“WHEN God decides it’s time, I’ll guess he’ll come for us.”
Diego Maradona always knew he was living on borrowed time. The only surprise was that he made it this far.
Diego Maradona has passed away at the age of 60[/caption]
But defying the odds was a running theme in the extraordinary life of the ultimate party animal who just happened to be the greatest footballer of his time.
Now that life is over and his troubled soul is finally at rest.
The boy from the slums of Buenos Aires who grew up to be the ultimate sporting antihero has gone to meet his maker.
And maybe he will proffer that infamous hand of God to St Peter at the pearly gates.
Few people in history have ever divided public opinion as much as the man who won a World Cup almost single-handedly while blatantly cheating on and off the pitch.
Yet for those of us fortunate enough to witness Maradona in his prime, none of his flaws can detract from his genius.
The England players beaten by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup can neither forgive nor forget him for the handball which set them on their way to defeat.
But none of them were able to prevent him from scoring Fifa’s Goal of the Century on that unforgettable afternoon in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium.
The Argentine legend will be remembered as one of football’s greatest[/caption]
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And the fact that he conjured up a near carbon copy goal in the semi-final win against Belgium was confirmation that even football miracles were nothing out of the ordinary for this remarkable little man.
Short and squat, he had the stature of someone who had been hit by a lift.
In later life he ballooned to almost 21 stone, which is never a good look for a man just five feet five inches tall.
Yet his curious physique masked an incredible balance and agility which allowed him to evade opposing defenders determined to stop him at any cost.
Maradona lived a full-paced life on and off the pitch[/caption]
The brutality of some of the challenges he had to endure had to be seen to be believed yet this fearless little warrior never stepped back from physical confrontation and frequently went to war with far bigger opponents.
He ended his brief and troubled spell at Barcelona by sparking a full-on riot during the final of the Copa del Rey in 1984 when he laid out two opponents and a pitch invader before being felled by a flying kick to the chest.
That was to prove the final straw for the Spanish Champions, who were happy to offload the Argentine agitator to Napoli for a world record £6.9million fee.
And it was in Italy’s poorest and most violent city that Maradona found his spiritual home.
Maradona was idolised across the world, but especially in his home country of Argentina[/caption]
While the world’s best players were heading for the bright lights of Milan, Turin and Rome, Maradona was joining a lower to mid-table team who were sneered at by the rest of Serie A.
In his first game against Juventus, he was greeted with chants of “Sick with cholera, victims of the earthquake, you never washed with soap, Napoli s***, Maradona s***.”
His response to all his critics was to lead Napoli to the Italian Championship in 1987 and 1990 and the UEFA Cup in 1989.
But with success came temptation and Maradona was never one to settle for a quiet night in with his wife and daughters.
Maradona died from a reported cardiac arrest[/caption]
His successful return from the 1986 World Cup was marred by the birth of an illegitimate son who he refused to acknowledge for more than 30 years.
His friendship with Camorra crime boss Carmine Giuliano was an open secret and so was a cocaine addiction which was rapidly spiralling out of control.
Yet somehow he managed to evade the drug testers until 1991, allegedly with the help of team-mates who would provide a urine sample on his behalf.
But when Maradona scored in the penalty shoot-out to knock Italy out of the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, even the fans in Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo booed him.
Shortly afterwards he was voted the most hated man in Italy and it was then that Naples turned its back on the man who had brought so much joy to the city.
Caught ordering drugs by a police wiretapping operation, Maradona pleaded guilty to possessing and trafficking cocaine and received a two-year suspended prison sentence.
Weeks later, he failed a drugs test after Napoli’s match at Bari and was handed a 15-month worldwide ban.
That was the end of Maradona’s great Italian adventure and though he tried to prolong his career with Sevilla and Newell’s Old Boys, his career was effectively finished when he was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for ephedrine.
It was hard not to imagine that he was on something when he ran to the cameras in a wild-eyed celebration after scoring against Greece.
But few would have guessed that it was a slimming aid to help him keep his weight down.
An even bigger surprise was the decision of the Argentine FA to appoint Maradona national team manager in 2008, the equivalent of making Gazza England boss. It did not go well.
He had already suffered a heart attack as a result of a cocaine overdose by then as well as a court-ordered spell in rehab to overcome hepatitis and alcohol abuse.
Further managerial spells followed in Dubai, UAE, Belarus, Mexico and Argentina, yet his health continued to deteriorate as a result of his erratic lifestyle and days after his 60th birthday he underwent emergency brain surgery to remove a blood clot.
Doctors had been advising him for years to change his ways but there was no such thing as compromise for the little street fighter with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
As he said himself: “I am black or white. I will never be grey in my life.”
Diego Armando Maradona, rest in peace.