After the death of Diego Maradona on Wednesday 25 November, Albert Couriol remembers on franceinfo one of the craziest weekends of his life, spent in the company of the “Pibe de oro”. “I was his driver for three days”, says the former journalist of The team and of France Football.
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It was in May 1988. At the time, Diego Maradona, crowned world champion two years before and then player of Naples, is invited to participate in the jubilee of another legend of the round ball, Michel Platini, who bows out at Nancy. Albert Couriol, he is a journalist, iconographer, and he is also a member of the Variety Club of France, this club unlike any other where football stars meet those of the show biz and the media. Jacques Vendroux, as general manager of Variétés, is in charge of organizing the jubilee of Michel Platini. And he immediately thinks of Albert Couriol to chaperone Diego Maradona.
“I went to pick him up at Le Bourget airport, he recalls. He arrived from Naples in the evening, by private plane. He had just played a game and he was accompanied by his agent, Guillermo Coppola, and a friend of his. “ Once out of the plane, everyone takes a seat in Albert Couriol’s car. Direction the Lido, where a dinner awaits the guests of Michel Platini, but which does not really interest Diego Maradona … “We arrive at the Lido, Diego says hello to everyone, everyone greets him, tells Albert Couriol. We were expected because we arrived after everyone! So we sit down at our table … and after a quarter of an hour, he says to me: ‘We are not staying there, we are leaving, us, it sucks!’ “ Embarrassed, Albert Couriol says he asked Jacques Vendroux what he should do.
“He told me not to let go! It was Maradona, it was the Lord, we weren’t going to hold him back too much.”Albert Couriol, former journalist at L’Equipe
So when Argentine number 10 stood up with his two friends, Albert Couriol followed them. “We crossed the Champs-Elysées and went across the street to the L’Alsace brasserie. He said he was hungry, so we ate oysters there”. Difficult for this small group to go unnoticed, even though in 1988 there were no cell phones or selfies. Diego Maradona is at the top of his art, known and recognized, he signs autographs for the customers of the brewery. Albert Couriol does not go so far as to ask him for one, but he enjoys living “something crazy”. “Imagine me, me the football freak, the mad lover of Maradona … he recounts. I played the stooge! He said to me: ‘We’re leaving’, we went for a tour of Paris … He said to me: ‘I’m tired’, I took him to the hotel. “
When it comes to wishing each other good night, Albert Couriol warns his idol that he will have to get up early the next day. The plane which will take Michel Platini’s guests to Nancy must take off at 8 am from Orly airport. But we do not say at what time “the Hand of God” must set its alarm clock … “He said to me: ‘Ah no, no, no! I played this afternoon, I traveled, it’s late … I’m not going to get up early like that.’ I explained to him. that I could not arrive without him at the airport … He replied: ‘You tell Michel that anyway, I will be at the stadium, I don’t know how yet, but I will come’ “. The next morning, around 5 a.m., Albert Couriol tried his luck again and went to the Parisian hotel to try to wake Diego Maradona, but the player’s agent dissuaded him. It is therefore alone that the journalist arrives at Orly airport, in the middle of Franz Beckenbauer, Michael Laudrup … All the gratin of world football is there, except Maradona! “Jacques Vendroux then passes me a soap!, remembers Albert Courriol. He told me that he was counting on me, that he thought I could have done it, that he was disappointed “. But this is nothing compared to the reaction of Michel Platini.
“Arrived in Nancy, Michel told me that I had ruined his jubilee, that without Maradona it was ruined! I was so bad that I did not want anything any more, even to play in raising the curtain. “Albert Couriol, former journalist at “L’Equipe”
Finally, a few tens of minutes before the curtain rises, “a limousine that is at least 15 meters long arrives in front of the Marcel-Picot stadium”, says the journalist. And there “There is my Diego who comes out and who says to me: ‘You see, I told you that I will be there!’ I was sweating all over, I was sick and happy at the same time! “ Diego Maradona comes without the intention of playing, but he is convinced by Michel Platini at the last minute. Jacques Vendroux finds him a pair of crampons, it is Jean-Pierre Papin who lends it to him, and the Argentinian treads the lawn of Marcel-Picot. Before the match, Diego Maradona poses with Pelé and Michel Platini, all players sporting a “Drogue No!”
For an evening, Nancy becomes the world football capital. Albert Couriol, he is recovering from a great fear … Diego Maradona has not yet finished with him.
The next day, back in the offices of the newspaper L’Equipe, his colleagues warn him that “somebody” called for him. “It was my Diego who wanted to see his compatriot Gabriela Sabatini play that very afternoon at Roland Garros!” Albert Couriol panics, he wonders what to do before going up to the tennis section of the sports daily. He explains the situation to his colleagues but no one believes him: “‘Maradona? Are you kidding or what?’ I answer that yes, yes, that he will spend an hour in front of the newspaper and that I would have to give him places. It is Philippe Bouin, who was responsible for tennis at the time, who s ‘is arranged to find me, I gave them to them, and they went to see Sabatini at Roland-Garros “. It is on this last anecdote that the roads of the journalist and the best player in the world have separated. “He left me his address in Naples telling me that I could come when I wanted”, remembers Albert Couriol who punctuates his story with a last “crazy thing!”.
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