The Antagonist - Why we need more Maradonas
Published: 16 Jul 2010 - 10:18:31
So, it appears that we may have finally waved goodbye to Diego the Madman as he contemplates his future as manager of Argentina.
The term 'flawed genius' could well have been invented for him as he seems to satisfy all the necessary criteria. His whole life has been played out in extremes, moving from ecstatic highs to almost suicidal lows, over the course of his 50 short years.
He is an example of the sort of tragic character littered amongst the works of Shakespeare and, going further back into history, Greek playwrights such as Sophocles and Euripides. By definition, a tragic character has to have some redeeming features or he would merely be a loser or an out and out villain.
In essence, the depth of the tragedy can be measured by the distance between the peaks and troughs of the person's experience. The higher the peaks, the lower the troughs, the greater the tragedy.
Maradona reached the summit of his profession (believed by some as the most complete footballer the World has ever seen) and subsequently plumbed the depths of despair, tumbling headlong into a drug and alcohol fuelled spiral which led to rapid mental and physical deterioration and almost total body shut down.
From this nadir he found rehabilitation through the strength of his family and the opportunity, once again, to lead his country, albeit in a rather alien administrative role.
His amazing capacity to evoke polarised opinions was best typified in the World Cup match against England in Mexico 1986 when his abhorrent "hand of god" goal was followed by, perhaps, one of the most beautiful individual goals ever seen at the Finals. In that game he went from 'the man you love to hate' to 'the man you hate to love'.
There are other examples in football and other sports of tragic sporting icons who have won over our hearts through their fallibility. George Best, Gazza, Jimmy Greaves, Alex Higgins, Illie Nastase, to name but a few, all battled with their demons; some successfully, some not.
But is it simply the fall from grace that evokes our sympathy? If it is, why do I not feel the same empathy for Tiger Woods through his recent travails or Roger Federer when he was sent crashing out of Wimbledon this year?
The reason, I believe, is that these players did not open their souls to us. They did not truly share the joy and despair of victory and defeat. They remained, due to their extreme focus and obsessive single mindedness, slightly aloof and on a different plane to normal mortals, hence denying themselves the right to our sympathy.
As a player, Maradona cried like a baby in victory and defeat. As a manager he danced like a schoolgirl when his team scored, he prowled manically around his technical area, he kissed his players on the lips at the end of the game, he kicked every ball with them and he felt their loss against Germany like a dagger in his heart.
Perhaps his despair at that defeat was heightened because he knew deep down that the game was up. His shortcomings as a manager had been exposed. The initial boost of having a national and World icon as a manager had dissipated and his severe lack of tactical nous was cruelly exploited by a canny German outfit.
Once again our hero turned to villain, peak to trough. An intrinsic element of the joy of sport is the tangled emotions it can evoke from both participants and spectators.
Without the Diego Maradonas of this world, sport would become sterile; the domain of the one dimensional participant whose quest to be the best becomes the sole goal and whose cocooned ambition isolates them from those of us who would share their hopes and dreams.
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