'Troubled genius': Diego Maradona legacy complicated by scandals

Diego Maradona, pictured here before his tragic death at age 60.
Diego Maradona's incredible career was sometimes overshadowed by controversy. Image: Getty

Diego Maradona is being remembered as a ‘troubled genius’ after a number of off-field controversies overshadowed his mercurial talent on the football pitch.

One of the greatest footballers in history and a towering figure in sporting annals, Maradona died of a heart attack at the age of 60 on Wednesday.

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The Argentine, who had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot on the brain several weeks ago, suffered the attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Maradona is widely regarded as one of the greatest - if not the greatest - footballers of all time and was the inspiration for Argentina’s World Cup success in Mexico in 1986, almost single-footedly - and handedly - inspiring their triumph.

But Maradona’s career was not just studded with brilliance. It was also blighted by controversies on and off the field, even after he had retired.

“For his divine-adjacent brilliance, for his uncatchable dribbles and irrepressible attacking thrust in the face of brutal tackles by unchecked defenses, Maradona also had his demons,” Leander Schaerlaeckens of Yahoo Sports US wrote on Wednesday.

“He was a hedonist, whose excesses may have slowed his career and certainly caught up to him later in his life.

“He was a habitual drug user and was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup for doping. He was all too cozy with the Camorra crime organisation when he lived in Naples.

“He was a philanderer and took decades to acknowledge an illegitimate child.

“He owed the Italian government tens of millions of euros in back taxes that he never did get around to repaying.

He could be racist. There’s footage of him hitting a girlfriend. He consorted with dictators like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

“But for all the baggage, Maradona retained an undeniable charm. His talent was so outrageous and his play so joyful as to be completely mesmerising.”

Diego Maradona, pictured here at the FIFA World Cup in 1994.
Diego Maradona at the FIFA World Cup in 1994. (Photo by Michael Kunkel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Diego Maradona leaves behind a confusing legacy

His 'Hand of God'' goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, when he pushed the ball into the net with his hand, earned him infamy - although he followed up by scoring the “goal of the century”, a remarkable solo effort, in the very same game.

England's Gary Lineker, who played against Maradona in the 'Hand of God' game, tweeted: “By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he'll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego.”

Maradona’s international playing career ended in shame when he failed a drugs test at the 1994 World Cup in the United States and he was notorious for a wayward lifestyle throughout his life.

He was also banned from football in 1991 after testing positive for cocaine while playing for Napoli.

There were media reports that emerged in the years after that Maradona had learned how to fool drug testers, including by using a fake penis filled with urine that wasn’t his.

However, he remained a revered figure at the Italian club, where he won two Serie A titles.

Diego Maradona, pictured here in action at the 1986 FIFA World Cup against England.
Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' goal against England at the 1986 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

“Forever. Ciao Diego,” Napoli wrote on Twitter, while another former club Barcelona said simply: “Thank you for everything, Diego.”

Such was Maradona's legendary status in his homeland that Argentine President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning after the news of Maradona's death.

The Argentinian Football Association said on Twitter it had the “deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You will always be in our hearts.”

Maradona’s successes made him a global star but more than that, the diminutive ‘El Diego’ was a towering icon in Argentina.

The country's president Alberto Fernandez said in a tweet: “You took us to the highest point of the world, and made us immensely happy.

“You were the greatest of all. Thank you for having been with us, Diego. We will miss you all our lives.”

with agencies

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