Diego Maradona was football’s equivalent of laughing at a funeral – something your rational mind knows it should resist but also too irresistible to suppress.
The legendary Argentine achieved it all during his career, inspiring Napoli to underdog success in Serie A and almost single-handedly winning the World Cup for Argentina in 1986. Alongside this, Maradona had a compulsive and out-spoken personality that made him a cult-hero for millions across the globe.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that Diego is considered one of the greatest footballers in history (arguably the greatest). Here’s a list of players who saw him as their inspiration.
Some observers claim that Maradona scuppered Messi’s best chance of World Cup success through his chaotic management of their 2010 squad.
However, in terms of playing inspiration, it should come as no surprise that Messi was inspired by Diego.
In an interview, Messi said: “When I was growing up, Maradona had just returned to Argentina after a spell with Sevilla. He returned to Newell’s (his boyhood club) in 1993, and he was able to take Argentina to another World Cup after a playoff. I can say without a doubt that, if someone inspired me to become a footballer, it was him.”
The England captain met Maradona in 2017, who attended Tottenham’s 4-1 demolition of Liverpool at Wembley. Kane and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris joined Mauricio Pochettino and his staff in speaking to Maradona beforehand, with former Spurs hero Ossie Ardiles also on hand to help translate into English.
After the match, Kane was effusive in his praise for the Argentine, saying: “He’s a fantastic guy. I got to meet him before the game – great energy, great guy. He is one of the best number 10s ever so it was great for him to be here today.
“He didn’t speak much English, just speaking in Spanish so I didn’t really understand what he was saying but he was very energetic, he said some nice compliments, not just to me but to the team and to the manager.
“It was great to be in the company of someone like that. What a player he was and I can only learn from someone like him.”
Before his successful managerial career on these shores, Pochettino was a rugged defender best remembered for conceding the match winning penalty against England in the 2002 World Cup.
Like many of his countrymen, Pochettino found inspiration in the exploits of Maradona. But one revealing anecdote from their time at Newell’s Old Boys laid bare the chaotic energy that surrounded the man.
“We were together in the room during pre-season in Mar del Plata,” recalls Pochettino. “I remember one day he started shooting the journalists in Argentina. The day before he was sleeping in my room. He loved basketball and went to see it in Mar del Plata – the final in the conference. And then, in the morning, I woke up and he wasn’t in bed.
“I then go to breakfast, the manager asked about him and I said: ‘No, no, no, he didn’t come back to the hotel.’ After breakfast we went to training. Nobody knew about Diego and at lunchtime it was breaking news on the television…Diego shoots journalists in Buenos Aires! Four hundred kilometres away!”
At his peak, Robin van Persie was one the world’s great strikers with an eye for unorthodox and ingenious techniques that only a true genius would contemplate, never mind execute.
Fittingly, Maradona was one of his childhood idols. Speaking at the 2010 World Cup, the Dutchman said: “As soon as I saw the video when I was a boy of Maradona lifting the (World Cup) trophy and crying I was hooked.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have watched that clip.”
One of the Premier League’s first cool foreign imports, Zola has spoken of the influence Maradona had on his career during their time together at Napoli.
He said: “When I first met Diego I was only 23 and just a young player trying to get better. I had in front of me the best player in the world so I felt lucky. It inspires you to do better and the challenge was to get my level of football to his.
“He spoke to me a lot. Anybody who has played with Maradona can tell you he is a lovely, simple guy. Then he was the best player in the world by far, and probably the best player of all time, but it was easy to talk to him. He was humble and genuine.
“He was always fond of making suggestions and giving advice to young players. We had a particularly good relationship and I used to stay a bit longer on the training ground with him trying free-kicks and playing small games.”