Football/Soccer

'Hand of God' and a left foot from heaven: RIP Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona was at his brilliant best when guiding Argentina to 1986 World Cup glory in Mexico

Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) has announced.

The Argentina World Cup winner and the national team's former manager had been in hospital in Buenos Aires after surgery to remove a blood clot on the brain earlier this month.

The AFA said on Twitter: "The Argentine Football Association, through its President Claudio Tapia, expresses its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You will always be in our hearts."

Maradona is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time and was the inspiration for Argentina's World Cup success in Mexico in 1986. He also led the country to the final of the 1990 tournament in Italy and managed them in South Africa in 2010.

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Maradona's successes made him a global star and a national hero in Argentina but his career was also blighted by controversies on and off the field.

His 'Hand of God'' goal against England in the 1986 quarter-finals, when he pushed the ball into the net with his hand, earned him infamy, at least in England, but hero status in many other countries.

He followed up by scoring the "goal of the century", a remarkable solo effort, in the same game.

His international playing career ended in shame when he failed a drugs test at the 1994 World Cup in the United States and he was notorious for a wayward lifestyle throughout his life. He was also banned from football in 1991 after testing positive for cocaine while playing for Napoli.

However, he remained a revered figure at the Italian club, where he won two Serie A titles.

He also played for Barcelona, Sevilla, Boca Juniors and Newell's Old Boys and was most recently manager of Gimnasia y Esgrima in La Plata, Argentina.

Maradona's death comes 15 years to the day after the passing of a similarly wayward genius, Northern Ireland's own George Best.

Irish President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to “arguably the greatest footballer of all time” Diego Maradona.

The Argentinian World Cup winner passed away on Wednesday, as the age of 60.

Mr Higgins said: “It is with sadness that I and supporters of football everywhere will have learned of the death of Diego Maradona, arguably and widely regarded as the world’s greatest football player of all time.

“Football fans around the world will remember Maradona not only for his phenomenal talent for ball control, passing and dribbling, but for the vision of him on the field and the joy he brought to so many.  He was an inspiration for many a young child playing football.

“His winning of the accolade ‘Fifa Player of the Century’ in 1999 – an award he shared with Pele – is testimony to the high regard he was, and will continue to be, held in by football fans for many years to come.

“While he will be sadly missed by his family and friends at Boca Juniors, his loss will also be felt by millions of soccer fans in Argentina and across the world.”

Gary Lineker, who played in the England side in that quarter-final defeat, tweeted: "Reports from Argentina that Diego Armando Maradona has died.

"By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time.

"After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he'll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego"

Football clubs around the world paid tribute to Maradona.

Boca Juniors, where Maradona made his name before securing a then world-record transfer to Barcelona, tweeted: “Eternal thanks. Eternal Diego.”

Liverpool tweeted: “A true great of the game. Rest in peace, Diego Maradona."

Real Madrid – great rivals of one of Maradona’s former clubs, Barcelona – paid tribute to “one of the greatest players in all history”.

“Diego Armando Maradona leaves an immense legacy, which has become a myth for millions of fans around the world,” the club said in a statement.

Manchester City posted a photo of him embracing Sergio Aguero, adding: “We’re joining the footballing world in saying farewell to one of the absolute greats.”

Graeme Souness, who played against Maradona during his time in Italy with Sampdoria, told Sky Sports News: “An absolute genius on the pitch, but troubled off it. He has an argument for being the greatest player ever, I personally think it is another Argentinian (Lionel Messi) but that is only down to longevity.

“He is one of the greatest players to ever kick a ball and you were in the presence of greatness when you played against him. Some of the things he could do with the ball, you were blessed to share a pitch with him, and I think anyone who played against him would say that.

“He was tiny but he was fearless. There were players around at that time who were known to be over physical but he was an absolute warrior and ridiculously brave. He’d get kicked but he would come back for more. There have only been a handful of players in history who have been blessed with his ability. He was unique.”

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Football/Soccer