Diego Maradona celebrates his wonder goal against England in 1986.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Clarín
Not only do we believe that Diego Maradona is the greatest number 10 in Argentina’s history, but we also think that he’s the greatest number 10 football history.
Other players may have scored more goals, or won more medals, but no-one else has made us want to watch or play football like Maradona did. As kids growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s we were left open-mouthed at some of the things he was doing, such as the first time we’d seen a reverse stepover and a rabona in the match against Switzerland in 1980. Yes, he had plenty of faults, and had to fight his own personal demons along the way, but that's what we love about Maradona. Despite all the issues and everything that went on, this loveable rogue still captured the imagination and managed to drive his teams on to glory against the odds, not only thanks to his footballing genius but also his leadership, passion and charisma. The famous game against England at Mexico '86 almost summed Maradona up - mischief with one goal, then genius with the next.
Maradona is one of the few genuine boy wonders who went on to live up to the hype. And then some. He made his professional debut as a fifteen year old in a match for Argentinos Juniors against Talleres de Córdoba on 20th October 1976. It took just a few minutes for those watching to realise they were witnessing the start of something special when Maradona, faced by Talleres midfielder Juan Cabrera, did a cheeky nutmeg, skipped passed him, and was yards away before Cabrera knew what had hit him. It was the start of a glorious career, full of skill, invention and a bit of devilment.
Maradona's story, from those early days in Argentina with Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, to Barcelona and then the glory days with Napoli and Argentina, deserves more than a few paragraphs in this article.
His dribbling and close control were incredible. When he ran with the ball it literally looked like it had somehow been connected to his foot, whilst his small size and low centre of gravity meant he could twist, turn and accelerate incredibly quickly. Yet despite all of the skills and tricks at his disposal, Maradona didn't partake in showboating just for the sake of his. One of his best attributes was knowing when to use skills and when to play it simple. If he needed to beat a man to create an opportunity to play a team-mate in then he would, but if he could play a team-mate in immediately with a short pass, then that's what he would do. His speed of thought and decision-making on the pitch were unparalleled.
Maradona's dead-ball expertise gave him another string to his bow. Not only was he normally deadly and cool as a cucumber when taking penalties, but he was also one of football's greatest free-kick specialists in the 1980s and 90s. With such great technique it was no surprise to see him bending balls around the wall from long distance, or being able to get it up and over the wall from the tightest of spaces on the edge of the penalty area. The stats show that Maradona scored 62 goals from direct free-kicks, a conversion rate which is right up there with the very best dead-ball specialists.
Like Messi, Maradona was extremely left footed. Some people suggested he was too left-footed, but he seemed to cope okay. For instance, when he scored the "Goal of the Century" against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter final, he didn't use his right foot once, despite running with the ball for over half the length of the pitch down the right-hand side! It was impossible to score such a beautiful goal. And in the semi-final against Belgium he scored another incredible solo goal and nearly did exactly the same, but this time he did briefly control the ball with his right foot before setting off and then solely using his left.
As well as being exceedingly dangerous running with the ball, Maradona had tremendous vision and passing, his number of assists were incredible. And if he wasn't creating opportunities for team-mates then he was putting away chances for himself - his goalscoring rate was excellent, whilst his dead-ball skills made him extremely dangerous with free-kicks.
A really dynamic player, and strong too, his small size was deceiving, as his stocky build and huge thighs, coupled with his tremendous balance, made him hard to knock off the ball.
As well as all of the technical and physical attributes, Maradona had other qualities too. He was a charismatic and a natural leader. Not only did his talent command instant respect but his personality did too. One of his team-mates once said that Maradona took pressure off his team for two reasons. Firstly, they went on the pitch knowing they already had an advantage because they had Maradona in their team. And secondly, they also had less pressure on them because if they lost Maradona would absorb the majority of the blame and the pressure because so much of the focus was on him instead of all the other players, implying that many team-mates loved playing with him because they could effectively play with less pressure!