A thin mist hung over the cool pitch of the Weserstadion in Bremen. It was December 6, and the cold was climbing up my legs. But Diego Maradona was about to play for Napoli in the UEFA Cup against Werder Bremen. To watch a player like that, an idol for so many, no distance was too far, no temperature too cold. I had to be there.
In 1989, at a time when not every game was available on pay-TV or the Champions League sent the same teams around Europe, these were special nights for football fans. Information about Maradona was only available via national papers or Germany’s famous sports magazine kicker. If you were lucky, there might have been a special report on public broadcaster ZDF about Italian football and the league’s stars. That was it. Football hadn’t been globalized yet. Maradona’s reputation though, certainly was.
Honestly, I should be angry at Uli Borowka. Werder Bremen’s physical defender took the Argentine artist to task throughout the 90 minutes. Every time Maradona touched the ball he was there. Whoever remembers the physical nature of the game back in those days will likely shudder. Eventually, Maradona resigned himself to defeat. Werder won 5-1 and went through to the next round.
DW’s Jörg Strohschein
Maradona’s incredible skill with the ball was already clear in the warm up. While his teammates warmed up seriously, Maradona preferred to juggle the ball as if it was the easiest thing in the world. The ball was his friend. It did exactly what he wanted it to do. Everything looked so easy. Even if the trajectory of the ball didn’t look possible, everyone loved him for it. The eyes of every spectator were all locked on him even before the game began.
Everyone got to see “El Pibe de Oro” (golden boy) on the television at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, how he effectively won the tournament for his country on his own. His teammates were just accessories. I wasn’t cheering for Argentina. I was cheering for this boy wonder. His second goal against England in the quarterfinal, as he lightly and almost arrogantly danced through seemingly the entire England team, remains for me the most spectacular goal in the history of football.
Maradona continued to play a role in my life. At the 1990 World Cup, he lost in the final to Germany. He had glorious moments in Europe, made headlines as he flirted with the Camorra in Naples. But at some point, we parted company.
Until the summer of 2006, when Argentina played Serbia and Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen.
Clearly heavier and full of smiles, Maradona still had the same aura around him. He celebrated Argentina’s 6-0 win in the stands as if it was the World Cup title itself. I was happy for him and did not begrudge him this excitement. In the end though, Argentina lost to Germany in the quarterfinals.
I was able to ignore Maradona’s escapades, his parties, his extraversion, his lack of control that eventually became a talking point. I was just happy to have seen him play live. My memories of this exceptional player cover his flaws, ones that Maradona himself didn’t want to hide. Maradona will be juggling the ball elsewhere now. And everyone else will stop and stare, just like I did back at the Westerstadion.
At the age of just 60 years old, Diego Armando Maradona passed away in his own home after suffering a heart attack. The entire football world, not just his homeland of Argentina, mourns the passing of one of the greatest ever to play the game.
It all began at Argentinos Juniors. From there the talented Diego moved to Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. It was his father’s favorite club, and in 1981 he won the title. But Argentina was too small for Diego and soon he moved to Europe to join Barcelona.
The Catalonian club spent a record $7.3 million in 1982 for Maradona, but he was never happy in Barcelona. Maradona continually clashed with head coach Udo Lattek and the Argentine loved the nightlife in his new home. After three years, he left and Maradona made perhaps the best decision of his career.
In July 1984, Maradona moved to Napoli for a record sum of $10.5 million. The Italian club had never been champions before his arrival and had just escaped relegation. Between 1984 and 1991, Maradona helped the club to two league titles and a UEFA Cup win in 1989.
In Naples, Maradona remains a hero – but his escapades are famous and notorious. He took cocaine and got close to the local mafia. Maradona enjoyed life to the full, right on the edge of legality. His popularity remained though.
No other player impacted a World Cup as Maradona did in 1986. He won the tournament with Argentina and became the superstar of football. He scored his infamous “Hand of God” against England in the quarterfinals, but followed it with another goal in the same game that went down as one of the most spectacular goals ever. He was named player of the tournament.
One of the hardest moments in Maradona’s playing career came in the lost 1990 World Cup final against Germany in Italy. Guido Buchwald marked him out of the game and Andreas Brehme scored from the spot to give Germany the glory and spoil Maradona’s dream of a second World Cup.
At club level, Maradona moved to Sevilla in 1992 before moving back home to Argentina. In February 1992, he fired an air rifle at journalists who had besieged his villa near Buenos Aires and was given a suspended jail sentence of two years and 10 months.
Maradona played his last game on October 25, 1997 for Boca Juniors, who he always supported. Beforehand he had been suspended for doping for 15 months. In order to avoid further suspensions, he announced his retirement on October 30, 1997. Aged 37, Maradona’s playing career full of scandal and skill had come to an end.
In October 2008, Maradona was named head coach of Argentina, despite having little coaching experience. His side suffered at the 2010 World Cup, losing 4-0 to Germany in the quarterfinal and eventually he was fired. He coached clubs in Mexico and elsewhere but the same success he had in his playing days escaped him.
After his playing career, Maradona kept making headlines – such as when he visited Cuba’s chief of state Fidel Castro. There were regular reports of big parties and excessive use of drugs and alcohol. Wherever he was welcome, he went.
Maradona’s lifestyle led to health issues, including his weight. More than once he dodged death, but then came November 2020. After having a blood clot removed from his brain, Maradona suffered a heart attack on November 25 and died aged 60.