While everyone else is coming up with clever lists to sum up the noughties, here at FHM we decided to bring you history as it appeared in the pages of your favourite mag. Lazy? Maybe so, but in this case we just couldn't better ourselves. And What better place to start than with football's greatest ever talisman, Diego Maradona.
Ten years ago if you had told FHM writer Andy Darling that Maradona would be taking his country to the World Cup Finals he would have scoffed in your face. Why? Here's a little look to how it was back then for the Argie that never ceases to amaze us.
Words: Andy Darling (April 2000)
As the new millennium dawned, 39-year-old Diego Maradona, a full four stones heavier than during his playing days, lay in the intensive care ward of a hospital in Uruguay, plugged into a series of life support machines. Though his father-in-law claimed that he was merely suffering from high blood pressure – “he was overeating on holiday. He had lots of pork and drink” – the sad truth is that sixteen years of cocaine addiction had damaged his heart to the point where he could drop dead at any moment. Leaked medical reports state that substantial traces of cocaine were found in his bloodstream, and that, if he takes cocaine even just once more, it will probably kill him.
If the hospital had got hold of a 1990 video starring Italian hardcore porn actress and MP La Cicciolina, and slipped it into the VCR above the Argentine’s bed, that would probably have finished him off too. In it, the blonde starlet’s mission is to ensure that Italy’s main rivals in the upcoming World Cup are rendered too exhausted to be competitive on the pitch. And so we see a bunch of football star lookalikes given a right royal rogering. All, that is, apart from a podgy, sweating Diego Maradona, who’s too proud to join in, and instead brings himself off to a loud climax. The video may not have exactly been Oscar-winning material, but the image of a bloated, arrogant has-been, pleasing himself with no regard for the welfare of others, was actually a pretty neat summation of the player’s eventual decline.
Top of the world
Incredibly, it was just a few years before that the five-foot-four-inch pocket battleship was nominated as the greatest footballer ever to play the game. He had put in some spectacular performances as part of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup-winning team and he was the toast of southern Italy, where he played his club football for Napoli. Great players such as George Best and Paul Gascoigne are often cited as men who fell from grace, who wasted their talents and were misled by people masquerading as friends. But compared to Diego Maradona and his world of drugs, drink, prostitutes, guns, Mafia and madness, not to mention the squandering of several fortunes, their lives have been virtually problem-free.
Maradona grew up in the most impoverished suburb of Buenos Aires, an area so rough that the police saw no point in building a station. He was given a football by an uncle when he was just three years old, and the ball and his foot soon became inseparable – his juggling and shooting skills were instantly noted by family and friends. Even though he hadn’t been walking for more than a couple of years – just before receiving the ball he’d tottered and fallen into the family cesspit and nearly drowned in their shit – the gift was clearly there, and the family realized he could be their ticket out of the squalor.
Aged eight, he signed up to the youth wing of Argentinos Juniors, then a first division side. On arrival, however, the youth trainer noted that the kid was exceptionally small, almost dwarf-like. It was at this point that Maradona first became aware of the power of drugs. Off he was sent to Cacho Paladino, a man who claimed to be a doctor, and who specialized in building up the bodies of boxers using injections of vitamins and drugs. The trainer told the doc: “You fix him. This boy’s going to grow up to be a star.” The little fellow quickly beefed up, at a long term cost to his health that’s incalculable.
Throughout his professional career, Maradona was especially prone to injuries, far more so than other players, and it’s clear that this was exacerbated by the attempt to force growing limbs to develop faster in those early years. He also came to rely on drug injections to soothe the pain: the insides of his knees regularly had to be scraped to get rid of the residue from hundreds of injections of the painkiller, cortisone.
But by the time he was 10, Diego was already a star in Argentina. He regularly appeared on TV, juggling a ball one week, a bottle the next, an orange the week after. At half time during Argentinos Juniors games, he’d entertain the crowd with his skills. At 11, he had his first taste of the high life, when he and his team stayed in a hotel in Uruguay during a youth tournament. He ordered room service, rather than come down for breakfast, an early sign of what was to come.
Argentinos Juniors, like the boy’s family, were only too aware of what a commodity they had, and when bigger clubs came sniffing around, they were told he wasn’t for sale. To keep him sweet, on his 15th birthday, the club bought an apartment for the whole Maradona family. Papa gave up his job crushing animal bones at the bonemeal factory, and dedicated himself to ensuring that his meal ticket was looked after. In this he was helped by their next-door neighbours in the block. One of these neighbours, Coco Villafane, a taxi driver, sensing the money-earning potential of the squat teenager, made sure that his daughter Claudia be thrown together with him whenever possible. It worked: they later married and have two daughters.
The entourage around Maradona grew further: he appointed Jorge Cyterszpiler, just two years his senior, to manage his financial affairs. Jorge’s 22-year-old brother, a promising footballer, had died five years previously, having been kicked with extreme force in the testicles. Jorge studied economics at the University of Buenos Aires, and would be at Diego’s side for the next ten years.
Politics and the Beautiful Game
Having become the youngest player to turn out for a premier league side anywhere in the world – ten days shy of his 16th birthday – Maradona soon became the youngest international, and the Argentine media went into overdrive. In 1978, Argentina was hosting the World Cup finals. Amnesty International had urged a boycott of the tournament on account of the appalling human rights record under the military junta that ruled the country. And 17-year-old Maradona wasn’t picked for the squad, because, according to manager Cesar Luis Menotti, he wasn’t emotionally mature enough to deal with the possibility of losing. When told the news, the youngster threw a huge tantrum and threatened to quit the game. After the tournament, though, with his game still improving, Menotti could no longer ignore Maradona, and nor could the military regime.
Successful football teams kept the people happy, they reasoned, and so they did their darndest to keep the wonder kid in the country, performing for his fellow Argentines each week. Offers were coming in from all over the world, so the government siphoned off taxes to Argentinos Juniors so they could pay the little genius more and keep him sweet. Hooligans in the pay of the government did their best to put off any potential buyers. Harry Haslam, then managing Sheffield United, was warned that if he signed Maradona, they’d have to smuggle him out of the country in a meticulously planned operation, which would add to the cost.
In 1982, after the collapse of the military regime following the Falklands War, Maradona was off, signing to Barcelona in a deal that would earn him $70,000 per month plus bonuses, not to mention the sponsorship deals that Cyterszpiler was setting up with the likes of Puma, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola. With him went his entourage, immediately dubbed “the Maradona Clan” by the Spanish media. And then the real problems began. The pressure was now on for Diego and his cronies: they were no longer at home, they were in a city where footballing success meant everything, and where games against Real Madrid, historically supported by followers of fascist dictator Franco, constituted little short of war.
Shortly before he left Argentina, there’d been a number of kiss ’n’ tell stories in newspapers linking Maradona with various pneumatically endowed women, including “The Argentine Raquel Welch”, a stripper then performing in a show called Circus Sexy. Maradona was becoming paranoid about the press, and it didn’t help when the great Brazilian star Pele announced that, “My main doubt is whether he has the sufficient greatness as a person to justify being honoured by a worldwide audience.”
Having spent a fortune on him, Barcelona demanded quick results from their new signing. The fans were expectant, certain that the new saviour would deliver great things. Instead, there followed a succession of injuries, which Maradona refused to have treated by the Spanish club’s doctors. Instead he brought in an old friend, a Dr Oliva, who relied on cortisone injections and stirring up the little man’s emotions. Maradona had instantly rubbed his bosses up the wrong way, and a pattern had emerged. Like many precocious sportsmen, he needed to be surrounded by yes-men, people who would never disagree with him on any matter, let alone go against him. He also wasn’t too keen on the day-to-day drudgery of training, believing himself to be above such chores. His weight ballooned, and the Spanish press had a field day.
Rumours of orgies with prostitutes abounded, a lay-off with viral hepatitis was interpreted as a dose of the clap, and there were whisperings of drug abuse. Maradona denied it all, even though this was the time when he became a frequent coke user – he even had the audacity to make an anti-drugs ad for local TV. The blazered officials at the club demanded that he curtail his nocturnal activities, but he responded with unashamed truculence, saying: “I’ll go out wherever I want. The life I lead outside the club shouldn’t be of concern to anyone, as long as it doesn’t damage my capacity as an athlete and a player.”
The Butcher of Bilbao
Actually, the biggest threat to his career at this stage was a crunching, studs-up foul by Atletico Bilbao defender Goikoetscea, henceforth nicknamed the Butcher Of Bilbao. It put Maradona out of action for three months, and he never fully recovered, requiring a left boot several sizes larger than the right for the rest of his career. Without football he was a bomb with a short fuse, and during his time off he veered from coke hysteria to deep depression, staring blankly at the TV all day with the curtains closed.
When he returned to the game, he suffered from terrible backache, which resulted in yet more cortisone injections. He was also in dire financial straits, brought about by his extravagant spending and the lack of big sponsor money coming in, a result of his frequent injuries and the constant threat of scandal in the press. What they needed, reasoned Cyterszpiler, was a hefty signing-on fee via a transfer to another club.
The best way to do this was to upset the Barcelona directors so much that they had no choice but to let him go. And so, in an interview with a newspaper, Maradona described the proud Catalan people who paid his wages, as “sons of bitches”. The final straw came in another game against Atletico Bilbao. Beforehand, Maradona goaded the opposition manager, Señor Clemente, saying: “He hasn’t got the balls to look me in the eye and call me stupid.” Clemente responded: “Maradona is both stupid and castrated. It’s a shame that a player like him who earns so much money has no human qualities whatsoever.” After the game, Maradona punched a Bilbao player to the ground, before being set upon once again by his old pal Goikoetscea. Finally, the Barcelona board realised that Maradona had to go.
'Hand of God'
With a handsome signing-on fee of $6.4 million, in 1984 he moved to Napoli, a struggling southern Italy side. The following four years witnessed Maradona at his peak on the pitch. His ability to outwit and out-dribble whole teams week in, week out resulted in Napoli winning their first ever Italian league championship, and Argentina the 1986 World Cup. En route, Argentina defeated England, with Maradona scoring twice, firstly with the notorious “Hand Of God” goal, when he fisted the ball over Peter Shilton, and then with perhaps the greatest individual goal ever seen, when he left half the England team for dead.
However, even during these glory days, there were demons lurking in the shadows. Throughout his Napoli period, the Argentine and his unquestioning entourage were heavily involved with the Camorra, the local Mafia, whose influence infiltrated virtually every aspect of Neapolitan life. The money that Napoli amassed to sign Maradona was partly raised by the Camorra, and as soon as he arrived, the mob made sure that they hooked up with him. They demanded that all merchandise sold locally be organised by them, an offer Cyterszpiler couldn’t refuse.
They provided Maradona with cocaine and prostitutes, while in return, just like the military junta back home, they basked in his reflected glory. While the Camorra ran the city, Maradona could carry on snorting and whoring with impunity. But when, finally, in 1990, the authorities made a concerted attempt to bring the criminals to justice, it was claimed by members that the mob offered to kill anyone who upset the star player.
Welcome to the family
Long before then, though, he’d continued the habit of blotting his copybook with local fans. Just when he should have been revelling in the glory of the World Cup victory and success for Napoli, a young woman called Cristiana Sinagra announced that she’d given birth to his son. Though the affair had been known to many, Maradona denied responsibility. In southern Italy, where family is everything, this wasn’t well received. Claudia gave birth to their first daughter shortly afterwards, and when mother and child were booed by the crowd at the Napoli stadium, Maradona threw another tantrum, threatening to quit the club.
He also took to storming into newspaper offices and reading the riot act to any journalists he felt were being critical. In one case he stuffed a piece of newspaper down a writer’s throat. The fans were tiring of his injuries and outbursts, and they weren’t too happy about the kitsch extravagance of his and Claudia’s wedding ceremony, for which the couple jetted back to Buenos Aires. Her dress cost $30,000, he punched a cameraman on the way to the service, and Italian papers reported that bowls full of cocaine were provided on tables at the reception, along with prostitutes.
By now, his cocaine abuse was resulting in acts of true lunacy. A couple of months before the 1990 World Cup tournament began, he took five pot shots with an air rifle at journalists outside the gates of his mansion. “If you don’t get out of here, we will start shooting real bullets!” he yelled, as members of his clan made wanker signs at the press-men. “You are a bunch of shitheads!” With the World Cup imminent, though, and national glory paramount, President Carlos Menem of Argentina had a quiet word with the journalists and investigating magistrate, and the fuss died down.
Suck my big toe
But at the tournament itself in Italy, the madness continued. As the national anthems were played before one game, he could be seen mouthing the words “sons of bitches”. He also claimed that the draw for matches had been fixed by the authorities. This coincided with the drive against organized crime in Naples, and as the fear lifted and people dared to speak out about the Camorra, his name was continually linked with drug-taking and dealing, and with prostitution.
A Brazilian prostitute called Susy announced that he’d paid her $800 for sex without condoms. “He particularly liked sucking my big toe,” she said. Of two prostitutes he spent a night with in 1991, Maradona admitted: “I didn’t find the girls attractive or efficient.” But that didn’t put him off hiring 30 call girls for $300 each a couple of years later. But before any of the cases came to court, he fled, having tested positive for cocaine twice. Four weeks later, back in Argentina, he was woken in a friend’s house by the police. Next to him was a bag containing several grams of coke. A period of therapy followed, but he ended up thinking that the shrinks were out to turn him into a vegetable.
Unsurprisingly, Diego Maradona’s football career was on the point of collapse. Somehow, the Spanish club Seville was persuaded to buy him, but the now tubby, permanently paranoid player only turned out 26 times for them. He left after a violent dressing room fight with the team manager, who substituted him midway through a game. “We beat the shit out of each other” Maradona later announced. The last throw of the dice came in the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA. A slimmer, trimmer Maradona, captaining his country, led them to a 4-0 victory over Greece. After scoring, he violently rushed up to a TV camera and roared. Maradona was back.
But a few days later, he was gone again, having failed another drugs test. His personal physician, a former bodybuilder who’d been embroiled in the world of anabolic steroids, had injected him with a five-drug cocktail, comprised mainly of stimulants – hence the animated response to scoring. Maradona, now beyond reasoning, claimed that the CIA had somehow got the drugs into him as part of a plot masterminded by the football authority FIFA. His punishment was a 15-month ban from playing the game – so he decided to have a crack at management in Argentina. It was a disaster. The first club he helmed was relegated, and in the final game he screamed at the referee, “You’re a thief and a liar, a gutless coward without balls.” At his next club, he disappeared on a four-day drink and drug binge.
Starting to see a pattern
The pattern was repeated on several occasions. In 1997, he trained with disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson, promising that he’d soon be back to his best. But the Argentine fans, who will never fully turn their backs on him, and for whom he has always been a new Evita Peron, still pray for his rehabilitation. And yet he ruins it every time. The man who became his family’s breadwinner in his teens, who spent his life being used by governments, shady advisers, greedy future fathers-in-law, the mafia and football club chairmen, simply can’t raise his game anymore.
On a recent phone-in show in Argentina, with every call concerning the seriously ill icon, the host announced: “He represents the glory and tragedy of the nation. One moment he can be covered in glory, the next he is in despair. He is genuine Argentine.” To add further to the pressures that have all but killed him, a bunch of callers gleefully announced that once the little man is better, they want him to return to one of his former clubs, Boca Juniors, as player/coach. “He will save us!” they whooped, failing to realize that Diego Maradona has a far harder task on his hands: saving himself.