Diego Maradona is arguably the greatest football player of all time. In Eduardo Galeano's prose, he becomes even greater.

Maradona against Scotland in June 1979 (Bob Thomas).

If Maradona is football’s god, then Eduardo Galeano wrote football’s holy book. The Uruguyan, Galeano — he also happened to have good politics: “I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people” — passed away this week. He wrote mostly about football before television. Go well, great writer. In the meantime, we’d recommend Gary Younge’s account of his meeting with football’s messenger here. Then, below, read two of our favorite entries about the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.), Diego Maradona that we copied below (we hope the publisher doesn’t ask us to remove it), from Galeano’s book about football, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, below.

Goal by Maradona

It was 1973. The youth teams of Argentinos Juniors and River Plate were playing in Buenos Aires.

Number 10 for Argentinos received the ball from his goalkeeper, evaded River’s center forward, and took off. Several players tried to block his path: he put it over the first one’s head, between the legs of the second, and he fooled the third with a backheel. Then, without a pause, he paralyzed the defenders, left the keeper sprawled on the ground, and walked the ball to the net. On the field stood seven crushed boys and four more with their mouths agape.

That kid’s team, the Cebollitas, went undefeated for a hundred matches and caught the attention of the press. One of the players, “Poison,” who was thirteen, declared, “We play for fun. We’ll never play for money. When there’s money in it, everybody kills themselves to be a star and that’s when jealousy and selfishness take over.”

As he spoke he had his arm around the best-loved player of all, who was also the shortest and the happiest: Diego Armando Maradona, who was twelve and had just scored that incredible goal. Maradona had the habit ofsticking out his tongue when he was on the attack. All his goals were scored with his tongue out. By night he slept with his arms
around a ball and by day he performed miracles with it. He lived in a poor home in a poor neighborhood and he wanted to be an industrial engineer.



He played, he won; he peed, he lost. Ephedrine turned up in his urinalysis and Maradona was booted out of the 1994 World Cup. Ephedrine, though not considered a stimulant by professional sports in the United States or many other countries, is prohibited in international competitions.

There was stupefaction and scandal, a blast of moral condemnation that left the whole world deaf. But somehow a few voices of support for the fallen idol managed to squeak through, not only in his wounded and dumbfounded Argentina, but in places as far away as Bangladesh, where a sizable demonstration repudiating FIFA and demanding Maradona’s return shook the streets. After all, to judge and condemn was easy. It was not so easy to forget that for many years Maradona had committed the sin of being the best, the crime of speaking out about things the powerful wanted kept quiet, and the felony of playing left handed, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means not only “of or pertaining to the left hand” but also “sinister or questionable.”

Diego Armando Maradona never used stimulants before matches to stretch the limits of his body. It is true that he was into cocaine, but only at sad parties where he wanted to forget or be forgotten because he was cornered by glory and could not live without the fame that would not allow him to live in peace. He played better than anyone else in spite of the cocaine, not because of it.

He was overwhelmed by the weight of his own personality. Ever since that day long ago when fans first chanted his name, his spinal column caused him grief. Maradona carried a burden named Maradona that bent his back out of shape. The body as metaphor: his legs ached, he couldn’t sleep without pills. It did not take him long to realize it was impossible to live with the responsibility of being a god on the field, but from the beginning he knew that stopping was out of the question. “I need them to need me,” he confessed after many years of living under the tyrannical halo of superhuman performance, swollen with cortisone and analgesics and praise, harassed by the demands of his devotees and by the hatred of those he offended.

The pleasure of demolishing idols is directly proportional to the need to erect them. In Spain, when Goicoechea hit him from behind — even though he didn’t have the ball — and sidelined him for several months, some fanatics carried the author of this premeditated homicide on their shoulders. And all over the world plenty of people were ready to celebrate the fall of that arrogant interloper, that parvenu fugitive from hunger, that greaser who had the insolent audacity to swagger and boast.

Further Reading

El Negrito

Eduardo Galeano once described Diego Maradona: “… a short-legged bull, [who] carries the ball sewn to his foot and he’s got eyes all over his body.”