“The world has lost a legend.” – Pelé
Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60 and the football world is in mourning. Of course, Maradona’s fame is such that even non-football fans around the globe know his name, adding weight to Pelé’s statement:
“The world has lost a legend.”
On the announcement of his death, social media was instantly filled with tributes to the man often described as football’s flawed genius. He was (and will remain) undeniably one of the greatest players of all time, but as one reporter wrote, he was also “the most flawed of men,” so what was it about Maradona that allowed his on-pitch genius to effectively sweep away his off-pitch flaws, cementing his legendary status?
Passion and Joy
Maradona’s skill on the pitch was clear to see, but it was his passion for the game that perhaps set him apart. Football had been his way out of a life of poverty, but even as it began to bring him fame and fortune, he never lost sight of his humble beginnings and he played every match with total passion and commitment.
He scored 349 goals in his professional career, but his celebrations always let fans know that every single one of them was as meaningful as his first, and he was never blasé about his abilities or performance.
Football mattered, always playing his best game mattered, and always having time for his supporters mattered.
In 1986, his infamous “Hand of God” goal scored against England in the FIFA World Cup caused outrage among opposition spectators, but within minutes, he had scored again, this time scoring what would become the “Goal of the Century,” leaving even those seething from the previous goal unable to deny his brilliance on the pitch.
Larger Than Life
Unfortunately, Maradona’s larger than life presence on the pitch was matched off the pitch, and his addiction to alcohol and cocaine became the source of numerous upsets in his personal life. For all his strengths as a player, he had his weaknesses as a man, and it’s perhaps this “human-ness” that made it possible for his misdemeanors to be forgiven.
The chant of, “There’s only one Maradona” was often heard when he played, and while for many, he demonstrated close to perfect skills as a footballer, his troubled life away from the game perhaps serves to highlight that no one is perfect, and life is not perfect, and striving to achieve perfection can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.
He was “the golden kid” and given god-like status, but he once described the highs and lows of his career as being a bit like going to the moon and back, saying,
“You become addicted to the moon and it’s not always possible to come back down.”
Yes, he was flawed like every person in some aspect of their life, but his genius as a player will live on and be remembered above all else. His skills as a player-inspired many more young players to follow in his footsteps, and as the manager of Argentina’s national team, he inspired an entire nation to dream and believe.
The last word goes to Pep Guardiola who paid tribute to Maradona by telling the story of a banner he once saw in Argentina:
“It said, ‘No matter what you have done in your life, Diego, it matters what you have done for our lives.’I think it fits perfectly with what this guy gave us. The man of joy, the pleasure, and his commitment to world football, he made world football better.”
Don MacNaughton is a High-Performance Coach working in pro sport and business over the last 17 years
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