A magician, yes. A genius, without doubt. But also a flawed human who repeatedly hit the self-destruct button faster than the ball sprung from his famed left foot. I was fortunate enough to be once in the presence of Argentinian football deity Diego Armando Maradona, as fleeting as it was. That came at the 1998 France World Cup final, in the media sector of Stade de France. Only for a small thick-set guy to run up the stairs and sit just behind.He was with his minders, of course, but the aura emitting from the lad from Lanus was awesome. I wanted to ask for an autograph, perhaps a photo, but I remained glued to my seat. It is a measure of his footballing brilliance that an Englishman, so passionately patriotic and so bitter in the decade spanning the 1980s and ’90s over the simple touch of a hand for all the world to see, was so desperate to share a moment with him. Maradona is a deity in his homeland. My good friend, ex-Middlesbrough and Liverpool striker David Hodgson, lived it first-hand when he worked in Buenos Aires for a year, “They still sell Maradona shirts on street corners and it’s 25 years since he stopped playing.”
The outpouring of grief in Argentina is a testament of that. A three-day period of national mourning, the death threats received by funeral workers for disgracefully taking a selfie with the body, the volume of people on the streets. Maradona was truly worshipped. There is no question of his footballing brilliance, he sits with Pele and George Best and tops regular arguments in social circles the world over as to which one of the three was best. He was jointly voted with Pele in 2000 as FIFA’s Best Player of the Century.