After spending an entire career defying all expectations and going around various controversies, there was only one way Diego Maradona would get his time as a professional football player to an end.
When October 25, 1997 came, Maradona was no longer his former self. Just five days before his 37th birthday, the legendary Argentine fought against both personal and physical demons, but to his credit, Maradona put extra work behind the scenes to try to overcome them.
Off the field, Maradona worked with many charities to raise awareness and prevent others from following him on his dangerous path, while from an athletic point of view, he hired former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson to try to help him find top fitness and even left Boca Juniors executives shocked when he ordered the locker room doors removed so he could install a monstrous treadmill.
In reality, none of it worked. A failed drug test in August 1997 led to an entire government conspiracy to conceal it – irregularities in the testing process meant it was never validated – while a series of biting injuries made it clear to Maradona that it was time to go into the sunset.
He chose that date in October, a Superclasico against famous rivals River Plate, to drop the curtain on his career.
From a purely football perspective, Maradona’s performance was not good. He started the match and looked like the struggling 36-year-old he was, and he was withdrawn at the halfway mark. Reports have suggested that it was the heir to his throne, Juan Roman Riquelme, who replaced him, although the official law magazine from that day destroyed the romance and instead let Riquelme go in at the same time for someone else.
He watched from the bench and confronted River fans with a boyish smile on his face, as Boca netted twice to seal a 2-1 victory, after which everyone went home unaware that they had just seen the end of one of the most known epochs in history.
Five days later, with reports that the failed drug test was hitting the media, Maradona used her 37th birthday to call it a day.
“I can not do it anymore,” he said. “There’s no point in continuing to play. I prefer to retire now and not spend my old age listening to rumors of some insensitive people with microphones.
“With a heavy heart, the moment has come to announce that I am retiring. My career is over, and no one is sadder than I am.”
Maradona will have wanted to make a bigger impact on the pitch in his farewell match, but since he could not do so, he settled for his second favorite hobby – settling River fans and watching Boca win.