Diego Maradona at FC Barcelona: “Except for getting pregnant, everything happened...

It is one of those pieces of news that blows through Barcelona in no time at all: Diego Maradona is dead. When the children practice football, the shock is mixed with the memories of an entire generation of parents. A southern Italian says that he should have worked that evening, but his local business partner had just asked him sensitively: Should we rather postpone it? He’s a southern Italian, but not even a Napoli fan.

The Argentine football wise Jorge Valdano, Maradona’s teammate in the 1986 World Cup victory and Spanish TV expert, has to break off the switch from the Champions League when asked about Maradona because the tears leave him speechless. The family of the then World Cup coach Carlos Bilardo switched off the television to hide the fatal news from the seriously ill senior. In Argentina, a three-day state mourning is proclaimed and in Maradona’s second home, Naples, the mayor announces the renaming of the local stadium. And worldwide there were discussion groups like those of the football parents in Barcelona on Wednesday evening.

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Maradona and Bernd Schuster, who played together for Barça, were friends

Photo: imago images / Sven Simon

Although they have a special touch here: Maradona also played at Barça. And so almost everyone knows someone who can talk about the negotiations over Maradona, film-like robber pistols. Or someone who was working in the support staff at Barça when Maradona juggled an orange over his foot, head and shoulder a hundred times in the cabin. When the teammates joked that anyone could do it with an orange, he did the same thing again with a lime.

The audience came to watch him warm up

From 1982 to 1984 he played in Barcelona: to Argentina, before Naples. It was the only year when the audience came to the Camp Nou half an hour before kick-off – just to watch them warm up. Two years, 38 goals, a Spanish cup win, a “hepatitis” – more about the quotation marks later – and another long break because of what is perhaps the most famous foul in football history.

Two intense years, two Maradona years. “Except for getting pregnant,” says his teammate at the time, Lobo Carrasco, “everything happened to him here.”

In 1982 Maradona, 21 years old, got off the plane in a light blue two-piece suit and with a brown leather bag in hand and in his first interview was amazed at the unimaginably high transfer fee of an estimated six million dollars. In the third attempt, Barça kicked him out of Argentina. The first time in 1978 you didn’t have enough money, the second time the Argentine military dictatorship forbade the transfer. Now, in the summer of the soccer World Cup in Spain, the time has come.

Looking back, one can say that Maradona is experiencing a miniature crash course in Barcelona in everything that will later make it so epoch-making in Naples. The media interest is huge, so are the pitfalls.

Kicked almost unconscious from behind

Maradona comes with his wife and family, soon more and more friends follow. They speak of the “clan” in Barcelona. Club officials report that up to 40 people can be found in Maradona’s house above town when his wife is not there. Allegedly they also get light girls from the wicked center. After a great start to the season for Maradona, Barça was in first place when he fell ill. The official version is hepatitis. To this day, insiders speak of the fact that it was actually a sexually transmitted disease.

“If Diego had always been fit and stayed longer, we would have won the European Cup three or four times in a row – he was so much better than the rest,” says his team-mate Julio Alberto in the Spanish TV documentary “FC Maradona”. Without him, however, the German coach Udo Lattek loses the job and Barça the championship. In the second season it is similar under Maradona’s compatriot César Luis Menotti. Even if Maradona is innocent this time.

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Maradona with his German coach Udo Lattek at FC Barcelona

Photo: imago sportfotodienst / imago images / WEREK

If you see the pictures of the fouls on him today, they seem downright unreal in their ruthless brutality. Also and especially Spain was not Tiki-Taka country at that time, but peppered with tough defenders, like Maradona had already met at the World Cup with the Italian Claudio Gentile. “I know there are a lot of Gentiles, but I trust the Spanish referees,” he says at the beginning. He trusts in vain.

In September 1983 Athletic Bilbao’s Andoni Goikoetxea, who two years earlier had already pushed another Barça star to the operating table with Bernd Schuster, kicks him from behind, almost unconscious. “Somebody has to die first before something changes,” complains coach Menotti.

Just as everything is global at Maradona, so will this foul. Because of the general indignation, the “butcher of Bilbao” will be banned for 18 games, and even if he only has to serve six, a process begins that evening which will end in better striker protection in world football.

Maradona herself should experience him at best in the tender early stages – this is another reason why comparisons across time, for example with Lionel Messi, are so useless. Just so much: If today’s Barça star is described by the fans here in the loop as the best player in history, then there is probably also the sublimated ignorance of an uncomfortable thought: that you screwed up with Maradona.

After Maradona’s failure for months, it is only enough for the cup final in his second season. After beating Real Madrid in 1983, the worst possible opponent awaits in 1984: Bilbao. Even before that, both sides provoked, kicked again on the pitch, and after Barça’s 1-0 defeat, the revanchism derailed in a field battle in which Maradona attacked the opponents with kung-fu kicks. It will be his last game for Barça.

Because of the expected ban, the increasingly uncomfortable press and the broken relationship with President Núñez, both sides consider a change to be the most sensible thing to do. Naples pays around eight million dollars and Maradona walks upright.

What remains are inexplicable dribbles, crosses with overhead kicks and two mythical goals. One at Real Madrid, when he only needs to push the ball into the empty goal, but first lets his opponent Juan José slip into the void (and later in the game apologizes for banging his man into the post). As well as a unique lob in the European Cup at Red Star Belgrade: from the run from the edge of the penalty area in the high arc of a three-point throw in basketball, cheered by 100,000 Yugoslav fans in “little Maracanã”.

“I don’t care what you’ve done with your life. I care what you’ve done with mine ”

Maradona’s former teammate Monchi Rodríguez

What remains, however, is also the memory of a person who led the way as a leader at a young age. “You won’t find anyone in the team from back then who talks badly about Diego,” said striker Paco Clos. A person who has been loved, adored and seduced. What remains is the entry into parties and cocaine. There are observers who claim to have seen him consume it early in his Barça days, while others date his entry to his last weeks in the city. Allegedly it appeared in a police report to President Núñez.

Towards the end of his career, Maradona played one more season in Spain, for Sevilla FC. The then substitute goalkeeper and today’s sports director Monchi Rodríguez quoted a sentence on Wednesday as a farewell that at least a generation can sign without hesitation: “I don’t care what you’ve done with your life. I care what you did with mine. ”
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