By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)
Arguably the greatest ever footballer Diego Armando Maradona has had many battles. Absurdly one of the best ever players to grace the beautiful game is remembered, especially in England, for ‘The Hand of God’ goal rather than the many moments of genius and artistry that he provided. But Maradona offers further proof, if it were needed that football and politics plainly mix, even if that is not always a good thing.
Debates rage over whether he was better than Pelé or not, but a young Maradona later found out that his rival’s words in 1970 were prophetic. Pelé told Bobby Charlton, “Our country is ruled by despicable people.” He was right. The vicious dictatorship of Emílio Garrastasu Médici tried to hijack the World Cup triumph to justify its illegal rule over Brasil.
The Argentinian Medici
While still a teenager Maradona tasted World Cup glory for the first time, just eight years after Pelé’s last triumph on the world stage. Maradona didn’t play in the team of Leopoldo Luque, Daniel Passarella and Mario Kempes, but he learned a valuable lesson for later life.
Argentina advanced to the second knock-out stage – the semi-finals – despite a scandalous result. Needing to win 4-0 to advance at Brasil’s expense, Perú’s Argentinian-born goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga conceded six. Stories soon emerged that General Jorge Videla Redondo, the head of the Argentinian military junta had threatened the Perúvian team.
Even now stories of the fix emerge. The Netherlands, the beaten finalists complain that they were cheated. Actually Brasil, not the Dutch, were cheated. It is now too late to correct this as 30 years on Brasil cannot now play the semi-final. Nor can a just final be played. Awarding the Netherlands that trophy now would not redress the damage that was actually done to Brasil – the real victims of the fix.
Maradona saw not only the lengths that Videla was prepared to go to in order to get the success that he demanded, but after that success was achieved, how it was exploited by despicable people.
Used for the last time
Maradona would be used and abused again in Spain. Leopoldo Galtieri Castelli had succeeded Videla and tried to repeat the trick in 1982, but Galtieri failed miserably and Maradona realised that he had been used by vile and brutal people. That was not going to be allowed to happen again – ever.
The Falklands (or Malvinas) Islands conflict was raging when Argentina went to Spain to defend their title. Football would claim its revenge on at least one of the despicable people. Spanish media was not censored as the Argentinian media had been. That country had just emerged from a vicious dictatorship that had lasted almost four decades.
General Francisco Franco, who was far from averse to using football for his own ends, was dead and democratic values in Spain were young. It had only just survived a serious coup attempt involving shooting in the Spanish Parliament a year earlier. But Spain had had its fill of a censored media. The Argentinian junta could not hide the truth about the war from its players in Spain and that had dire consequences.
The players learned the truth that had been hidden from them in their own country. They had believed the lies, but now they were confronted by the truth. It affected their morale and the quality of their play. They surrendered their title meekly, failing to advance beyond the second stage. Spain’s World Cup had offered further proof of the power of football and connection with political change.
Galtieri had hoped that football would allow him to bask in reflected glory and deceive his people further. He lost the war and power soon afterwards and was deservedly jailed as his junta fell from power. He died reviled by Argentinians in 2003.
Diego Armando Maradona went on to become one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport. Having learned of the cynical deceit and how he had been used and abused Maradona vowed that he would never be used like that again.
He became his own man politically, and developed a friendship with then Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz. Four years after Galtieri’s failed attempt to emulate Videla, Maradona led his team to World Cup glory again in México.