Saturday, June 2, 2012

One goes out, another comes in. The one who debuted in 1976 does not need any introduction. He is still in the news. It is useless even to add anything about him, for he is Diego Maradona. Even back in 1976 he was not exactly unknown – Argentina already not only heard of him, but saw him. The Europeans heard of Maradona almost as soon as he played his first official match – the mood was a bit skeptical at first. On one hand, South Americans tend to exaggerate – hearing about ‘new Pele’ every year made Europeans not very receptive. On the other hand, young talent came out every year and most of them did not really live up to expectations. Modern football was becoming difficult for youngsters – it required physicality as well as psychological maturity and the days of 17-years old Peles were seemingly over. So Maradona was most likely to be some exotica, destined to burn out almost immediately.

Retrospectively, there are some ironies about Maradona:
He was born in the impoverished district Villa Fiorito of Buenos Aires and grew up in this house. Hardly a tourist spot… what a pilgrimage going to see it today (if it exists) make? The guy with the golden earring – and this shack! But, true to football legendary tradition, the greatest players come from places like this one – so nothing unusual. Naturally, small Diego was not that much into school, but a ball was everything. And he was spotted, and trained, and strated playing for one of the boys teams in the system of Argentinos Juniors – Cebollitas.

With Cebollitas Diego went not only 136 matches unbeaten, but started making a name for himself: children teams outside North America, where the so-called ‘soccer moms’ make something of a crowd, do not attract public, but because of Diego Cebollitas got regular – and increasing in numbers – fans. From there more unusual fame came – Diego’s skills were impressive and he was invited to entertain the crowds with keepy-uppy and other tricks during the break of real professional matches. He was paid a bit, which was much needed money in Villa Fiorito. There the 12 years old was spotted by television people and invited – with his ball, of course – to one of the prestigious TV shows ‘Sabados Circularos’.
So Diego became a TV star… which was very suspect, for prodigies like him have been many. There are some today as well. It is predictable pattern – most of them never become football players, let alone famous ones: they are amusing entertainers for awhile, until the public gets tired of them. They are good at playing tricks with a ball, but not that good at playing the game of football. Luckily, Diego was different and opted to play the game – different, but probably also lucky to be part of Argentinos Juniors system. A bigger club most likely would have kept him in the juniors for years. Argentinos Juniors were smaller, not having big names, not very successful, and desperate for some positive change. Diego was not only making positive impression to the first team stuff – he was included in the team and on October 20, 1976 the coach Montes called the guy still 10 days short of sixteen and told him ‘Go and do what you do best’.

Maradona did exactly that – displayed some fine handling of the ball and tricked the first defender coming his way. And because of that the guy on the left is kind of remembered today – his name is Cabrera. As for Diego, he enchanted the crowd on the stands.

The next ‘first’ came 20 days later, on November 14. Playing against San Lorenzo (La Plata), Maradona scored his first official league goal – top photo. He liked scoring and decided to repeat it (bottom photo). Almost instantly his name reached Europe. And after that… after that there is much, much more, but that was all in 1976. And with this the year comes to a close.