Diego Maradona was widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer (called “Football” in most of the world) players of all time. He could dribble the ball through an entire opposing team and could kick the ball where the goalie couldn’t reach it. He won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico almost single handedly as captain of the Argentina national team. He received the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, and arguably the most famous game ever was in that tournament when he scored both goals in a 2–1 victory over England. In his first goal, the 5’5″ Maradona out-jumped England’s more-than-a-foot-taller goal keeper, Peter Shilton, and used his left hand to punch the ball into the net. Of course this is illegal, but the goal was allowed because the referee “did not see” the foul. When Maradona was confronted with the fact that he had scored an illegal goal, he responded with the world famous comment, “That goal was scored by the Hand of God.” A few minutes later, he dribbled the ball for more than 66 yards through seven English defenders before kicking the ball into the net. That goal was voted “Goal of the Century” by FIFA voters in 2002.
Unfortunately, his incredible career was marred by repeated bouts of alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity and ill health. He died on November 25, 2020, at age 60.
A Child Prodigy
Diego Armando Maradona was born in 1960 into abject poverty in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He started playing soccer at age three when he received a ball as a gift, and at age eight he tried out for the Argentinos Juniors team. He had such amazing soccer skills that the coach did not believe that he was only eight, so he asked Maradona for his ID card and when he told the coach that he didn’t have it, the coach was convinced that he was much older. By age 12, Maradona was so skilled that he was giving heading and ball control exhibitions at halftime intermissions of first division soccer games.
At age 15, Maradona became the youngest professional player in the history of the Argentine Primera División. A few minutes into his first game, he scored his first professional goal. He spent five years with that team, and scored 115 goals in 167 games. In 1981, at age 21, he joined a top professional soccer team, Boca Juniors. He scored two goals in his first game and the team went on to win the league title that year. In 1982, at age 22, he joined the Barcelona team in Spain for a world-record fee of $7.6 million and the next year, the team beat Real Madrid to win Spain’s annual national cup. In 1983, he suffered loss of playing time for three months because of hepatitis followed by a fight during a game that resulted in a broken ankle. That fight also led to his being sold by Barcelona to Napoli in Italy for a world record $10.48 million. At age 26, he quickly became team captain and Napoli won their first Serie A Italian Championship.
By then Maradona was addicted to cocaine and was fined more than $70,000 for missing games and in 1992 he was banned for 15 months for failing a drug test for cocaine. He was so talented that in spite of his many problems, he scored a goal for Argentina in the 1994 World Cup in Boston, but then was banned again for failing a drug test for ephedrine. His horrendous diet and frequent injuries often kept him from playing and he retired in 1997 at age 37. In later interviews he admitted that he would play a game on Sunday, party from then until Wednesday, and then work out hard with a personal fitness coach until Saturday to be ready for the game on Sunday. His horrendously unhealthful lifestyle caused him to gain weight throughout his playing career and after he retired from active play, he became morbidly obese, with more than 280 pounds on his short 5’5″ frame.
He coached for a while and in 2005 at age 45 he became a talk-show host on Argentine television. His show was very successful, with world famous guests such as Pele, Fidel Castro, Roberto Durán and Mike Tyson. At age 48, he took over as coach of Argentina’s national soccer team and then managed teams such as the Dubai club Al Wasl FC in the United Arab Emirates, Dorados in Mexico, and Argentine Gimnasia de La Plata.
A Downhill Spiral
In 2004, at age 44, he was hospitalized for severe heart and lung diseases associated with his long course of drug addiction and his obesity. At age 45, he had gastric bypass surgery and was kept on a liquid diet for three months. In 2007, at age 47, he was hospitalized for liver damage caused by his alcohol abuse and was then transferred to a psychiatric clinic for treatment of alcoholism. At age 58, he passed out in an executive box at the Argentina-Nigeria game at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In January 2019, at age 59, he was hospitalized for stomach bleeding and on Nov 2, 2020, he was admitted to the hospital for anemia, dehydration and depression. An MRI revealed a subdural hematoma and he had blood drained from his brain. He went home and less than a month after his 60th birthday, on November 25, 2020, he died in his sleep. His cause of death was listed as dilated cardiomyopathy and acute secondary lung edema. The president of Argentina, President Alberto Fernandez, declared three days of national mourning.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Acute Lung Edema
Dilated cardiomyopathy means that the heart muscle is not strong enough to pump out all of the blood that enters it, so the excess blood inside the heart stretches the heart muscle like a balloon. This enlarges the heart to further weaken it and can send the person into heart failure, where the heart is not strong enough to meet their needs for blood and oxygen. Heart failure can be a chronic condition, but when the heart muscle is too weak to pump out all of the blood that is pumped into it, the blood can back up to fill the lungs with fluid (“acute lung edema”) and the person smothers to death.
Sad Waste of Amazing Talent
Maradona was gifted with great athleticism that was shared with his two brothers, his son, and a great-nephew who were all professional soccer players. In spite of his incredibly high level of fitness as one of the best soccer players of all time, he died at the very young age of 60. His lifestyle was so unhealthful that it caused morbid obesity, probably diabetes (not reported), heart muscle damage, and heart failure that caused his lungs to fill up with fluid.
If you want to live a long life and help to prevent disease, you need to follow a healthful lifestyle that includes weight control, regular exercise, a healthful diet and avoidance of drugs and alcohol.
Diego Armando Maradona
October 30, 1960 – November 25, 2020