3 minute read

Diego Maradona: 1961(?)—: Athlete

Child Soccer Star

Diego Armando Maradona was born in the early 1960s in the impoverished Villa Fiorito area of Buenos Aires. His father, also called Diego, was a bricklayer, factory worker, and security guard. The family was of Indio heritage, and grew to include eight children in all. At the age of three, Maradona's cousin gave him a soccer ball, and he played with it constantly. He later claimed even to have slept with it. A clear talent for the sport emerged early, and after he joined a Buenos Aires youth team, Los Cebollitas ("Little Onions"). The team went on to achieve a 140-game winning streak. At the age of ten, Maradona was selected to take the field for a halftime performance at a Buenos Aires professional game. He kept the soccer ball aloft the entire time, to the cheers of the crowd, "by bouncing it off his feet, knees, chest, ankles, head and shoulders as if it were a balloon and his body a spring breeze," wrote Rick Terlander in Sports Illustrated. "When the two teams returned to the field to resume play, the crowd began chanting to the wonder boy, 'Stay! Stay!'"

Maradona left school at the age of 14, and joined the Argentinos Juniors of Buenos Aires. They won the world junior championship, and Maradona became a frequent subject in the sports pages of Argentine newspapers. He was called "Pibe de Oro," or "Golden Boy," and though he was diminutive for a world-class athlete, in the game of soccer, his 5'5" height was not a detriment. He possessed a powerful form that made him one of the ablest competitors in the sport. Others dubbed him the successor to Pelé, the great Brazilian star of the 1960s.

At a Glance . . .

Born October 30, 1960 (some sources say 1961), in Villa Fiorito, Buenos Aires, Argentina; son of Diego and Dalma Franco Maradona; married Claudia Villafane, 1989; children: Dalma Nerea, Gianinna Dinorah.

Career: Member of Argentine junior soccer team, Los Cebollitas, c. 1970-76; turned professional with Argentinos Juniors, 1976-80; Boca Juniors (Argentine League), 1980-81; also played for Barcelona team (Spanish League), 1982-84, Napoli (Italian League), 1984-91, Sevilla (Spanish League), 1992-93, Newell's Old Boys (Argentine League), 1993-94, and Boca Juniors, 1995-96.

Awards: Co-recipient, Player of the Century award, FIFA (by Internet vote), 2000.

Addresses: Office—c/o FIFA House, P.O. Box 85, 8030 Zurich, Switzerland.

Still, Maradona's prowess and fame did earn him enmity: he was sometimes called "cabecita negra," or "black head," the derisive term that Argentina's largely European-heritage middle class sometimes used for those of Indio background. In 1978 Maradona was passed over for a spot on the Argentine national team for the all-important World Cup competition. The World Cup, soccer's most coveted trophy and a fervent expression of nationalism held every four years, took place in Argentina that year as well. The insult rankled, and likely colored his decision to play in Europe.

Maradona went on to have an impressive season with another Argentine team, Boca Juniors, in 1980, but two years later set an industry record when Barcelona, a team in the Spanish League, paid $;7.7 million for his contract. Maradona soon gained a reputation as a carouser in the city's nightclubs, but led the Barcelona team to a Spanish championship title. On the pitch, he was considered unstoppable. Maradona was both quick and elusive when running with the ball, and had a seemingly miraculous ability to slide between opposing players and still retain control of the ball. In a sport where 1-0 finishes were common, Maradona often scored nearly a dozen goals per season. His prowess was so legendary that hostile players fouled him and even attempted to injure his knees or ankles.

Maradona made sports headlines around the world once again in 1984 when he joined a failing Italian franchise in Naples, the Napoli team. His contract stipulated that he would earn $26 million over nine years. Neapolitans liked to chant, when their world-famous midfielder appeared on the pitch, "Maradona is better than Pelé. We practically killed ourselves to get him." The team won two Italian league championships by 1990, and Maradona became the inarguable super-star of the sport. Sports Illustrated's Terlander commented on his physique, noting that Maradona's "squatness puts him at a disadvantage for knocking down balls and for heading, but it plants him badgerlike on the turf and gives him a rock-solid base from which to launch his explosive left-footed shots. Any time he crosses the center line, he is close enough to score."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalDiego Maradona: 1961(?)—: Athlete Biography - Child Soccer Star, The Infamous "hand Of God" Goal, National Folk Hero, "death Would Glorify Him"