BY: ELYAS LAUBACH
On November 25, Argentinian soccer icon Diego Armando Maradona died of a heart attack. The news of this tragedy shocked the world, as Maradona had just been released from the hospital on November 12, following emergency brain surgery. Diego Maradona had a controversial and complicated personal life marred by drug and alcohol addiction, but his immense skill on the soccer field was undisputed. He is best known for his performances with the Argentinian national team, especially at the 1986 World Cup. He played as a number 10, the number used to describe an attacking midfielder, and dazzled the soccer world with his fleet feet and low center of gravity, which allowed him to glide effortlessly past defenders. He finished his playing career at Newell’s Old Boys, a club based in Rosario, Argentina. The same club at whichLionel Messi, fellow Argentine legend, started his career. On November 29, after Messi had scored against Osasuna, he removed his number 10 Barcelona shirt to reveal a Maradona match worn Newell’s Old Boys shirt–with the number 10 on the back.
The parallels between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi are too blatant to ignore; they both played attacking midfield and wore the number 10 shirt at Newell’s, at Barcelona, and for the national team of their home country, Argentina, where they are both worshipped like few people ever will be. They both were unmatched during their eras in terms of dribbling ability,exciting fans around the world. Because of these similarities, the two are often compared to each other when it comes to who the greatest soccer player is, both in Argentina and the world.
Diego Maradona brought eternal glory to Argentina by carrying their team to a World Cup victory in 1986, scoring the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal, along with what was, in 2002, voted as the goal of the 20th century: a simple finish from six yards out which was preceded only by a meandering, exhilarating, lung-busting 66-yard-run through the English defense, with the ball seemingly stuck to his feet as he leaves six English defenders looking like cones in a training exercise. “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”), as he is called in Argentina, was a national icon, making his death even harder to digest for millions of Argentines who looked up to him. According to Mark Pineda, a longtime fan of Argentinian soccer who has lived through both players’ primes, “Maradona [is more beloved in Argentina] because he played in Argentina in the domestic league and he won the world cup.” Messi only played in Argentina until age 13, when he moved to Barcelona to join their youth academy–albeit due to a medical condition that his club in Argentina could not help pay for. Maradona also won the 1979 U20 World Cup with Argentina, which would turn out to be a harbinger of his international success at the senior level. In 1986, Maradona won Argentina just their second world cup, doing it in spectacular fashion, scoring five and assisting five goals in just seven games. Because of Maradona’s domestic and international feats in Argentinian soccer, he is more beloved than Messi, even if not more prolific. Messi, meanwhile, has lost in four major competition finals for Argentina, including the 2014 World Cup final. He missed the winning penalty in two of those finals, but in 2014, his teammates missed several big chances to score the winning goal. However, he blows Maradona out of the water at club level, having scored 640 career goals in 742 appearances, while Maradona managed a comparatively measly 259 goals in 490 games.
Argentina has lost a true legend, and while Maradona and Messi may have played similarly, they should both be celebrated in their own right, even if the magical Diego Armando Maradona will always be slightly more celebrated in his homeland.