Reviews

A shot at glory

Touched by God: How We Won the Mexico ’86 World Cup Diego Armando Maradona and Daniel Arcucci Hachette India ₹699  

If a man through sheer will and mastery over the craft of football could win a World Cup, it just had to be Diego Maradona. The 1986 edition at Mexico is remembered for the Argentina captain’s genius. The player of the tournament, he scored five goals, inclusive of the much-talked-about brace against England in the quarterfinal.

The first was notorious for the role his hand played and the second became a classic, famous for magical feet and legs whirring at Usain Bolt’s speed. It resulted in a goal adjudged as the best in football history.

The 1986 World Cup which Argentina won after defeating West Germany 3-2 in the final, triggered the binary-argument in the world of soccer — who is the greatest ever, is it Brazil’s Pele or Maradona? For those who grew up in the 1980s, that question remains redundant and Maradona heads the pantheon.

In this era of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and the overwhelming clout of European leagues, the World Cup still holds its relevance and a player’s halo is shaped by what he does in the greatest show across the globe. In that Maradona is second to none. Three decades after that epochal triumph, Maradona along with Daniel Arcucci, has penned a book titled Touched by God: How We Won the Mexico ’86 World Cup.

Country above club

The tome spread over 226 pages describes in detail the journey of Maradona and his merry band, culminating in World Cup glory. In the beginning, Maradona writes: “This is Diego Armando Maradona speaking, the man who scored two goals against the English — and one of the few Argentines who knows how much the World Cup weighs.”

Maradona is direct in the manner in which he recalls the greatest days of his life. This is not a book for lyrical prose, it is more about speaking his mind. Maradona believed that he and his men could win the World Cup and they precisely did that. In the months leading up to the ’86 event, he did inter-continental flights between Italy and South America. Representing Napoli, Maradona struck a fine balance between playing for his club and the need to wear the Argentina jersey and turn out in exhibition and warm-up matches for his nation. For him there was no confusion, it was always country above club.

It wasn’t easy though and Maradona admits: “It looked like we would be the worst team at the cup that year.” He had to deal with the team manager-cum-coach Carlos Bilardo. A relationship that was more hate than love. Then there was the run-in with team-mate and former captain Daniel Passarella. To make it worse, there were factions in the change rooms. Maradona slowly galvanised the squad into one unit. His reference-point was the pressing need to offer joy to his fellow countrymen who were still hurting over a war with the United Kingdom pertaining to the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Friends and fury

The book has excessive angst and the victim-complex is obvious when he writes: “You have to stick up for the good guys on and off the field — even though no one ever stood up for me.” There is anger against one-time rival — France’s Michel Platini — and some justified spite against the governing body FIFA’s officials. At one point, he tells the men in suits: “Eat your expensive caviar and drink the best bubbly, but we want to put on a good show for the people without killing ourselves trying.”

And as for the ‘Hand of God’ goal against England, Maradona says: “I am not sorry for scoring with my hand!” His logic being that the rule-makers deemed it legitimate. Next up he draws enormous joy from the second goal, which inspired commentator Victor Hugo to exclaim: “You cosmic kite, what planet did you come from?”

The book’s theme is the hard work that he and his team put in while winning the World Cup, but overall it has this tone of simmering anger and there is no censorship on the words and the abuse is unrelenting.

Perhaps that could have been toned down. But that is the way Maradona is, warts and all, champion in 1986, a drug-offender in 2004 and coach for the national team in the 2010 World Cup at South Africa.

The World Cup defines Maradona and he writes: “It hurts that thirty years have gone by and we still haven’t won the cup again. It hurts me deep in my soul.” And then he lets it rip: “One guy wrote to me... that I didn’t want Lio Messi to outshine me. What an !@#$%^&. If we had won in South Africa, I would have another cup under my belt, only this time as coach!” Political correctness has never been Maradona’s strength and it is evident in this book and there is much for his fans to savour.

Touched by God: How We Won the Mexico ’86 World Cup; Diego Armando Maradona and Daniel Arcucci, Hachette India, ₹699.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 11:24:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/a-shot-at-glory/article19736336.ece

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