Diego Armando Maradona: “The King of Soccer”

Diego Armando Maradona with the FIFA World Cup Trophy after winning the Final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico

Less than a month after his 60th birthday, the football world mourns the loss of one of the greatest players of all time: Diego Armando Maradona.

On 30 October this year, anyone with even the slightest interest in football could not avoid one event: the 60th birthday of Diego Armando Maradona. Newspapers and magazines paid tribute to him, television and especially the social networks on the Internet were flooded with his best tricks, the best goals and the most iconic moments of his career.

Always part of that highlights reel is the one game in which he made himself immortal: the quarter-final of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico between Argentina and England. Maradona scored both goals in his team's 2-1 win, the famous Hand of God goal and, less than five minutes later, the legendary dribble from the halfway line that was voted the World Cup goal of the century in 2002.

Less than a month later, the name Diego Maradona is on everyone's lips again. This time, however, nobody is in the mood to celebrate as the football world mourns the death of the Argentine national hero. The legendary number 10 died of a heart attack on 25 November.

The golden boy among the small onions
The rise of Maradona began in one of the poorest slums of Buenos Aires. He was the fifth of eight children and his talent as a footballer earned him a place in the Argentinos Juniors youth team at the age of 10. The team, known as "Los Cebollitas" (Little Onions) went unbeaten for an extraordinary 136 games with Maradona in the side. During this time the young Diego earned the nickname "El Pibe de Oro" (The Golden Boy).

In October 1976 Maradona made his debut in the league at the age of just 15, and quickly underlined his unique qualities. Between 1978 and 1980, he became top scorer in the two Argentinian championships – the Metropolitano and the National Championship - five times in a row.

International recognition
At the same time, Maradona also drew international recognition for the first time. Just four months after his professional debut, he made his debut for the Argentine national team in February 1977. The 1977 South American Youth Championship in Venezuela was one of the few tournaments where Maradona did not appear with the number 10 on his back. Instead he wore the number 9. A year later he only just missed out on selection for the FIFA World Cup in his home country. He was part of the pre-selection of the Argentinean World Cup squad, but was dropped by coach Menotti shortly before the tournament. "I cried my eyes out when I was not considered," says Maradona.

A year later Maradona was crowned a world champion at the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship in Japan, where he won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. In the same year, he was named as player of the year in both Argentina and South America, a feat he repeated in 1980.

By 1981 he had already moved to Boca Juniors, his father's favourite club, and in the summer of 1982 he travelled to Spain with the Argentine national team for the FIFA World Cup. Argentina were eliminated in the second group phase after two defeats to eventual world champions Italy, and Brazil. After the tournament, Maradona stayed in Spain and joined Barcelona.

Career highlight in Naples and Mexico
Despite 22 goals in 36 matches, Maradona was never happy in Spain. He had problems with club officials and was on the end of some brutal challenges from opposition players. After a mass brawl at the final whistle of the 1984 Cup Final in front of the Spanish King Juan Carlos, he was sold to Napoli in Italy.

Received in Naples as a saviour, Maradona subsequently experienced the most successful time of his career. After a mixed first season, which ended with a mid-table finish, his second season saw the team push for the title, with Maradona leading the club to a third-place finish in the 1985/86 season.

A year later he led the Neapolitans to the first championship in the history of the club as well as to victory in the Coppa Italia. In the 1989/90 season Napoli once again won Serie A, thanks to their inspirational playmaker. Between the two championships, in the summer of 1989, Napoli won the UEFA Cup, their only international honour to date.

In the second half of the eighties, Maradona also reached the pinnacle of his career with the national team. He was the undoubted superstar of the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, leading his team to their second world title with some outstanding performances. In the quarter-final against England, he made himself immortal with the two goals mentioned above. In the Final, he was involved in all three goals in the 3-2 win over West Germany and as captain was the one to lift the World Cup trophy in the Azteca.

A week later the American "Sports Illustrated" named him "King of Soccer". He will be missed. Rest in peace Diego Armando Maradona.