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Last Updated: Monday, 19 April, 2004, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Terrible toll of Argentine love affair
By Tim Vickery

Diego Maradona
Maradona humiliated England at Mexico 86

Former Argentina captain Roberto Perfumo once made a fascinating comparison between Diego Maradona and Julius Caesar.

The Roman Emperor had a slave walk behind him and constantly whisper in his ear "remember you're only a mortal".

Argentine society has done the reverse with Maradona. Constantly being told he was a God has had terrible consequences for Maradona's mental and physical well-being.

No footballer exemplifies the phenomenon that is South American football like Diego Armando Maradona.

Maradona's immortality began in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final against England

There are three strings to the game's popularity in this football crazy continent.

It came with First World prestige, introduced by the English. It was re-interpreted by the South Americans, straight-line running giving way to balletic twists and feints, ideal for the stocky figure with a low centre of gravity.

This re-interpretation lead to international triumphs and global prestige for a region that otherwise seldom hits the headlines.

This was Maradona's story. The shanty town mix of indigenous and immigrant, he is the story of South American football personified.

His immortality began in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico.

The English press put great emphasis on the Falklands factor. But for Argentina it went far deeper.

Their country had virtually been part of the British Empire, and on the great leveller of the football field they had always longed for a chance to avenge the humiliation.

Diego Maradona

It was the game where Maradona lived out the fantasy of an entire nation.

His 'hand of God' goal was the street smartness of the shanty town kid who steals an apple from the market stall to take home to his mother.

Maradona's first goal was a demonstration that the Argentines were sharper than the English.

The glorious second goal was a demonstration that they were better. The two together exorcised decades of pent up fury at being on the periphery of the global economy.

It was the day when Maradona became a God.

But, by freeing him from any normal restraints or standards of discipline, it took a terrible toll on Maradona the man.

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