Diego Maradona, the life and times of a flawed football legend

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Maradona celebrates Argentina's 1986 World Cup victory over Germany. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)
Maradona celebrates Argentina's 1986 World Cup victory over Germany. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

Maradona was a soccer genius but he was also a deeply troubled man with many issues, and his death at the relatively young age of 60 didn’t come as much of a surprise – no one really expected him to live to a ripe-old age. The article from the YOU archive – published almost exactly a year ago – delves into his health woes and the complicated character Maradona was. 

Giannina Maradona, daughter of Diego, had the world holding its breath when she declared her famous father was at death’s door. “He’s not dying because his body has decided so, he is being killed from the inside and doesn’t realise it,” she wrote in Spanish on Instagram.

“I don’t believe in the parameters of normal, but that is far from the reality of what he deserves. Pray for him. Please! Thank you!” 

Fans were reeling after her cryptic post, especially as Maradona has suffered a series of deadly health scares in recent years. His battle with booze during his heady days of fame as well as a crippling cocaine addiction caused heart attacks in 2000 and 2004. 

The former Barcelona and Napoli superstar has undergone two gastric bypasses after massive weight gain, and in early 2019 he had emergency hernia surgery as well as knee-replacement surgery. Maradona, who’s as famous for his football skills as he is for his fiery temper, was quick to deny his daughter’s claims.

“I’m not dying at all. I sleep peacefully because I’m working,” he said in a video posted to Instagram. 

The soccer legend, who’s the head coach of struggling Argentinian side Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata in Superliga Argentina, maintained he’s fit as a fiddle. He didn’t know what Giannina had “meant to say”, implying that perhaps her words were misconstrued.

He added that, “as you get older, people worry more about what you’re going to leave behind than what you’re doing. And I tell everyone I’m not leaving them anything; I’m going to donate it.

“All I earned during my life I’m going to donate. For now, I’m very healthy, very healthy.” 

resize maradona family
Diego Maradona, with his ex-wife, Claudia Villafañe (far left) and Giannina. The soccer star fell out with his ex and daughter after claiming Claudia defrauded him of millions of dollars. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

Maradona has a strained relationship with his family after falling out with his daughters and ex-wife, Claudia Villafañe (57), several years ago. Giannina (31) and Dalma (33), the oldest of his five children, earned their father’s fury when they sided with their mother in a 2015 lawsuit more than a decade after the breakup of their 19-year marriage. 

He is still locked in a legal battle with his ex. Maradona claims Claudia, his childhood sweetheart, was entrusted to manage his finances on behalf of the couple and their daughters but stole money from his account. 

He says Claudia used the money to buy seven luxurious properties in one of the tallest residential skyscrapers in Miami, Florida. She has denied the claims and the lawsuit caused a rift in the once-cordial relationship he enjoyed with his ex and their daughters.

In April 2019 Giannina, who divorced popular Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero amid cheating rumours, revealed in a TV interview she doesn’t speak to her father and has no interest in him being part of her life. 

Recalling her time growing up with the troubled soccer star, Giannina said older sister Dalma was left traumatised as a little girl after she walked in on him taking drugs. The Mirror reports she also recalled how her dad’s addiction ruined her 15th birthday when he was rushed to hospital. 

“They wouldn’t let me see him. Leaving him there was terrible. He stayed there, and we left.” Giannina’s panicked post about her estranged father’s health is the second false alarm this year.

In June 2019, Argentinian newspaper Crónica reported Maradona was suffering from “neurological problems”. His family reportedly wanted him to be hospitalised because of his “deteriorating health, neurological problems and the onset of Alzheimer’s”. 

“They’re lying, they’re lying,” raged Maradona in a video clip posted after the article was published.

 Rumours of ill health hounded Maradona for years
Rumours of ill health hounded Maradona for years but the soccer legend insisted there was nothing wrong with him. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

“They speak of Alzheimer’s and don’t know what it means. The word Alzheimer’s is an awful word. People with Alzheimer’s die. I’m not dying.” 

According to his lawyer, Matias Morla, he’s in perfect health. “In Mexico, where Maradona was managing a football team and technical staff [at the time], the club carried out health checks. And they all produced satisfactory results with no medical information supporting what has been reported.” 

Maradona, one of eight children, was born in 1960 to a poverty-stricken family living in a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

His talent with a soccer ball was evident early on and as the stories of his talent spread, a film crew famously captured footage of the preteen doing tricks and saying he wanted to win the world cup for Argentina.  

At age 26, the pint-sized player captained the Argentinian national team at the 1986 world cup in Mexico. They memorably beat England 2-1 in the quarterfinals, thanks to Maradona’s magnificent goals – the notorious “hand of God” in which he punched the ball into the net, and then a breathtaking display of skill as he dribbled past five England players to score one of the greatest goals in world cup history. 

Off the pitch there was no shortage of drama.

There were allegations he was linked to the local mafia and he developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs that culminated in a 15-month ban from football when he failed a drug test in 1991. He briefly returned to Argentina’s 1994 world cup squad but failed another drug test. As his playing career wound down, he continued to struggle with addiction and obesity. Argentinians, though, will never turn their backs on Maradona.

“He refuses to quit. He’ll never retire or open a pub in Ireland or anything like that,” said British filmmaker Asif Kapadia. “I was in Buenos Aires last week and there were 30 000 people turning out for training sessions. The country’s gone crazy for him again.” 

The filmmaker, who won an Oscar for his documentary on singer Amy Winehouse, is the man behind a new movie that documents Maradona’s meteoric rise through the ranks of football. Diego Maradona covers the highs and lows of the world cup superstar’s life between the early 1980s and 1990.

The tumultuous period of his life in The 1980s and
The tumultuous period of his life in The 1980s and early 1990s was documented in a recent film, Diego Maradona. (Photo: GALLO IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES)

“Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God” reads the tagline on posters for the documentary. 

“Diego has that tendency of excess. When he goes dancing, he’s going to keep going dancing. If he’s going to go partying, he’s going to party. If he’s going to do something, he’s going to keep doing it. He does everything to the max,” Kapadia said.

“Wherever he goes, he also creates trouble. If there isn’t trouble, he’ll make it or he’ll search it out.” 

SOURCES: GOAL.COM, INDEPENDENT.CO.UK, INSTAGRAM.COM, IRISHTIMES.COM, NEWREPUBLIC.COM, NEWYORKER.COM, PLANETWORLDCUP.COM, TELEGRAPH.COM, THE GUARDIAN

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