The Life of a Legend: The One and Only Maradona

From his first professional appearance in 1976 to his retirement in 1997, Maradona forever changed the game of soccer and will continue to live on in spirit.

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By Noah Taylor

When news broke of Diego Maradona’s death, soccer fans across the world were shocked and saddened by the loss of a legend. At only 60 years old, Maradona suffered from heart failure, which led to his death in his home on Wednesday, November 25. The Argentine soccer player, deemed one of the best in history, has left his mark on fans of all generations. Maradona’s home country, Argentina, went into mourning for three days and is now continuing to honor both his life and death. From his first professional appearance in 1976 to his retirement in 1997, Maradona forever changed the game of soccer and will continue to live on in spirit.

In fact, Maradona was transforming the game far before his first professional appearance. After displaying a knack for soccer, he joined the boys’ team Las Cebollitas. Maradona led his team through 136 consecutive wins, and ultimately to a national championship, the first of many championships for Maradona—and any team lucky enough to sign him.

The Argentinos Juniors, a sports club from Maradona’s hometown, was the first of those teams. After his first division game in 1976, Maradona started his professional career in which he played 581 games and scored a total of 293 goals throughout 21 years. While he was a member of the Argentine National team, he played on six different clubs as a midfielder: Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, FC Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell's Old Boys. Throughout his time playing at the national level, Maradona led Argentina to a FIFA World Cup in 1986 and was awarded the Golden Ball, signifying that he was the tournament’s best player. He was most known for his time at Barcelona and Napoli, where he helped the clubs win numerous titles and played with a salary that was higher than ever seen before. During his time on these teams, he became recognized as the best soccer player in the world due to his fast and powerful technique that left his opponents in the dust. This was reaffirmed when he was awarded FIFA Player of the Century, along with Pelé, permanently establishing him as a legendary figure in soccer. One moment he will always be remembered for is his amazing goal in the quarterfinal match of the 1986 World Cup. While playing against England, the Argentine scored a fantastic goal, now called the “Hand of God” goal after Maradona used that phrase to describe the feat, giving the team a 2-0 lead. The so-called “Goal of the Century” was scored after Maradona sped down the field while getting past multiple English players. Along with his success on Argentina’s national team, he made history on the club team Napoli, which he led to multiple titles. During his seven years on the team, he scored 115 goals and generated a large fanbase that resulted in the club retiring his number 10 jersey. His prosperous career inspired many across the world and left a lasting impact on the culture of soccer.

Maradona, however, was more than just a top football player of all time—his determined spirit followed him off the field as well. Maradona hailed from Villa Fiorito, one of the poorest areas in Argentina. His working class origins made him a role model for many, an image he preserved with his stance on social issues. He was good friends with Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro and even had his name boldly tattooed on his leg. Kaveh Boveiri, in “Remembering Diego Maradona: The Idol of the Poor,” described the working class views of Maradona: “‘Look,’ we said, ‘he has Che tattooed on his arm and Castro on his leg.’ He never forgot where he came from, and he identified with these champions of the poor.” Maradona is often considered the best to ever play the game of soccer—and for good reason. His story is one of unexpected triumph, determination, and inspiration, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations. Those who were alive to watch him play throughout his career certainly learned from him and took note of his sheer talent as he led his teams to countless victories. Despite not being able to see Maradona play live, younger generations are still influenced by this legend, from watching his documentaries and game recordings to learning the famous soccer skill, “The Maradona.” This difficult move, taught at a young age, takes years to master, let alone use in a real game. “The Maradona,” as well as Maradona’s incredible feats on the field, demonstrates the talent that this superstar possessed and his influence around the world.

Despite playing some of the toughest teams out there in his thorough soccer career, Maradona’s toughest opponent came in the form of cocaine addiction. He struggled throughout the majority of his years as a soccer player with addiction, and began to develop a notorious reputation among soccer fans and teams. The height of his notoriety came when he was charged with cocaine possession and received a 15-month ban from soccer. Maradona once said about himself: “I was a drug addict, I am a drug addict, and I always will be a drug addict in everyone’s eyes. Because drug addicts aren’t forgiven for anything.”

However, there was one thing that could pull Maradona from the clutches of drugs and addiction: his daughters. He attributed his daughter and ex-wife begging him to stop using as the single most significant factor in his decision to get clean, once reflecting: “I was left without a cent, I went back to work, my youngest daughter, who was four, convinced me. When I was in a coma and she touched my bedsheet to wake me up.” For the last 15 years of his life, Diego Maradona stayed away from cocaine and other drugs, proving to the public and himself that he was truly able to defeat any rival.

Unfortunately, Maradona was taken far too soon. For years, he grappled with his heart problems and ultimately fell victim to them just over a week ago. Maradona’s story is undoubtedly a tragic one, plagued by addiction and struggle. But, more than that, this legend’s story is a glorious one, filled with improving social status, facing demons, and, of course, lots and lots of victory.