Diego Maradona is widely regarded as one of, if not, the greatest footballer of all time. Maradona would go on to have a career full of meteoric highs and lows. Some of his greatest achievements include winning the World Cup in 1986, and leading Napoli to the Scudetto on two occasions (1986-87, 1989-90). Despite being one of the greatest of all time, he never won the Balon d'Or during his career because it was only awarded to European footballers. France Football did do a revision in 2015 to include South American footballers and concluded that Maradona would have won the 1986 and 1990 Balon d'Or.
On October 20th, 1976, Maradona made his debut in the first team for Argentinos Juniors after spending years playing for the Academy. Maradona was 15 years old on his debut. Maradona's first league goal would come on November 14th, 1976. During the 1977 season, Maradona would become a regular for Argentinos Juniors. On the left we can see Maradona's first card which was issued for the 1977 season.
During the early years of his career at Argentinos Juniors, many local fans claim that this was the greatest version of Maradona that existed. Fans from all around the country would queue for hours in order to catch a glimpse of the legend in the making. This era was before frequent televising so much of the legend of Maradona was spread through word of mouth around the country.
Maradona's excellent performances would lead him to be closely monitored by the AFA. On February 27th, 1977, Maradona would be called up to the national team and made his debut against Hungary.
Maradona would go on to get more call ups to the national team in the build up to the 1978 World Cup which was to be hosted by Argentina.
Throughout Maradona's spell at Argentinos Juniors (1976-1981), he would score 116 goals in 166 appearences as an attacking midfielder. Regardless of era, this is an outrageous statistic for a player in this position.
1978 World Cup
Maradona never played in the 1978 World Cup but despite this, Maradona is featured in the domestic Crack Campeonato Mundial album. The two images below are the ones depicting Maradona. This is because in the build up to the 1978 World Cup, it was widely believed that the 17 year old phenom would be included in the World Cup squad due to his impressive performances in the warm up matches.
It was believed that Maradona was better than quite a lot of players that formed the 1978 World Cup squad but coach Cesar Luis Menotti believed that Maradona was simply too young to play at the World Cup. Menotti also believed that the pressure of playing in a domestic World Cup would be too much to handle. Maradona was the last player to be cut from the squad. This left a sense of bitterness in Maradona as during the build up to the World Cup, he would spend Monday to Thursday training under the orders and oversight of Menotti, and from Friday to Sunday he would be with the Argentinos Juniors squad .
1979 U-20 World Cup
After missing out on the 1978 World Cup squad, Diego Maradona would join the U-20 Argentina squad for the 1979 edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship that was hosted in Japan. Argentina would cruise to victory winning every single match along the way. Maradona was named the MVP of the tournament. Maradona and Ramon Diaz formed an absolutely lethal duo, so much so that 70% of Argentina's goals were scored by these two forwards.
This performance at this tournament is regarded as the greatest performance ever seen at a youth World Cup tournament. This was the first international title that Maradona won with Argentina. This was the start of Maradona's legend with Argentina. The image on the left that was used for the iconic 1979 Panini Calciatori sticker, was from this tournament.
In 1981, Diego Maradona would make the leap to Boca Juniors from Argentinos Juniors. The transfer fee was $4 million USD. Maradona would go on to have a successful season and would lead Boca Juniors to the 1981 league title. He had one of his most iconic matches in the superclasico against River Plate where he would round the defender and keeper to slot into an empty net.
This 1981 league title was the only domestic title in Argentina that he would win. Whilst wearing the blue and yellow, Maradona would score 28 goals in 40 appearances.
1982 World Cup
The 1982 World Cup was the first World Cup that Maradona would participate in.
The 1982 World Cup was a complete disaster for Argentina as they would get knocked out in the second round. The squad was divided between young and old players which led to low chemistry between the players on the field. Throughout the whole tournament Maradona was the victim of brutal fouls and was quite literally "kicked" out of the game. Maradona was the most fouled player of the tournament with 36 fouls against him .
Maradona's tournament would finally end after getting red carded in Argentina's second round defeat to Brazil.
Following the World Cup, Maradona would sign for F.C. Barcelona for a world record fee of $7.6 million USD.
Due to personal controversies and health, injury issues, Maradona's time at Barcelona was underwhelming but Maradona did produce moments of magic.
Maradona had some iconic performances in El Clasico where in one occasion he scored a goal by rounding the keeper and avoiding a slide tackle from a defender before slotting into the empty net. This amazing goal led to the Bernabeu applauding him.
Another notable incident was in the 1984 Supercopa final where Maradona was at the centre of an epic brawl in front of the King of Spain and 100,000 fans in the stadium. Maradona knocked out one of the Bilbao players and then continued to attack any Bilbao players. The aftermath of the brawl was 60 people injured. This was the last moment Maradona had in the Barcelona kit.
Maradona won the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana in 1983. Maradona scored 38 goals in 58 games for Barcelona before leaving.
Prior to the 1984-85 season, Maradona signed for Napoli in what was known to be a bizarre transfer due to the fact that the best player in the world was signing for a near relegation side in the Serie A. Maradona's transfer once again broke the record this time it was a 12 million euros price tag.
His introduction was the largest known to date with 75,000 fans coming out to welcome him to the club. He was seen by many Napoli fans as the saviour who came to save the club.
It was during his time in Napoli, that Maradona hit the prime of his footballing career. The first season at Napoli was rough as Maradona was getting used to the physicality of the Serie A, the most competitive league of that era. Napoli was also in the process of signing other notable players for the squad.
In 1986-87 season, Maradona was able to achieve the unthinkable and led Napoli to the scudetto, the first time a club from the south had ever achieved this. Napoli also won the Coppa Italia wrapping up an unexpected double.
Diego Maradona had assumed a more playmaker style role but despite this he had scored 10 goals for the season, some of which were some of the best the league had ever witnessed.
This first championship title won by Napoli under the leadership of Maradona turned Maradona into a god in the eyes of the Napoli fans and people who had waited so long for a chance to compete with the North.
In the 1988-89 season, Maradona and Napoli took their success a step further and were able to win a continental trophy for the club, the UEFA Cup (Europa League).
Many people are not aware of the greatness of this achievement. On their way to the UEFA Cup, Napoli beat European giants Juventus and Bayern Munich before beating V.f.B Stuttgart in the final.
The following season (1989-90), Maradona would lead