Diego Maradona loved to go to the stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors, where he would take his shirt off, swirl it round his head and lead the chanting.
It is impossible to imagine Pele doing anything similar. The Brazilian comes across as colder, more calculating.
Diego Maradona could do as he pleased, and that led him down a path towards self-destruction Credit: Getty Images
He coached in Argentina in his later years – and he needed the discipline to keep him away from his demonsCredit: Getty Images
Maradona rarely seemed to calculate anything – off the field, at least.
On the pitch during his playing career he was a master strategist, a player capable of all the tricks but never a trickster, a footballing machine well able to put his extraordinary talent at the service of the team.
But away from the discipline of the field Maradona could be a prisoner of his own excesses.
Once he had proved his greatness, both with Argentina and with Napoli, then all the normal restraints were off.
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He could do as he pleased – which, in his case, was an almost certain route to self-destruction.
His cocaine addiction could well have killed him years ago – he had a brush with death as far back as 2004.
A vital part of his recuperation was his return to football as a coach – with the Argentine national team between 2008 and 10, and later in the Middle East, the Mexican second division and the wrong end of the Argentine league table with Gimnasia of La Plata.
Some of these later jobs may have seemed strange. Surely, it was said, Maradona did not need to take charge of the smaller teams.
In truth he wasn’t fit enough to manage a professional football team in his later yearsCredit: Getty Images
Pele always came across as colder and more calculating than his great rivalCredit: AP:Associated Press
Maradona’s greatness almost single-handedly guided Argentina to the 1986 World CupCredit: AP:Associated Press
But the deeper truth is that he almost certainly really needed the discipline of a job to keep him away from his demons.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the Argentine league to shut down in the middle of March.
The resumption date was hand picked – October 30th, the 60th birthday of Diego Armando Maradona.
By then, though, he was in no fit state to coach Gimnasia.
He was briefly presented to the crowd to commemorate the occasion. But he could only walk with difficulty and his speech was slurred.
A health scare followed, with surgery on a blood clot on his brain, and the revelation that he had been over-indulging in alcohol.
Those months without the discipline of coaching Gimnasia appear to have tipped him over the edge.
There were hopes that he might make a quick recovery – every time he fell down he always seemed to find a way to get back on his feet – and return to Gimnasia.
But it was not to be. Under the strain of 60 extraordinary years, his heart gave out.
The world will be a duller place without him. He drew crowds ever since he was an adolescent, with a charisma that goes far beyond his abilities as a footballer.
Maradona and Cuban leader Fidel CastroCredit: AFP
Fans queue in Buenos Aires for Maradona’s wake todayCredit: AFP or licensors
It has to do with the fact that this poor boy born on the wrong side of the tracks had won the right to do and say what he wanted, and he exercised the right in a way that was usually dramatic, colourful, unforgettable.
He will be remembered for his opposition to US President George W Bush, his admiration for Fidel Castro – and how striking it is that he died on the same date as both Castro and George Best – but most of all for his love for football.
That man swirling his shirt in the Boca Juniors stadium goes to his grave with a deep love for the sport that took him out of the shanty town and into the hearts of people all across the globe.
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