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Magical Diego Maradona was the greatest player of all time by some distance


There has never been as ­talented, feisty, magical, and unpredictable a player as Diego Maradona.

The little Argentine, who died this week at the age of 60, won the greatest trophy in football virtually single-handedly and carried Napoli to two league titles against all the odds in Italy.

This was in an era when Napoli were considered the runt of the Italian litter and sneered at by the glamour clubs of the north.

It was also an era when three or four opponents would actively try to kick him out of every game, an era when there weren’t six physios waiting to put him back together.



The footballing world is in mourning following the death of the great Diego Maradona

And it was an era when many pitches resembled Hackney Marshes rather than the billiard tables players perform on nowadays.

Yet despite all those handicaps, ­Maradona brought sheer beauty to the beautiful game. And that is why in my eyes he is the greatest to have ever played the game.

Not just by a small margin, either.

If you were compiling a league table of the all-time greats, Maradona would be 30 points clear at the top.

In second would be Pele, followed by Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s difficult to explain to those who have seen only YouTube clips just how good Maradona was.



Maradona almost single-handedly won Argentina the World Cup in 1986

This was a man who was a senior international for Argentina at the age of 16, someone who always demanded the ball, someone who ran every game he played in from start to finish.

I was 11 at the time of the 1982 World Cup in Spain and I have three overriding memories of those finals.

Magician

The first is of the beautiful stadiums set against a backdrop of beautiful blue skies. The second is of Bryan Robson’s goal for England against France after just 27 seconds. And the third is of the anticipation I felt about watching this guy Maradona, whose fame was beginning to grow worldwide.

He lived up to all the expectations.

Even though Aston Villa striker Gary Shaw and Brazilian genius Zico were my favourite players back then, there was no denying that Maradona was the best in the world.



There is often debate over who is the greatest player of all time

Four years later, and by now at Napoli, having joined them from Barcelona, he single-handedly led a good but not great Argentina team – certainly not as good as the Argentina teams Messi has played in – to World Cup glory at a time his country needed healing and unifying.

He had decent players around him but there is no way on earth Argentina would have triumphed at Mexico 1986 but for their little magician.

Maradona had been in Naples two years by then, at a club – and a city – well down on its luck. Yet just a year after lifting the World Cup, he won the first of those two Serie A titles.

He became a god in that pocket of Italy and had the whole city in the palm of his hand.

Maradona led Napoli to the Coppa Italia that season as well, and followed up with the UEFA Cup in 1989. A year later, another double followed as Napoli claimed the Scudetto again and the Supercoppa Italiana. Disciples of Messi and Ronaldo will say: ‘But he never won the European Cup’. No, but that was an era when only league ­champions qualified, and the UEFA Cup was arguably as strong then as the Champions League is now.



Maradona was laid to rest in Buenos Aires earlier this week

Diego Maradona dies age 60

These days players are wrapped in cotton wool but Maradona played in the raw, ready to battle anyone for his club or his country. He was an incredible footballer, and a maverick too. Just as outspoken rock stars, actors and artists have their flaws, so too did this little South American ball of fire.

He was black or white, never grey. He had an incredible gift but was at times a ­tortured soul too. You could perhaps put him alongside the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. We just have to ­accept the things we don’t like about them as part of the package while we marvel at the things we do.

And we marvelled at Maradona, all right, because the man, quite simply, was a ­genius.





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