Diego Maradona: Hand of God should not detract from rogue Argentine's beautiful brilliance

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Diego Maradona: Hand of God should not detract from rogue Argentine's beautiful brilliance

Regarded a God in his home country, Diego Maradona is finally in the hands of God. The Argentine legend, one of the greatest footballers of all time, died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 60 at his Buenos Aires home.

Argentina’s reverence for the country’s favourite son was reflected in a declaration of three days of national mourning.

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Maradona will never be viewed in the same way in this country – the handball goal against England in the 1986 World Cup will never be forgotten or forgiven.

But far better to remember Maradona’s other contribution to that quarter-final in Mexico. The exquisite second goal, a majestic individual conjuring trick started from his own half and finished with the England defence shattered into a million tiny pieces was a masterpiece, showed the true genius of the man.

He entranced and enraged in equal measure, a backstreet scamp who rose to sit on a gilded throne. Born a pauper in the slums of the Argentine capital, he became a prince of the world game.

“Even if I played for a million years, I’d never come close to Maradona,” Lionel Messi once said. “Not that I’d want to anyway. He’s the greatest there’s ever been.”

No footballer in his generation could affect a game single-handedly like Maradona. With his low centre of gravity and boxer’s strength he was almost impossible to remove from the ball by fair means or foul – and there were plenty of those.

His era saw much less protection for attackers like him and he was kicked from pillar to post but Maradona never lacked in courage.

He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina and played in four World Cups. 1986 was his golden time, turbocharging a modest Argentina team to the trophy with an incomparable one-man show which, as well as his devil-and-angel double against England, also included two goals in the semifinal against Belgium.

He also drove Argentina to the 1990 World Cup final in Italy where they lost to West Germany having by this stage moved from Barcelona to Napoli.

His time there brought two Serie A titles and cult hero status but also signalled the beginning of a collapse into drug and alcohol dependency.

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He would regularly go off on cocaine binges after games, dragging himself back in time to be a match-winner again at the weekend.

His troubled period there also brought links with the mafia and a squalid paternity suit in which he refused to acknowledge the existence of his own son Diego.

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In later life the two were reconciled but by then addiction had taken hold. He was banned for 15 months in 1991 after testing positive for cocaine.

He exited the 1994 World Cup in disgrace after another drug test failure and although he attempted to carve out a post-playing career in management having retired at 37, he was never able to stick in one place for long.

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He was sentimentally appointed Argentina manager in 2008 but the experiment ended in failure at the 2010 World Cup.

He went on the work in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico and was working in club football in Argentina at Gimnasia y Esgrima when he was taken ill a fortnight ago and had to undergo emergency surgery on a brain clot. His reprieve proved only temporary.

So football loses one of its finest. There have been few figures in the game as colourful as Maradona and even fewer who could play the beautiful game so beautifully.

He may have been a rogue but it was impossible not to appreciate the gifts of a great.

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