football

Inside Maradona's secret visit to Man Utd's training ground that stunned stars


Diego Maradona regularly left opponents dazed and confused with his outrageous skill.

But in Autumn 2008 his arrival at Manchester United’s training ground stopped Sir Alex Ferguson’s ENTIRE Champions League winning squad in their tracks.

Maradona, who died of heart failure in his sleep last Wednesday, paid a flying visit to United’s Carrington training complex in November 2008 just days after being made Argentina’s national coach.

The visit, agreed by boss Sir Alex Ferguson, was to enable Maradona and his general manager Carlos Bilardo to speak with United striker Carlos Tevez .

Maradona was on a whistle-stop tour of Europe visiting all his players before their first match – a friendly against Scotland at Hampden Park.

And although Tevez knew Maradona was heading to Manchester to speak with him, the rest of Ferguson’s squad were in the dark.



Diego Maradona visited the Carrington Training Ground in 2008

When the legendary striker did arrive, though, jokes were flying around the training ground that patriotic Glaswegian Ferguson would be giving Maradona extra reverence for his infamous Hand of God goal that knocked England, Scotland’s arch rivals, out of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

When he was waved through the security checks at Carrington and ushered into the main building Maradona brought the training ground to a standstill.

And if Ferguson was happy to be in Maradona’s company his star-struck players were beside themselves with awe when the Argentinian icon walked out to the training pitch on that chilly Friday morning as United prepared to face Arsenal.

Rio Ferdinand was celebrating his 30th birthday and recalls: “We were like school-kids around a star coming to school.

“I think the gaffer would probably have liked him to come every day the way he raised standards in training.

“Everyone was trying to impress him. In my eyes he is the best footballer ever.



Rio Ferdinand waxed lyrical about the World Cup winner

“He was my childhood idol and part of the reason why I started to play football. I can’t hold him in higher esteem than that.

“When he turned up at our training ground I was made up. And I wasn’t the only one. Training pretty much stopped.

“We were all flocking round him like little kids. He’d come to see Carlos Tevez and I kept saying to Carlos, ‘make sure I get a picture with him’.

“To be able to shake his hand, get a cuddle off him and a picture, it made my birthday.”

Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick, Edwin van der Sar and Patrice Evra all had their pictures taken with Maradona who stayed to watch training before later chatting with Tevez.

Dimitar Berbatov was also at training that day and says: “I always remember that day he came to the training ground at Manchester United, we were doing some drills on the pitch and all of a sudden someone said, ‘Is that Maradona with the boss coming over?’

“Everybody stopped and froze, we were all watching God walk towards us. It was a great experience to meet him in person.”



Sir Alex Ferguson invite the Argentine to training

Said Ferguson later: “It was good. The players were delighted to see him.”

After Fergie’s stars had all got their snaps, Maradona was driven to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground for a similar meeting with Kop midfielder Javier Mascherano.

And he was greeted with similar reverence from awe-struck stars like Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Xavi Alonso.

Rafa Benitez was manager at Anfield at the time and he says: “I was having a discussion with Maradona in my office, but it was very difficult.

“There was a constant stream of our biggest players wanting to meet him!

“Maradona was great, he was very patient with all the requests and even some of Carragher’s family turned up!

“Xabi Alonso also wanted to meet him, his father had played alongside Maradona at Barcelona.

“It was a memorable day.”





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