Maradona: Within the build-up to his 60th birthday on Friday, Argentina’s great Diego Maradona gave an interview to France Football in which he stated that he dreams of scoring a goal against England with his right hand. This 1986 World Cup quarterfinal at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca still stands as the defining moment of his career, and maybe of his lifetime.
This, of course, was the match when he set the Albiceleste ahead against England with his notorious”hands of God” target — deftly hitting the ball to the internet without being caught by the officials — then doubled the lead with an outstanding solo attempt that later won a FIFA poll to find the”Goal of the Century.” His performance, and his goals, against Belgium from the semifinal might have been even better. In the final against West Germany, he made the winner with a superbly judged pass for Jorge Burruchaga.
There were magnificent early exploits with Argentinos Juniors, a short but much-loved bout with Boca Juniors and, possibly his finest and most consistent body of work, the Italian titles with Napoli. But it is that Mexican afternoon against England that constantly seems to be noticed. This has a great deal to do with all the resistance — and not just because England and Argentina had gone to war over the Falkland Islands just four years before.
Maradona is an ideal case of this dynamic of this match in South America. Introduced by the British and full of European prestige, it was reinterpreted by the natives, who discovered the game lent itself nicely to a balletic style that came naturally to people who have a low center of gravity. Subsequently, that reinterpretation led to global triumphs and fame.
Stocky little Maradona was an undercover everyman, who day against England lived out a nationwide fantasy. Like most highly skilled players, he was much more sinned against than sinning, and he played at a time when the match was growing physically with very little protection from referees. Courage was a necessity, and part of the survival strategy was a sense of low cunning — very evident in that contentious”hands of God” goal. The message to his countrymen was apparent; the English might have the proper power, but we’re smarter. And, screamed the next aim, we’re better. The entire game was scripted from a nation’s long-held dream.
This was sport as a strong symbol, and nothing in Maradona’s life could be the same. Former Argentina captain Roberto Perfumo made a contrast with Julius Caesar. The Roman emperor had people walking behind him whispering reminders in his ear that he was only a mortal. Argentine society, said Perfumo, had tended to do the contrary with Maradona.
But although he may have been deified, Diego is not a god. Living in the aftermath of 1986 has not been easy. There have been wild excesses, a number of them lived out in public. There have been many times when it seemed unlikely that he would find this far, also, which explains why his 60th birthday should be celebrated.
Many in Argentina, and across the planet, such as him and identify him all the more precisely due to his tendency to slide up and fall down, only to pick himself up and set about reinventing himself once more. Maradona is now coaching Gimnasia, a comparatively weak side from the first division. He could surely do without it, and get from making personal appearances. However,
he chooses to put himself on the line and pin the group sheet to the wall — certainly an admirable trait. There have been no matches since the middle of March, once the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown, but the date which has deliberately been picked for its restart is Friday, Maradona’s birthday. And Gimnasia is first up, getting the ball rolling at home to Patronato.
It seems unlikely, though, that Maradona will probably be present. Argentina is currently going through its worst second together with all the outbreak, and after being in contact with someone who tested positive, Maradona is in enforced isolation.
The months of lockdown have reportedly not been good for his morale. However, given his age and medical history, he’s definitely at risk and has to be protected — Gimnasia advised him to keep away from training when it resumed in August. For each of the pleasure he has contributed, he surely deserves to come out the other side of this pandemic and celebrate plenty more birthdays, put himself through other challenges, and keep dreaming of goals he’d like to score, lawful or otherwise.