How Maradona refashioned the football field as a battlefield-cum-canvas with his divine physicality
We had started remembering Diego Maradona long before reports — first unconfirmed, then confirmed — started coming in “from Argentina” on Wednesday evening that the world’s greatest footballer is dead. We had started remembering El Dios — God — in the way most of us first encountered him in Mexico in 1986 via our television screens: a force of nature.
Thanks to YouTube and reruns, we would replay that majestic, brutal, 60-yard, 10-second slalom run against England on June 22, 1986, first pirouetting away from Peter Beardsley at the halfway line, runawaying past Peter Reid, skipping Terry Butcher, flick-flickering past Terry Fenwick, swatting a reprise from Butcher, and then leaving goalkeeper Peter Shilton helpless like the victim that he was. Atheism was always left damned each time we resaw this.
Maradona’s majestic, brutal, 60-yard, 10-second slalom run against England on June 22, 1986.
And then that second goal, in the match on June 26, slicing and opening up the Belgian defence, and giddy with the momentum of his own body after scoring, almost toppling off the face of the pitch.
For his adorers — everyone has fans these days, and admirers are for furniture — of course, Maradona was not just about these two goals, or his 1986 World Cup. It was his oeuvre with Argentina, with Napoli, against the world.
Much of what we know as Diego Maradona — both the majestic footballer as well as the caricature we seemed to have an appetite for — is the view we get through the sluice gates. Overwhelmingly through the 1986 World Cup and the two World Cups after that, and through the club football he played in Europe during the 1980s, first with Barcelona and, then, reaching mythic proportions, with Napoli. But his rise to fame and subsequent decline as a remarkable athlete follows a trajectory that, even if it does not explain Maradona and football, can at least demystify it.
It is impossible — and self-defeating — to separate his on-field brilliance from his off-field antics, the two being joined at the low centre-of-gravity hip. But for the latter to not devour the former, it was Maradona’s refashioning of the football field, his use of it as a battlefield-cum-canvas, that will mark him after the fog of coke-Camorra-Che charisma has lifted.
Maradona lifted Napoli from the bottom of the Italian Serie A barrel to win their first ever league title in 1987.
Despite being Maradona, football is not tennis, or golf — it is a game with 10 other players playing on the same side, for the same goal(s). In 1986, he may have been the force that, seemingly by sheer will, destroyed all opposition in Argentina’s path. But with forwards like Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga, and midfielders of the calibre of Sergio Batista and Hector Enrique, “Maradona’s side” was primed to work like a fusion engine. And it showed.
The same goes with the metamorphosis and other stories of Napoli, which Maradona lifted from the bottom of the Italian Serie A barrel to win their first ever league title in 1987 and then again in 1990 — in between the Neapolitan club won the 1989 UEFA Cup, the equivalent of today’s Champion’s League crowning the club side in Europe (read: the world). After Argentina’s 1986 World Cup victory, Napoli had the good sense — and brand value — to bring in Andrea Carnevale and Bruno Giordano to make a formidable arrowhead with Maradona as its tip, along with Fernando De Napoli and Salvatore Bagni in midfield. This was no East Bengal FC thrust suddenly on the world stage courtesy of the world’s finest footballer at that point.
Such an architecture not only provided Maradona to thrive, but it also allowed the team their drive, pushing them to indulge in a form of delightful, not-always-obvious play — especially in an era that played rougher football with fair play awards still sniggered at.
Take the opening 1986 World Cup game of Argentina and South Korea, when only reputation preceded the No. 10 outside his twin homes of Argentina and Napoli. By having pretty much all the Korean players trying to lock down on one player — Maradona — paradoxically the Argentina team was free to operate and, in turn, weaponise their captain. Maradona would be fouled an incredible 11 times in that opening World Cup game, resulting in him creating all three goals — two from supremely calibrated freekicks and one run down the centre for Valdano to drive home.
Many Maradona fans clung on to his “undiminished passion”, his left-leaning politics and Che Guevara tattoo and photo-ops with Fidel Castro.
Enrique would later joke about that Maradona second goal against England — “with a pass that good, he couldn’t really miss”. But the joke works simply because of the astounding nature of the “last-mile delivery” by Maradona driven by forces that can only be considered supernatural, no matter how many times we revisit it. Otherwise, it could well have been just a proud matter-of-fact statement from a Hector who happened to have an Achilles on his side.
In the 1990 World Cup, the breakdown of this symbiotic relationship between Maradona and 10 others was evident from the start. In the run-up to the tournament, Maradona and Argentina were out of sync, visible — for those who were looking — by the 10-game streak the side played without a win before the World Cup that would end only with a victory in a friendly against Israel.
Against Cameroon in the ill-fated opening game, Maradona looked unfit, had a swollen toe because of an ingrown nail, and the spectators from the San Siro stands in Milan rooted overwhelmingly for the underdogs. “I cured Italy of racism that night,” Maradona would go on to say with a sneer. He was marked “efficiently”, his shin guards up to his thighs proving to be handy. But Argentina winger Claudio Caniggia’s bursts of speed were also railroaded constantly by some tough Cameroonian defending.
Argentina, Maradona’s Argentina, lost to Cameroon in their first game of a World Cup title defence by a single goal. Argentina reaching the final, to lose to Germany, was a desperate scrape up a rusty pipe that only the stubborn and the blind faithful could have mistaken to be a travesty.
We also came to follow with perverse curiosity the demise of this song of body electric. The circus show of Maradona from the stands, the reports of his operations and abuse of body and mind, the videos of his increasingly unreal reality shows. Early on, there was sadness that we refused to reveal — this was El Diego, after all, doing what he pleased, earning his transgressions by what he had done half a lifetime before. Slowly, but surely, however, it turned into a rags-to-riches-to-bling story, of a physicality turned upside down, inside out.
Quite magically though, we found Maradona looking fit — although considerably slower — at the 1994 World Cup. Perhaps, 1990 and the intervening years in the wilderness had taught Maradona the need to reboot. This was also a side that had won the last two Copa America. We saw a bolt from the blue of the past when with Argentina two goals up, courtesy of No. 9 forward Gabriel Batistuta making salad of the Greek defence, Maradona conducted a rapid series of “billiard shot” one-twos and then let loose a piledriver from the Greek 18-yard penalty box line that plunged into the top of the net.
This goal, admirable by Maradona standards, would be followed by what commentators, always in hindsight, would consider as “signs of trouble to come” — a demonic face before the nearest camera celebrating a Resurrection. More to the point, this would be Diego Maradona’s last goal ever for Argentina. (The next game against Nigeria that saw Caniggia score both the winning goals would see Maradona, after the game, testing positive for a cocktail of drugs that suppressed appetite and enhanced endurance, resulting in him being thrown out of the tournament.)
“Maradona” remained ensconced like a sun in jar, in a past which we had technomagic access to, like an old whisky one takes out once in a while to remember the taste of, lest one forgets that such a taste once existed. The psycho drama we encountered was Planet Diego nibbles from Dubai, from Cuba, from strange openings of jewellery stores in Kerala or the unveiling of his statue in Kolkata — or worse.
Many Maradona fans may have clung on to his “undiminished passion”, his left-leaning politics and Che Guevara tattoo and photo-ops with Fidel Castro. In 1982, while others like 1978 World Cup-winning Argentina coach Cesar Menotti spoke out against the Argentine military junta, the 22-year-old Diego when asked about the government had said, “I don’t know… All I want is for my country to be the best in the world.” Perhaps taking a cue, we, too, can do El Diego justice by remembering, reconstructing, reinstating him “simply” for the football he played and, indeed, scattered across fields.
What was palpable since he first shook his mane wearing La Albiceleste — the Argentinian White and Sky Blue — first under coach Menotti, who plucked him out of Boca Juniors to the national team (and later brought him to Barcelona), then under Carlos Bilardo when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup — and then in Napoli blue, was Maradona’s fierce presence. Through the sheer presence of his muscles, tendons, blood and pumping heart, he showed the futility of the idea of a Cartesian divide separating body and mind.
Great contemporary footballers like Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, or even past giants like Zinadine Zidane, Pele and Alfredo Di Stefano can — and have been — quantified, their greatness correlated to numbers, patterns, data. Somehow, quantifiables have flaked off when it comes to Maradona, hardly doing justice to the riptide and storm that he was during the 1980s and early 1990s, until the drugs didn’t work anymore.
Maradona was one of the world’s greatest physical artists. Physicality, in the Maradonian sense, was not just about fitness. Although his recovery from injury during his ill-fated season at Barcelona in 1983-84 that nearly retired him from top football before he moved “home” to Napoli did show his grit and determination to being fit when he put his mind and body to it. Physicality for Maradona was about space-time to be created, expanded, contracted, controlled and conquered. This is a divine quality.
Diego Maradona made us understand that metaphysics is only a product of a man’s state of play in the physical world. His leela was football.
EPL: Mahrez scores hat-trick as Manchester City thrash Burnley 5-0 yet again | Football News
The Algerian set City on their way in the sixth minute, finishing off a flowing passing move with his trademark cut in from the left and drive into the far corner.
There was a similar finish for the second after Mahrez picked up the ball in space in the area after Burnley had been caught out by a quick throw in.
Benjamin Mendy made it 3-0 in the 41st, volleying home at the back post after a fine cross from Kevin De Bruyne.
Burnley enjoyed some relief from the pressure after the break with Jay Rodriguez forcing a save out of Ederson with a well-struck effort from a tight angle.
But Ferran Torres then added the fourth goal, slotting home after the overlapping Kyle Walker had found Gabriel Jesus in the box and the Brazilian flicked it to his Spanish team mate to confidently convert.
Mahrez completed his hat-trick in the 69th minute, heading home a Phil Foden cross, and it could have been 6-0 had an effort from Jesus not been ruled out for offside by VAR and a shot from De Bruyne not crashed against the post.
ISL: Hyderabad play goalless draw with Bengaluru | Football News
Getting four points from two outings is the best start in the league for Hyderabad.
However, it was a frustrating evening for Bengaluru FC, who are yet to taste a win this season.
The two sides showed attacking intent from the word go and BFC had their first attempt as early as the fifth minute. Ashique Kuruniyan tried his luck from a distance but his effort took a deflection before being collected by Hyderabad custodian Subrata Paul.
This turned out to be the only attempt at goal in the first session.
Hyderabad’s adamant defending frustrated Bengaluru, who struggled to take the ball up to their attacking trio of Sunil Chhetri, Kristian Opseth and Udanta Singh. Trying to find an alternative, Bengaluru engaged in long-range shots, which proved futile.
Going forward, Hyderabad were the better side in the first half. The men in yellow nearly took the lead in the 25th minute from a Lluis Sastre set-piece. Bengaluru keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu denied Aridane Santana’s header with a full-stretch save to keep the scores level.
Hyderabad pushed Bengaluru deep in their territory with Halicharan Narzary, Joel Chianese and Santana making regular inroads.
However, the visitors suffered a blow before the break as their foreigners – Chianese and Sastre limped off the pitch with Yasir and Sharma replacing the duo.
Despite making a half-time change, replacing Kristian Opseth with Dimas Delgado, Bengaluru had nothing different to offer as their opponents continued to dominate the play.
Santana’s struggle continued as he missed a great opportunity to put his side ahead in the 55th minute. After dribbling past the Bengaluru defence, the Spaniard’s shot was way off target.
Both sides repeatedly tried to find the net from distance with the attempts being either blocked or going way off target.
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