Diego Maradona: The greatest footballer of all time

Jack Gallagher
Diego Maradona, the greatest footballer of all time
Diego Maradona, the greatest footballer of all time / El Grafico/Getty Images

Deified. Detested. Tremendous. Terrible. Loved. Loathed. 

Hero. Villain.

These are the extremes of Diego Armando Maradona. 

The extremes of emotions that his name evokes in you, the reader, the football fan who Maradona cheated but also did unimaginably brilliant things for.

The extremes of footballing morality he tussled with both on and off the pitch. 

Diego Maradona scoring the greatest goal of all time
Diego Maradona scoring the greatest goal of all time / El Grafico/Getty Images

The extremes of the highs and lows of the life of a working class Argentine, thrust into the limelight too soon with the weight of the world on his shoulders too early, expected to take a country into an orgiastic future. 

"It was a heavy weight to be so famous."

Diego Maradona's Sister

It's the aforementioned that made Maradona what he was/is/will always be. 

A deified hero - the greatest footballer of all time. 

A detested villain - the cheat who bastardised the sport which gave him everything. 

Argentina v England - World Cup Mexico Quarter Final
Argentina v England - World Cup Mexico Quarter Final / Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

And all of this, all of Maradona's moral complexities, Maradona's tremendous footballing artistry, the terrible cheating - the absolute everything of Diego Maradona - can be found in five short minutes of a 22nd June 1986 World Cup quarter final game between in England and Argentina. 

You know the game. 

During these five short minutes - between the 50th and 55th of the game -  Maradona scored the two most significant goals in the history of the sport. Goals which came to define Maradona the hero, and Maradona the villain. 

The short increment of time itself played out like your classic redemption movie. 

Think the Marlon Brando classic 'On the Waterfront', in which Brando's character (Terry Malloy) begins the film as an amoral bum, cheating his way through life in the docklands, and ends it as a redeemed hero who fought against the crooked mob-run workers' unions to uplift his fellow man. 

Think that arc, but condensed down from 147 minutes to five...and think football, not dockland workers' rights too, obviously.

As in those five minutes, Maradona went from footballing cheat, one who'd conned the fans and his fellow professionals, to a redeemed hero who uplifted the sport to new, previously unthinkable, heights.

Like Terry Malloy in 'On the Waterfront', at first, Maradona was the villain.

Diego Maradona Hand of God Goal Argentina v England 1986
Diego Maradona Hand of God Goal Argentina v England 1986 / Getty Images/Getty Images

In the 51st minute of the game in Estadio Azteca, 'El Diego' cheated football and its fans by committing a cardinal sin of football.

The later named 'Hand of God' by the Argentine himself (in jest), Maradona leaped with Peter Shilton and, knowing he wouldn't connect with the ball any other way, punched the ball over the England number one and into the back of the net - breaking the most obvious black and white rule of the sport. 

In doing so, yes, Maradona had given his nation a 1-0 lead. But he'd also thrown away his morality, his dignity, and any ounce of respect people had for him - essentially, tarnishing the beautiful game. 

"I always say he’s the greatest player in history but I don’t respect him as a sportsman and I never will."

Peter Shilton

Just as Terry Malloy did in the 147 minutes of 'On the Waterfront' though, when he righted his wrongs of not 'snitching' on mob leaders controlling the docklands for killing his friend Joey, in just five minutes, Diego Armando Maradona would right the wrongs of his footballing sin.

Maradona vs England
Maradona vs England / STAFF/Getty Images

And he'd do so by scoring the single greatest goal of all time. 

In the 55th minute, Maradona went from being irrefutably loathed - a footballer who had stolen a goal like a pickpocket and broken fans' trust in the sport and its athletes - to being irrefutably loved for giving fans the gift of the impossible - giving the world the most astonishing 12 seconds in footballing history. 

Honestly, I could try and describe every feint, every shimmy, every infinitesimal detail of this goal, but no matter what I write it would pale in comparison to Victor Hugo Morales commentary of the goal. So instead, here is that, in full: 

"...Maradona has the ball, two mark him. Maradona touches the ball, the genius of world soccer, dashes to the right, leaves the third, is going to pass to Burruchaga.

"It's still Maradona! 

"Genius! Genius! Genius! 

"Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta...and goooooaaaal! 


"I want to cry! Dear God! Long live soccer! Gooooooaaaaalllllll! Diegoal! Maradona! 

"It's enough to make you cry, forgive me. Maradona, in an unforgettable run, the play of all time. 

"Cosmic kite! What planet are you from? 

"To leave in your wake so many Englishmen? So that the whole country is a clenched fist shouting for Argentina? 

"Argentina 2, England 0. Diegoal, Diegoal, Diego Armando Maradona. 

"Thank you God for soccer...for Maradona...for these tears...for this."

On that bone-dry Azteca pitch, in front of 114,580 spectators, in the sport's biggest and most prestigious competition, and in just five minutes, Maradona manifested himself. 

He'd manifested the deified Maradona. 

The detested Maradona. 

The tremendous Maradona. 

The terrible Maradona. 

The loved Maradona. 

The loathed Maradona. 

The hero. The villain. 

The Diego Armando Maradona.

Diego Maradona - El Grafico Sports Archive
Diego Maradona - El Grafico Sports Archive / El Grafico/Getty Images

- This article was originally published on 22nd March 2020 as part of 90min's '50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' series.