It is hard to discuss Diego Maradona with an English audience without the rapid emergence of the ‘c’ word.
One five letter word is quickly spat out to discredit an entire career. At the top of the charge sheet, of course, is the notorious ‘hand of God’ goal that he scored against England in the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup.
There is no doubt about it. He got away with a flagrant act of sporting illegality – as almost every player has done at one point during their career.
Jack Charlton punched the ball off the line in the 1966 semi final.
Martin Peters confessed that he dived to win a penalty against Poland in 1973.
Paul Scholes used his arm to score for England. And yet these players were not regularly insulted with the five letter word.
What makes this even more inappropriate is that in the entire history of football Maradona may well have been the player to have been most cheated against.
From the mid-70s to the mid-90s, the average distance covered by top level players doubled. This is precisely the timescale of Maradona’s career.
But, until too late for him, there was no corresponding increase in the level of protection given by referees. Maradona was subjected to brutal treatment every time he took the field.
In that 1986 meeting with England he was being kicked all over the place, and elbowed off the ball.
The vast majority of us, having to put up with this kind of treatment, would have no qualms about punching the ball into the back of the net and claiming a goal.
FAILED DRUG TEST
Maradona was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup for failing a drug test. There is no doubt about it he had broken the rules and deserved to be punished.
But as drug offences go, ephedrine is a minor one. It is not remotely comparable with, for example, the use of anabolic steroids.
The incident came at the end of his career when he was in no fit state to play in a World Cup.
But Argentina got themselves into trouble in qualification, losing 5-0 at home to Colombia.
They pleaded with him to return, and he was unable to say no. A short cut was used to get his weight down.
FIFA concluded that Maradona was unaware that he had taken a banned substance.
It may be the case that his personal doctor made a mistake in buying a product over the counter.
Even so, the principle stands – the athlete is responsible for what goes into his body.
But there is no evidence, or reason to believe, that he was using performance enhancing substances when he was at his extraordinary peak.
Which leaves us with cocaine. When Maradona had his own TV show, he carried out an interview with himself.
One of the questions was about his regrets – and one of the biggest was his cocaine addiction, in no small part because he saw it as a betrayal of his love for football.
The idea that he was seeking, or that he received a sporting advantage from using cocaine is entirely ridiculous.
It is a scandal that social drugs are placed in the same category as performance enhancers – that those who may need help are placed in the same category as those seeking illegal help.
Maradona’s cocaine habit was surely in part a product of the normal restrictions being taken away from him, of being placed on the level of a semi-God who could do as he pleased.
But it is also feasible to see it as a means of trying to blot out the pain in his body – the result of being kicked so much, and of taking so much cortisone to try and fool his body that everything was alright and he could take the field as normal.
It is worth recalling that the great Marco Van Basten was forced into early retirement as a result of the pain in his ankles. Maradona was less brittle, but ended up paying a higher price.
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