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Maradona and the 2010 World Cup – Jimmy Burns

Few individuals hold the key to making the World Cup one of the most exhilarating  there has ever been and the most controversial than Diego Maradona,  a flawed genius whose drug-fuelled helter-skelter life had produced some of the best football in the history of the game. It will be fascinating to watch whether Maradona can inspire his talented squad to greatness, or be brought down to earth, in tears.

In his native Argentina, Maradona remains a legend, the country’s most famous export far surpassing any writer, artist, or politician in his ability to fuel mass interest across frontiers. The nation’s identity with Maradona has been fuelled by the populist centre-left  Peronist government which has spent most of a decade encouraging his return to a prominent role in football after his last descent into drug-induced collapse.

In January 2000 Maradona stared death in the face again after proving himself, over the years remarkably resilient to self-abuse. Grossly overweight and suffering from a heart condition that he had inherited from his father, he collapsed while on vacation in the Uruguayan resort of Punta Del Este. Maradona’s friend, the Argentine president at the time Carlos Menem put it all down to a ‘stress attack.’ Later the Uruguayan police revealed that analysis of Maradona’s blood and urine showed ‘excessive consumption of cocaine.’

Within days, he was residing in Havana, Cuba, courtesy of another friend Fidel Castro. Photographs of that time show Maradona, with a shock of died orange hair, a tattoo of Che Guevara on his flabby arm and a heart monitor round his ample girth, looking like an inflated Harpo Marx. In his early days in Havana Maradona punched the windscreen of a reporter’s car. None of this seemed to worry Castro who found ways of making political capital out of Maradona’s presence on the island. The local media portrayed him as the good leader of the people, in contrast to the Goliath of the North (the United States) who had refused to give Maradona a visa since his expulsion from the 1994 World Cup.

His subsequent thirty-episode chat show, called La Noche del Diez (The Night of the Number 10)  Maradona enticed a range of international sports stars, musicians, and his favourite politician Castro to participate as guests.   In the opening programme, Maradona and Pele exchanged personally autographed national shirts, headed a ball to each other for nearly a minute, and sang a tango together. The performance pushed the TV show to the top of the ratings list.

And yet ratings for the final ‘The Night of the Number Ten’ –an interview with Castro- dipped suggesting that Maradona’s popularity remained, as it always had been,  based more on football than politics . Viewers were getting tired of a programme that was such a blatant exercise in self-promotion and seemed to get Maradona no nearer to another sporting come-back.

Argentina qualified for this summer’s tournament after beating Uruguay 1-0. The victory was overshadowed by Maradona’s globally televised and You-tubed sexually explicit, foul-mouthed rant at his growing army of media critics.

“There were those who did not believe in this team and who treated me as less than nothing”, a wild eyed Maradona declared, clutching his crotch before the cameras, “Today we are in the World Cup finals with help from nobody but honor. To all of you who did not believe in us, and I apologize to all the women here, you can suck my dick and keep sucking it. I am black or white, I’ll never be grey in my life. You can take it up your ass.”

Victim, knight, defiant rebel, foul-mouthed sexist thug-only Diego Maradona could claim to be all four in one statement, and get away with it.

Maradona’s Argentina now enters the tournament in South Africa with a squad that includes some of the world’s most gifted players – the undisputed star among them FC Barcelona’s  Lionel Messi,already voted  the best player in the world, at the age of  22, four years younger than Maradona in hisprime when in Mexico 1986 , he invoked the Hand of God in his controversial goal against England. Maradona in that match went to score one of the best goals ever seen in the history of football. The genius of Messi’s performance with FC Barcelona reached new heights in the quarter final match of the Champions  league earlier this season when he scored four sublime goals against Arsenal and provoked glowing headlines around the world.

The jury is out whether Messi has already surpassed Maradona’s brilliance but in Argentina it is still Maradona who remains the more popular of the two. Whereas Messi has spent his teenage years forming himself as an international player outside Argentina, Maradona first made his name with BocaJuniors, the club of the working classes in Buenos Aires. It is in Boca’s home, the southern Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca, where the myth of Maradona as the people’s idol has endured the longestand where local shopkeepers still manage a brisk trade in shirts surviving from his days as a player.

Which of the  two will endure as a living legend will be put to the test in South Africa, as will Messi’s ability to express his genius under Maradona ’s tutelage. There appears little evidence to back up the somewhat irrational theory that Maradona wants to deliberately undermine Messi in order to preserve his own place in history. On the contrary, Maradona  has never displayed  any  paranoia in the presence of his his alleged successor while Messi considers Maradona his footballing idol.“I’ve seen the guy who will inherit my place in Argentine football,” Maradona said of Messi in 2005. More recently he declared: “Messi needs to lead the national team and the he knows it. We have high expectations.”

So determined is Maradona to ensure that  the young star plays to the best of his abilities in South Africa  and inspires a whole team, that he recently flew to Barcelona and spent an emotional session with Messi in which each promised the other to do everything in  their gift to bring the World Cup back to Buenos Aires in July. “The Argentine players  are growing in confidence with every day under Diego, “ Maradona’s childhood friend and one-time agent  Jorge Cyterszpiler told me.

As for Messi, he remains self-effacing about his achievements despite a growing tendency to show a public display of gratitude to God for his goals with the sign of the Cross.  “Even if I play for a million  years, I will never be near to what Maradona  was as a footballer. I don’t compare myself to Maradona. I want to make my own history and do something important with my career, before adding. “To be a  legend one needs to win a World Cup.’

The fact that both Maradona and Messi have declared a common ambition of winning the Cup in South Africa may explain why an increasing number of Argentine football fans are sporting their national colours these days and why a popular chant has begun to resonate beyond La Bombonera. “We will once again be champions, just like in 86,” it goes.

  • Jimmy Burns’ revised and updated best-selling biography of Diego Maradona: ‘Maradona: The Hand of God” has just been pubished by Bloomsbury.
  • For more information on the author and his books and an amazon bookshop

Exclusive: Sir Geoff Hurst on the 2010 World Cup

picture by Todd Halfpenny

A couple of days ago Aboutaball had the opportunity to meet-up with Sir Geoff Hurst for a chat; you can hear the full podcast here Geoff Hurst Interview podcast. We couldn’t pass up the chance to talk to a Football legend who is still heavily involved in the English game to get his take on World Cup’s past, present and future. In the first of three posts we discuss the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England, Brazil and Messi.

Firstly we asked the obvious, who is his World Cup pick?

“Brazil, they’re never far away, it’s a huge country, great support, great pedigree and still producing players. We (England) don’t produce as many so don’t have the depth.”

How can you argue with that, bookies have Brazil down as 5/1 second favorites. When asked who he’d punt for next?

“Spain had a good Euro’s so they up there”

Spain are the 9/2 favorites for the World Cup, however Geoff agreed Spain will probably suffer from key players being tired/injured after a hard season in England.

“Foreign players in our league are now subject to the same stresses we have, players in Spain have a winter break and maybe don’t play at such a high tempo”

It’ll be interesting to see how the top Premier League star do compared to their counterparts in Spain. A less demanding schedule may need to be looked into if England want any hope of winning future World Cups.

We then asked something he knows a lot about, scoring goals, who’s most likely to get the Golden Boot?

“Messi I would think.”

Chance of a Messi World Cup final Hattrick?

“No. There’s a chance but records show in 44 years nobody’s done it.”

On Argentina and Messi…

“I’ve spoken to Ossie Ardiles, he’s not hopeful about the Argentine side. They don’t provide the unit to give Messi the platform that Barcelona does. Even the Great Messi isn’t a one man band”

So Messi is already a Great, this is high praise from someone who was a great player himself

“He’s a World Class player one of the greats.”

Asked to go for a Dark Horse?

“An African side maybe”

And on England’s chances?

“I believe we’ll do well. I’d be
disappointed in Capello’s management and discipline if we didn’t make the Semi finals. The draw has been kind to us.’

On us having no fighting fit centre backs…

“It’s a concern, you rarely pick players not 100% fit, Ledley King only plays every other game but under the circumstances there’s a case to take him. Especially as Capello has mentioned he may play with 3 centre backs, 2 attacking full backs and flood the midfield due to a lack of a holding player”

and surprisingly…

“Martin Peters made the point he’s played more games than Rio. Twice the number of games and it’s better to have someone to play the odd game than someone not good enough. Spurs players have been noticed because the club has done so well in the run in”

On Carragher…

“Maybe he’s matured and thinks that England are better places under the current management. It’s always disappointing when people don’t want to play for England. He should be in the squad, he’s a great character and can fill in at full back.”

Geoff is off to South Africa for the opening ceremony, opening game and England’s first match, thanks to McDonalds.

We’d like to thank the Royal mint for making the interview possible,  Geoff Hurst is currently working with them to raise awareness of the 150,000 limited edition World Cup Medal giveaway. To show your support for the England team and claim your free (+ £1 p&p) World Cup Medal visit and get your Medal while stocks last.

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