One footballer always catches the eye when it comes to Argentina. He is a man, some say, comparable only to gods. But whilst Lionel Messi may inhabit the realm of the ether, it was his baton-passing associate who was sky high on Tuesday.
Diego Maradona has done it all. He played, he snorted, he conquered. At his peak, he was undoubtedly the greatest player in the world. Many argue that the planet hasn’t been graced by any greater.
These days, at 57-years-old, the iconic veteran has taken more of a back seat role. This may not have remained the case, however, as Maradona had reportedly requested to give a teamtalk to Jorge Sampaoli’s men before their enthralling victory over a gritty Nigerian side.
As if in a hazy dream, at Paddy Power we’ve envisaged just how such a teamtalk could have gone down. Needless to say, it would have been interesting stuff.
A dark, musty changing room fills with tension. Noise builds and rises as kick-off approaches and a stocky, shady figure enters.
A short, stubby hand lifts a shorter, stubbier finger. The noise ends and silence prevails. “Kneel,” whispers Diego Maradona and the Argentinian national side do as instructed.
“We are Argentina, my little rump calves. We are footballing kings. We are deities with a right to win wherever we are. We haven’t won this tournament for over 30 years but by God it’s in our blood. We’re owed this.”
“We are,” Maradona stops and sniffs – possibly through emotion, possibly to get that last little bit up properly deep – “we are my children.”
“We are my legacy, my babies, my little cherubs. I hate to see my cherubs in pain and humiliation. There’s nothing funny – nothing funny at all – about seeing Argentina struggle. We’ve become flaky, powdery, and we’re getting wrapped at regular intervals. Which reminds me…”
The star, who has 91 international caps to his name, darted out of the room. In his absence, a hefty snort, beating chest and visceral roaring was heard. “Ay, ca-motherf**ing-ramba, baby!”
He returns, blazing, performing a miniature haka-style dance.
“See, people view us as one, my sweet princes. They feel like what we do is beautiful and should be encouraged, supported and adored. In reality, we’re both falling apart. It’s more sad than anything.”
“So we need to go out and prove the world wrong, prove to them that we, Argentina, Diego Maradona, are still kings of this universe. We need confidence, we need a boost. Follow me and I’ll sort you boys right out. It’s the game plan. I’m stocked up: get plenty of the stuff down.”
Maradona is cut off by an Argentinian coach, whispering in his ear. His reaction is aghast, flipping the bird with rage.
“Well, that’s the tactical approach f**ked, then. It’s time for Plan B. Lionel, up you get, son. This man is your lynchpin, your magnet. Everything goes through him and everything focuses on him. Understood? Good. Even if he’s just dropped a bang average game, I’ll be expecting GOAT comments to be regular, lauding to a Biblical degree and comparisons with Ronaldo to be excessive and justly bias.”
“Leo is me. I am God. Ergo Leo is God also.”
Diego begins to get a little carried away by this point, his role as a man motivator stepping up a notch. In a scene reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street, he pounds his chest and chants.
“Ar-gen-ti-na, Ar-gen-ti-na,” he circles round the room.
“Come on boys and lace me up, I’m playing with you if it kills me.”
Sadly, it’s at this point the cloaked man with a clipboard enters with a blood-pressure pump and pre-mixed bottle of Horlicks. “Easy, D, let’s get you sat down.”
Diego Maradona would not sit down, however. Battling his way from the room, he stormed upstairs to settle down and watch his beloved country play. Oh, what a mistake that was.