Diego Maradona’s time in Barcelona

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If you’re a Barcelona fan, it’s probably a source of constant joy that the two best football players have ever played for your club.

While Lionel Messi spent 17 years creating a dynasty at the Camp Nou, Diego Maradona only had a couple of seasons to make his mark in Catalonia. But making his mark is exactly what he did.

Barça spent years tracking Maradona. Then Vice President Nicolau Casaus first made a trip to Argentina in 1978, where he first encountered the little midfielder. He was seen as too green as a 17-year-old and financial demands continued to disrupt their attempts to recruit him. The fact that the Argentine Football Association did not want him to leave his homeland before the 1982 World Cup also stopped Barça’s hunt.

Eventually, with Casaus leading the way in the lengthy negotiations, Barcelona got its man and Maradona became the most expensive footballer ever at the time for a fee of £ 5 million. That would be a great deal on today’s market, right?

Diego Armando Maradona?

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– 90 min (@ 90min_Football) 25 November 2021

His debut in the iconic blue-red for Barça came in September 1982, when he scored in a 2-1 victory over Valencia. While making a quick start at Camp Nou, head coach Udo Lattek seemed frustrated at dealing with the erratic Maradona, and even ordered a team bus to leave without the icon because he was late.

Lattek would soon be fired, but not until Maradona encountered some bumps in the road at his new club. In December, he contracted hepatitis and would not return until March for the new manager Cesar Luis Menotti’s first match as head. Menotti led Argentina to World Cup glory as early as 1978.

Maradona started when Barça beat Real Madrid to win the Copa del Rey in 1983 – his first silver with the club – after leading the team to the final with goals in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. In June of the same year, he received standing ovations at the Bernabeu when the Copa de la Liga title was secured. He scored in both legs of the final and attracted the respect of Real fans in the first match.

During the 1983/84 season, Menotti planned training to give the erratic Maradona more sleep during the morning. The relationship between player and manager was stronger than with Lattek.

Although he was never far from artistry and magic on the pitch, things began to fall apart for Maradona when he was crushed and seriously injured in a clash with the league champions Athletic Club by Andoni Goikoetxea, “Bilbao’s butcher”.

He managed to return in January 1984, but Barça could not overtake Athletic and ended up one point behind the champions at the end of the season. However, they would meet again in the Copa del Rey final in what would be Maradona’s last match for the club.

Quite frankly, it ended in shame.

Tensions had flared up during the build-up to the match and during the 90 minutes Maradona had been targeted and beaten. It did not help that the match was played in Real Madrid, an organization that was hated by both fans. Basques and Catalans booed the national anthem. Cruelty and anger seemed to be everywhere.

Endika Guarrotxena scored the only goal of the match and secured the victory for Athletic, and at full time a mass brawl broke out. Maradona hit the unused substitute Miguel Angel Sola hard with a knee to the face before all players began to participate and riot police were eventually called in to escort Barcelona players from the pitch. Kung-fu kicks were thrown with such alarming regularity.

That was the end for Maradona in Barcelona. He went on to Napoli, again for a record transfer fee, instead of serving a three-month suspension he received for his role in the shameful scenes.

It turned out to be the lowest moment in a period of volatile peaks at the Camp Nou, and although his stay in Catalonia was memorable – not always in the right way – Maradona’s best career moment was still with Napoli and Argentina.

For more from Jude Summerfield, follow him on Twitter!

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