HE’S MY HERO right now. And he will be no matter the result of his Argentina in this World Cup.
Many people hate him, detest him and simply can’t stand him. He’s vulgar. He’s a cheat. He took drugs and talks shit about politics and lots else.
I don’t care. He’s better than that for me. His skills with the football, of course, are sublime, even today. He can flick it; he can hold it steady with his feet. All without blinking or changing his expression. Diego Maradona, 49, is one with the ball. The greatest player the sport has ever seen. His best goal, no doubt, was one he scored against England in the 1986 World Cup. There were many, many more.
Yup, he’s ace.
But that’s not why he’s my hero. The reason is because after such a brilliant career and, of course, a fair share of scandals with drugs and run-ins with reporters, he went on to do more. If I’d become a legend like him, I’d take a backseat to the fast pace and go hang out at the beach. I’d go old and fat. I’d take an occasional speaking engagement and maybe a one-off job as a TV presenter at the World Cup. I’d casually write a book and chill out. I’d live off the riches of being a legend of the past.
Maradona did that for a bit and then he cleaned himself up, got himself back in shape and took on a job he had no training for. He took on the challenge of coaching Argentina’s national side and taking them to the World Cup. He exposed himself to an assault of criticism that he’s not fit for the job. Argentina is mad about football and if you don’t get results, well, adios, hijo de puta. That’s what Maradona exposed himself to. He put himself in the line of fire. And he took the criticism as the team played listlessly in the qualifiers for the World Cup. He took heaps of criticism, especially from the press. Few believed he could do it, even with the ace players on his team like Lionel Messi. But Maradona kept going. And he told them what to do. He told them to suck his you know what.
Argentina will praise him if they win the sport’s top prize, and lambast him if they come home empty handed.
Me? I’m taking my hat off to him right now for taking a very big risk that could tarnish his image, for taking on a challenge that for me would be like taking on big-wave surfing and paddling out at Mavericks at the age of 42.
Argentina won today. It skillfully beat South Korea 4-1 to set itself up for a spot in the quarterfinals.
My seven-year-old daughter watched the match by my side and cheered on her Argentina and her favorite player, Carlos Tevez. And at the end when Argentina had come out victorious, she pointed to the screen to the man who’d taken on a big challenge.
“That’s Mar-a-dona,” she said.
“Yup,” I said.
And I thought, it’s time to going surfing, the bigger the better. Never give up.