Former Pirates boss Palacios remembers facing 21-year-old Maradona

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Diego Maradona (Getty Images)
Diego Maradona (Getty Images)

Watching the legendary Diego Maradona, who died this week at the age of 60 of a heart attack, and playing against him amounted to a world of difference and constituted what was nothing less than a disconcerting experience.

This was the revealing view of Orlando Pirates Development Director and former Bafana Bafana and Buccaneers coach, Augusto Palacios, who believes he may be the only South African who has actually experienced coming up against the great, if enigmatic soccer genius on the field of play.

"It was in 1981 while I was playing club soccer in Hong Kong and a Composite XI was assembled to oppose the visiting Boca Juniors for whom Maradona had already become something of a sensation," revealed the seasoned football veteran who represented Peru at the World Cup in 1978 and became a naturalised South African shortly after settling in the country in 1985.

"Diego ran us ragged," says Palacios. "But what an experience viewing his immense talent at first-hand, even though he was only 21 at the time."

Palacios says he met Maradona a number of times over the years, particularly when he coached Bafana and always found the Argentinian icon friendly, obliging and humble.

For all this, Palacios nevertheless ranks Maradona as the second greatest player of all-time behind Brazil's immortalised Pele.

"For me," added Palacios, "Pele had a flawless career, unlike the controversy that dogged Maradona - including being dismissed from two World Cup for a red card and drug offence. Pele also achieved more than Maradona, like being a record World Cup winner on three occasions and scoring more than 1 300 goals."

Palacios says he has been fortunate to view in action the five players he considers the greatest of all-time - namely Pele, Maradona, Lionel Messi, Brazil's Ronaldo and Portugal's Ronaldo - with Pele and Maradona just a step ahead of the other three in the elite group.

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