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Yesterday’s anti-everything hero now spins in the orbit of the money-maker

Even players blessed with the qualities of Maradona need to make sure that they aren’t bloated to the extent that their mobility is impeded.

Statesman News Service |

Maradona’s last World Cup, as a player, was the one in 1994, which he left in utter ignominy, having tested positive for banned substances. Memories of 1986 – by 1990, he’d lost more than a little of his speed – lingered, however, and the bombshell expulsion spawned conspiracy theories. Truth to tell, they abounded. “The sort of close-range skills he has can’t be dope-reliant” was the central argument in defence of the anti-everything, iconoclastic superstar, and that was quite correct.

But the tests were reported to have detected a cocktail of weight-reducing drugs, taking the edge off the dissenting, and popular, point of view. Even players blessed with the qualities of Maradona need to make sure that they aren’t bloated to the extent that their mobility is impeded, certainly not in a World Cup, after all.  Through all the twists and turns, and the warp and weft, in his life, we’d Subhas Chakraborty telling us, every now and then, that he was doing his best to get Maradona to come to West Bengal’s capital city for a blockbuster match at Salt Lake stadium, which he deemed his fiefdom. He couldn’t pull it off, though.

In 1984, Argentina had come for the Nehru Cup without him, but the void  seemed to have been felt retrospectively two years later, after Maradona’s virtuoso showing in Mexico. But it mightn’t have been an enduring emotional attachment to his best years in the game that accounted for his first visit to the city, which was in -2008. He wasn’t playing any more. When making headlines, he was often enmeshed in stuff that equalled netting suicidal goals. Then, as now, the fig leaf was the kicking off of a football school. Or, red herring. It was just the sort of thing that would have left you wondering if anyone really needed A-list celebrities to get an academy going, especially when the things central to the tutoring required Bill Gates’ wealth if you were serious about it. Priorities, though, were different here. You suspected variously disguised mutual interests – which implied the presence of shadowy local facilitators who’d pump in so much probably to prise out much more – in the elaborate exercise.

Bad business decisions, foisted on him by people he trusted allegedly irrationally, have set Pele, with three World Cup-winner’s medals, back quite a few times but the Brazilian has never been known to forage for crumbs. If you inquire about the South 24 Parganas “academy” that he’d “unveiled” on his previous trip to Kolkata, you’d perhaps also infer why the Barasat one, where he was said to have wowed children galore on Tuesday, won’t unearth any genius. That Maradona comes to be associated with activities – projects would be a pompous word in this context – that consume a lot of money without yielding any commensurate benefit for the game adds little to the substance and lustre of his legacy.  Quite apart from his appearance fee, a fraction of the king’s ransom spent on his flying him in and putting him up in a luxury hotel would be a big help where the grassroots game is concerned in this land. Even today, it mirrors the poverty Maradona knew as a child.