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Flawed genius the best of his generation


Argentinian star Diego Maradona raises his arm in the air after scoring his game-winning goal against England in their World Cup semi final in Mexico, June 22, 1986. Photo: Reuters

Diego Maradona will be remembered as the greatest footballer of his generation and arguably the best the world has ever seen. His death yesterday at the age of 60 came too soon. But this flawed genius of the sporting world certainly lived life to the full.

Argentina has declared three days of mourning to mark the passing of its national hero and more than a million people are expected to file past his body as it lies in state. The loss will be felt by football fans everywhere. He has a special place in the hearts of Chinese fans, who flooded social media with tributes.

Maradona’s rise in the 1980s coincided with China’s opening up. Chinese fans with newly acquired televisions were able to tune in for international football matches and Maradona was the star attraction. He was Deng Xiaoping’s favourite player. The leader invited Maradona to visit and play in China in 1987, but the deal was not done because the footballer’s asking price of US$230,000 was too high. He did visit China later and also played a game in Hong Kong in his youth.

No one who saw him play will forget the way he used his low centre of gravity, great strength and sublime skill to set the game alight. His brilliance won the World Cup for Argentina in 1986. Maradona’s two goals against England are among the most memorable in the competition’s history.

The first, an outrageous illicit handball, was mischievously described by him as “the hand of God”. The second, in which he danced around five bemused England players, was one of the best the game has seen. Maradona represented Argentina in three more World Cups and eventually managed the national team. His exploits at club level saw him star for Barcelona and Napoli, where he is still revered.

But there was another side to this larger-than-life character. An addiction to drugs and alcohol took their toll on his health. He became seriously overweight. Perhaps, if he had played today when top footballers are their own global brands and their lives carefully managed, he would have taken a different path. Perhaps not.

For all his faults, Maradona is one of the few who can genuinely be described as a legend in his own lifetime. As China’s Football Association put it, he was truly “The King of Football”.