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Recalling with nostalgia Maradona at Maracana in 1988

Friday December 04 2020
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By Freddy Macha

In the last few days we have read streams, mountains and oceans of tributes to Diego Maradona. Some have never heard of him. Like a mid-1990s born female I met on a train the other day, and she asked me what is the fuss about this “fat, rich, drug addict from Argentina?”

One of the main threads of journalism has been memories of personal encounters with the Argentine superstar. Those who shared the pitch with him like Graeme Souness, a former Scottish defender who played against Maradona in early 1980s.

Quoted in The Sun, Souness recalled : “I must have been a good four or five inches bigger than him and maybe a stone-and a -half heavier but when I made contact with him,I could not stop him.”

Another account by award winning Daily Mail sports reporter and columnist, Martin Samwell , declared that when interviewed, Maradona said what inspired and drove him to play (like he did) was anger. Rage from growing in poverty chiefly. Samwell : “Who knows where he is now; but wherever it is, the football will be wonderful. And someone will be getting a very hard time.”

Celebrated Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel – also Manchester United legend – recalls a penaltly shoot-out. He says he knew Maradona’s reputation was to wait until goalkeepers moved before he kicked. But then Schmeichel made the mistake of “moving a second” before the Argentinian’s touch. Writing in this week’s Sunday Times Schmeichel said he was telling his two young sons to imagine someone better than Lionel Messi. “ Just find him on You Tube and know that the genius you are watching was also a nice human being. He was a giver. He gave his art to the people...”

Well, well , well.

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These are only a fraction of personal tributes and memoirs of the passing of Diego Maradona only aged 60, last week.

There are some reminisces of being in the same room with him, or being watched by Maradona- a passionate spectator. Like the former Manchester City defender Micah Richards. Nowadays a pundit and columnist Richards remembers seeing Maradona in a room after a 2012 match where the legendary midfielder, accompanied his daughter, Giannina, who is married to striker Sergio Aguero.

They had a son, Benjamin.

YouTube has a 20-second clip posted five years of grandfather Diego Maradona playing football with his grandson Benjamin. Are we going to have a genius player like father and grandfather? Lots of expectations for the child.

I remember the pressure around Pele’s son, Edson Nascimento, a fantastic goalkeeper, yet never became as massive as his legendary dad.

But Pele was somewhat better than his own football playing dad, Dondinho. After Brazil lost the World Cup final to Uruguay in 1950, Pele promised his weeping father that he was going to win the trophy for him, and he did in 1958, 1962, 1970. Speaking of Brazil, they built Maracana Stadium to host the 1950 Fifa World Cup, then considered the biggest stadium on the planet with a capacity of over 78,000 spectators.

In 1988, this stadium saw the best player, winner of the 1986 World Cup, play against Brazil. Brazilian stars included goalkeeper Claudio Tafarel, Dunga, Romario and Bebeto, while on Argentina’s side were Jorge Valdano, Jorge Buruchagga and who else?

“He does not play. He moves the ball like an artist,” so said my late father-in-law Herbert. We were a group of foreigners watching two rival nations. The match was lukewarm, but each time Bebeto or Romario got the ball, the stadium erupted. Watching a football match in Brazil is in itself a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Lots of Samba music, loud chants; everyone involved. I had been in tournaments in East Africa and Europe, but never seen so many ladies also taking part in the chants.

Around the world, football euphoria, zealousness and mass adulation was ( and is still to some extent, except in places like the USA, where women’s football is tops) mostly male oriented. But not in Brazil. Attending big matches corrects this perception.

And there was the menace. Diego Maradona – the ultimate global super player in 1988. Here and a group of football fans and myself enjoyed Maradona’s dribbling, running and skilful ball passing. He was small, poweful, fast and really mesmerising like a happy, cheeky , serious dancer. The only snag is we could not shout. We had to keep mouths shut and give each other appreciative looks. You do not cheer an Argentine hero in the biggest stadium in Brazil. After the event, we were speechless. I still cannot remember how many goals were scored. We knew we had witnessed something extra special. Like being in a rare private party. And that is my memory of seeing Diego Maradona’s genius.