Diego Maradona: A flawed genius

Diego Maradona: A flawed genius

Diego Maradona.

If you were a sports fan growing up in India in the 1980s, you had two larger-than-life figures to look up to. There was Kapil Dev, who led India to its maiden World Cup triumph in 1983. And there was Argentine maverick Diego Armando Maradona, who guided his team to its second FIFA World Cup crown in 1986. Kapil and Maradona didn’t script these triumphs all on their own, but their imprint in their teams' success was unmistakable. A second World Cup crown in three editions meant as much to Argentina as India winning cricket's greatest prize for the first time, in the most unexpected fashion. The canvases of the two sports may have been different, but the impact of the victories on the respective nations was similar. Two countries steeped in poverty and looking for light at the end of a tunnel had something to cheer about. These successes were welcome distractions from the harsh realities of life for millions. And while cricket's popularity grew manifold on the back of the 1983 triumph, Maradona attained god-like status in already football-crazy Argentina.

Maradona’s dramatic fall from grace, culminating in his ejection from the 1994 World Cup for doping, was as spectacular as his meteoric rise had been eight years previously. The genius who transformed a mediocre Italian club like Napoli into a continental force with his inspirational performances slipped into a morass of hopelessness following dalliances with drug lords and addiction to cocaine. Considered, along with Pele, as the greatest footballer of all time, Maradona's similarities with his significantly older Brazilian counterpart ended on the football turf. Where Pele has maintained a squeaky-clean image, Maradona was anything but a role model. The man who showed such impeccable ball-control couldn't summon the same quality as he unabashedly embraced multiple vices. Alcohol and drug abuse began to become as well chronicled as his on-field achievements.

A bundle of contradictions, he was a footballing genius with a sordid lifestyle who made little attempt to either hide or rectify it. If anything, he proudly flaunted it, like he did his 'Hand of God' goal. Few have tried to glamourise "cheating" in sports like Maradona and succeeded in it. Thanks to his own narration of the story leading up to that goal against England in the 1986 quarterfinal, it's spoken of in the same breath as his 'goal of the century', which came four minutes later in the same match. That pretty much sums up Maradona – he was a magician on the field, but off it, his zest for trouble knew no limit. And yet, Argentina and the world loved him.