Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Diego Maradona – The Love/Hate Icon

There is a popular shot of Diego Maradona freeze in the air, with his hands touching a aerial bound football. Fortunately, that will not be all football fans all over the world will remember the player acknowledged as one of the finest in the world. In fact, never has there been a footballer who was both loved, adored, hated and despised like Maradona.

Look, one can argue till the cow comes home that Pelé is better than Maradona, but Pelé is such a gentleman that he is boring. Come on, the old man does advertisement for erectile dysfunction. Maradona is poster boy for once drug abuse, obesity, and return to sobriety and full form, and possibly back to abuse and being a fatso. There is nothing stopping Maradona from sustaining the good guy/bad boy image he had all these years…and on top of that, a magnificent football player that influenced the entire generation that insisted that Pelé was the best, but dammit, deep inside they admitted this chunky, short Argentinean was no fluke either.

Maradona’s full name is thankfully Diego Armando Maradona. There should be a collective sigh of relief to know that, since Pelé’s full name is Edison Arantes do Nascimento. If you are staring in disbelief, Pelé’s fellow Brazilian footballer, Socrates’ actual name is Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira and it’s easy to assume that introduction sessions in Brazil take days.

Anyway, back to Maradona. When I first saw heard of him and his team when I was seven, and saw him on small screen to years later. I have seen football magazines collected by my uncle back then, and having won the previous world cup, this impressionable young boy became a fan of Argentina’s national football team. I grew to accept some elements of Argentinean football team that irks non-fan – that though they play fantastic football, they also play it dirty. Nothing was more evident than the “hand of god” incident that I highlighted earlier that sent England packing back home in 1986 World Cup, notably one of the best in FIFA’s history. Maradona was responsible for that and led Argentina to victory that year defeating the mechanical Germans. The English are still bitter about it, but it is safe to know that to be defeated by “hand of god” was better than to be crushed German cyborgs.

So, that was the beginning of many controversial events in Maradona’s life. As you might know, he played in Naples for Napoli, where once he was banned for 15 months for cocaine abuse, and then again during 1994 World Cup where he was tested positive for ephedrine, whatever it was.

He retired in 1997, around the time I was losing interest in the game, and went on to become doppelganger for Marlon Brando in terms of size and wackiness. Cocaine abuse was rampant and he had love-hate relationship with the press. In fact, once, claiming that the reporters were invading his privacy, Maradona fired compressed-air rifle. That was a wrong thing to do; a shot gun should have been apt for the paparazzi knuckleheads.

Then, to piss the Americans he became a good buddy of Fidel Castro and called George W. Bush “human garbage”. Having added salt to the injury, he proceeded to pour acid on it when he presented a signed shirt with a message of support to the people of Iran: it is to be displayed in the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' museum. Somewhere Bush is burning Maradona’s effigy.

If that is not enough, the country that loved him once, Italy, reported that in 2009 Maradona owed them 37 million euros in taxes. As of now, Maradona has only paid them 42,000 euros, two luxury watches and a set of earrings. Getting a government to walk into a pawn shop is certainly great way to maintain a relationship.

Speaking of love-hate, the same should apply with his relationship with Pelé. On one occasion, FIFA conducted a fan poll on the Internet the Player of the Century. Maradona finished top of the poll with 53.6% of the vote. But for some feel-good reason, Pelé was also given the title. Maradona, being a gentleman that we know, protested and didn’t wait for the ceremony to be over when he walked off…with the award of course.

The two sort of made up when Maradona started his own talk show….yes, talk show. He is the most outspoken, politically incorrect, and likes to shoot the media, literally, and he was part of the very platform he abhorred, that’s Maradona for you. Anyway, here’s what wikipedia has to say about the show and Pelé:

“His main guest on opening night was Pelé; the two had a friendly chat, showing no signs of past differences. However, the show also included a cartoon villain with a clear physical resemblance to Pelé.”

The two got together again for an advertisement shoot with Zidane, an odd choice considering the balding French was mainly known for using the bald spot to butt-head another player during a game. And recently, when Pelé gave a not so kind comment about Maradona’s coaching technique, the latter simply said that Pelé should be in a museum

Anyway, he proved to be a colourful personality in the ongoing World Cup, standing right next to the field’s touchline, as a coach, a very emotional one, urging the players on, screaming at the referee, kicking the ball stylishly when it rolled to him, and very much becoming the man of the match himself though he was outside the pitch. He was every bit as entertaining as the game itself.

Whether he was a great player, questionable coach, had issues with his health, grappled with drug addiction, shared meals with communist leaders, or pissed the Americans off, he’d be a name that at least, football fans or those who have heard of the game, would remember.

I asked two hardcore Brazil supporters what they think of him here are the reactions:-

Balan Kumar (my brother): “A legend like Pelé, who should have remained just that, now he will be also known as a failed manager, notwithstanding his off field antics ( football field touchline and his cocaine induced tantrums).”

Subendran Ravindran (author of footballshaman.blogspot.com): “He is a great player who tried to be a great manager, but over did it with fiddling too much. In the end should have just remained that great icon that we all knew. And the irony is, he will still be a ‘great’ icon.”

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