Keir RadnedgeComment


Keir RadnedgeComment

The Italian city of Naples has gone beserk. All because of one man: Diego Armando Maradona.

Local first division club Napoli have paid Spain's Barcelona £6.4 million, a world record, for the chunky Argentine wonderboy and already they are exploiting their coup to the full.

On his first full day in the city Maradona spent the morning posing for photographs, signing autographs and fielding a host of questions at a succession of press conferences. He then turned up at the club's San Paolo stadium to kick off in a friendly match hastily arranged between local youth teams. Amazingly, there was a 70,000 capacity crowd paying to see their new hero touch the ball just this once!

Maradona fever knows no bounds. Maradona tee-shirts sold by the thousand, many to dog-owners who promptly put them on their pets. More bright instant salesmen collected fortunes with a roaring trade in curly-haired Maradona wigs. Light aircraft, trailing "Welcome Maradona" streamers, circled the skies over the city and a further 30 babies were named Diego Armando in honour of the city's new patron saint of football.

Meanwhile, mystery surrounds Napoli's success in raising the bulk of the Maradona transfer fee so quickly. A French television commentator who asked Maradona what he knew about Mafia money in Italian football was hastily escorted into the street by club officials at the direction of president Corrado Ferlaino!

Not everyone is happy with the transfer. Officials of the Buenos Aires club Argentinos Juniors, Maradona's original side, are worried that they will never see money due to them under the terms of Maradona's transfer in 1982 from his second Argentine club, Boca Juniors, to Barcelona. In fact, Argentinos Juniors officials are threatening a complaint to FIFA, accompanied by a demand for Maradona's international suspension, unless they get their money. This explains why Barcelona have, all along, insisted that Napoli hand over a hefty deposit towards the fee.

It is estimated that, despite the size of the fee Napoli are paying, Barcelona have "lost" around £1.8 million on Maradona in terms of interest payments, wages and bonuses, medical expenses and other costs. To the last, president Jose Luis Nunez was reluctant to sell. But in the end pressure from fellow directors and Maradona and his manager Jorge Cyterszpiler won the day.

Maradona says: "It's best for me to leave Barcelona and do so without creating any waves or saying anything critical. I must say, though, that it is only because we are all civilised people that, at one of the meetings with the Barcelona directors, we didn't come to blows. I knew that once everyone started to look sensibly and seriously at the situation we could come to a satisfactory agreement.

"Now all I want is to start playing football tor Napoli. That is what I can do best."

Barcelona never saw Maradona's best consistently. He spent two years in the Catalan capital and was out ill or injured for virtually half that time. At the end of his first season Barcelona won the Spanish Cup and the League Cup. This past season they finished runners-up in the Spanish Cup, were semi-finalists in the League Cup and quarterfinalists in the Cup-winners' Cup. But the dream of regaining the League Championship, the most important prize of all, for the first time in a decade, remained unfulfilled. And after Maradona's springtime return from that appalling ankle injury inflicted by Andoni Goicoechea of Bilbao, his relationship with club and fans deteriorated.

Against Manchester United in the Cup-Winners' Cup, Maradona contributed little. Perhaps coach Cesar Menotti might be faulted for risking his protege when he was still short of match fitness. But then, Maradona remains a player with the massive ability to win a game single-handed.

Angry fans came to blows with members of Maradona's entourage and a fashionable Barcelona, nightclub added a new dimension to the affair when Maradona and his minders were shown the door. On the pitch he was sent off in a local derby against Español and then became a central figure in the violence which followed the cup final defeat by 'Bilbao. The outcome of that, of course, an effective five-month ban from domestic competition. Maradona's critics - and there are many in Spain right now - says he has a character which is never satisfied and that Barca 'created trouble for themselves' by spoiling him. One reporter close to Maradona says: "If Diego fancied nipping home to Argentina, Barcelona let him; if he wanted some money in advance for a business deal, he got it; if he wanted to use some particular doctor, Barcelona footed the bill."

The decisive act in the Maradona saga was played by Menotti. His decision to quit the club at the season's end dismayed Maradona. There was no personal animosity about the appointment of Terry Venables, but Maradona and Cyterszpiler felt that the more disciplined English approach to team management plus a residue of Anglo-Argentine suspicion among the fans back home in Buenos Aires, was more than they could handle. Also Maradona was offended to learn that Barca officials had asked Menotti for an honest secret appraisal of Maradona's fitness, general physical well-being and tendency to put on weight.

Because of injury Maradona missed an end-of-season club trip to Udinese for a friendly match which should have matched his talents against those of the Brazilian, Zico. But Menotti, aware of Maradona's confusion, took the opportunity to hint at a possible breach between player and club. Napoli immediately swallowed the bait and contacted Cyterszpiler.

Two days before Maradona and Barcelona's reserves flew to New York for the Transatlantic Cup tournament, Napoli officials met Maradona at home. The next day Maradona presented Barcelona with details of a first Napoli offer and news of his wish to move on. Maradona had allowed himself to be photographed with a Napoli shirt and once that was published public opinion took over: Spanish feeling moving against him, Italian opinion in his favour.

Nunez and Barcelona played cat and mouse with Napoli in the transfer negotiations and at the last, nearly over-played their hand right on the eve of the Italian transfer deadline. In the end, with two hours to spare, Napoli deposited with the Italian federation a telex message from Barcelona confirming details of the payment plan.

After two lost years, Maradona is starting his career all over again. Though whether the place for him to polish up his tarnished image as a footballer is Naples remains doubtful. Omar Sivori, Maradona's fellow Argentine who starred in Italy in the late 1950s and early 1960s for Juventus and then at Napoli, has no doubt that Argentina's favourite son will succeed. Sivori says: "Italy isn't Spain. It's hard, don't get me wrong. But while Maradona will face enormous difficulties, no player with true talent should ever fail in Italian football." And no one can deny his talent.


This article originally appeared in the August 1984 edition of World Soccer