scout when he was just 8 years old.
He used to entertain spectators with his skills during the halftime intermissions of first division games when he was a 12-year-old ball boy.
Then, on 20 October 1976, he made his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors, just 10 days before his 16th birthday.
Very few footballers, even the most gifted ones, make their debut at such an early age.
He usually played in a free role, either as an attacking midfielder behind the forwards, or as a second striker in a front–two.
He was renowned for his vision, close ball control, passing, but most of all, his unparalleled dribbling ability.
So, it was unsurprising when he made his international debut for Argentina at 16.
He Was The First Barcelona Player to be Applauded by Real Madrid Fans
In 1983, during a game with Real Madrid, Maradona became the first Barcelona player to be applauded by Real Madrid fans at the stadium.
It was after he scored this cheeky little goal:
If you’re not a football fan and can’t appreciate the significance, just picture Donald Trump applauding a Tik Tok video made by Xi Jinping.
Except the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry is even more intense and bitter.
He Led His Country to Victory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup
Maradona is remembered for many stunning performances, but it was his virtuoso display in the 1986 FIFA World Cup that cemented his legendary status.
26 at the time, Maradona captained the Argentine national team and played every minute of every game in the tournament, scoring five goals and contributing five assists.
He led his country to only their second World Cup win, beating out West Germany by 3-2.
He Scored the “Goal of the Century”
It was in the 1986 FIFA World Cup that Maradona scored what many fans consider to be the greatest goal of all time.
It was in a match against England, where Argentina won 2-1, with Maradona scoring both goals.
At one point in the game, Maradona received the ball in his own half, spun around, and ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past five English outfield players and even going past keeper Peter Shilton with a feint, before slotting the ball into the back of the net.
It was later voted by FIFA as the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup, and dubbed the “Goal of the Century” by fans.
He Once Scored a Goal With His Hand
Even if you’re not a football fan, you’d know that by the very definition of football, you’re not supposed to use your hands.
But Maradona managed to do it, and in one of the most high-profile games at that.
It was in that very same game with England where he scored the “Goal of the Century”.
Just four minutes before that wondrous goal came, an English defender miscued a clearance, and accidentally lobbed the ball towards England’s keeper Peter Shilton.
Maradona challenged for the ball and managed to nick it with his head, scoring the game’s first goal.
However, replays showed that he had actually punched the ball with his left hand, but carefully obscured the punch with his head from the referee’s view.
Controversy over the goal led to a lot of anger from English fans, but the rest of the world didn’t care, because it was Maradona.
When reporters later asked him about the goal, he said:
“Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios,” (“a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.
And thus, the goal became known as the “Hand of God”.
He Once Shot at Journalists With An Air Rifle
While his performances on the pitch were effusively praised, Maradona drew criticism and negative media attention for his temper and confrontational behaviour off it.
After being harassed by reporters for years because he was such a star, Maradona finally lost it one day and fired a compressed-air rifle at reporters who he claimed were invading his privacy.
As a result, he received a suspended prison sentence of two years and 10 months in 1998.
He’s Had Numerous Issues With His Health & Drugs
Besides his troubled relationship with the press, Maradona also struggled with a cocaine addiction for 20 years.
Eventually, this affected his footballing career, as he served a 15-month ban in 1992 for failing a drug test for cocaine.
Two years later, in the 1994 World Cup, Maradona played in only two games, before being sent home after failing a drug test for ephedrine doping.
Already prone to obesity, his poor diet, hard-partying lifestyle, and use of drugs further impacted his health.
In 2005, the Argentinian had to undergo gastric bypass surgery, and was re-admitted in 2007 for hepatitis and effects of alcohol abuse.
He Died of a Heart Attack Weeks After Undergoing Successful Brain Surgery
In the first week of November, Maradona had subdural hematoma surgery for a blood clot on his brain, which was successful.
He was kept in the hospital longer because he exhibited symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, but was eventually discharged.
Sadly, just a few weeks later, Maradona suffered a heart attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and passed away.
Residents in Buenos Aires took to the streets in mourning, as one of the nation’s biggest stars had been snatched from them.
Many Will Remember Him as the Greatest Footballer of all Time
While football fans may argue over whether Pelé, Cristiano Ronaldo, or his fellow countryman Lionel Messi are better than him, there’s no doubt that Maradona was one of the greatest footballers of all time, and is certainly in the conversation.
Along with Pelé, Maradona was one of the two joint winners of the “FIFA Player of the Century” award in 2000.
And in 2017, FourFourTwo ranked him in first place in their list of “100 greatest players”.
After news of his death emerged, footballers and clubs all over the world paid tribute to the 60-year-old on social media.
Que notícia triste. Eu perdi um grande amigo e o mundo perdeu uma lenda. Ainda há muito a ser dito, mas por agora, que Deus dê força para os familiares. Um dia, eu espero que possamos jogar bola juntos no céu. pic.twitter.com/6Li76HTikA
— Pelé (@Pele) November 25, 2020
A true great of the game.
Rest in peace, Diego Maradona. pic.twitter.com/jImGjnjhUl
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 25, 2020
Hasta siempre, Diego.
— Selección Argentina 🇦🇷 (@Argentina) November 25, 2020
Always in our hearts 💙
Ciao, Diego pic.twitter.com/I2gTWqdtdB
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) November 25, 2020
Legendary 💔 pic.twitter.com/BRd5oAXV9S
— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) November 25, 2020
In an Instagram post, Barcelona star Lionel Messi said:
“A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He’s left us but he hasn’t gone, because Diego is eternal. I’ll keep all the great times I enjoyed with him and want to take the opportunity to send my deepest respects to all his family and friends. RIP.”
Featured Image: Andrew Makedonski / Shutterstock.com