'My opponent then my friend': Ancelotti pays tribute to Maradona

Carlo Ancelotti has said Diego Maradona’s legacy will be shaped by winning the World Cup almost single-handedly, not by the “Hand of God”, as he paid tribute to the “best player I ever played against”.

The Everton manager faced the late, great Argentinian several times when Milan and Napoli were title rivals and admitted meting out “strong contact” to Maradona, who never complained. They later became good friends, and Ancelotti experienced at first hand the devotion Maradona inspires in Naples when he became Napoli coach.

“He was my opponent and then he became my friend,” Ancelotti said. “He was very humble and it is a big loss for football, but the memories will always be there. He was a fantastic player who helped football around the world. At this time he was the best player in the world, and the best player I ever played against.

“He was so difficult to stop and had unbelievable quality. He never complained on the pitch. I tried to stop him with strong contact but he never complained and after that we became good friends. We met at events after our playing careers were finished and it was always good to spend time with him. He was not only a footballer but a great example to show everywhere. But this is the life. I will always keep fantastic memories of him.”

Ancelotti was asked by a Colombian journalist whether, in light of some English newspapers reporting Maradona’s death with “Hand of God” photos on their front pages, he accepted their assessment of the icon as a cheat.

“It was a handball in a big game but the referee missed it. You cannot explain Maradona with a handball!” an amused Ancelotti replied. “You have to explain Maradona by what he did and I think that World Cup, and I was there in ‘86 but I never played, he practically won it alone. Of course Argentina had fantastic players in their team like [Jorge] Burruchaga and [Jorge] Valdano but Maradona practically won that World Cup alone.”

Ancelotti, meanwhile, has said the left-back Lucas Digne will be out for two to three months with an ankle injury and that Everton need to agree a contract extension with their director of football, Marcel Brands, who has been linked with a similar role at Manchester United. Brands’ deal expires next summer.

“I have a good relationship with him but apart from this friendship I think he’s doing a fantastic job,” Ancelotti said. “When I arrived I found the club really well organised and with a really good scouting department, so I think it would be important for him to continue and find a deal with the club.”


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