A thin mist hung over the cool pitch of the Weserstadion in Bremen. It was December 6, and the cold was climbing up my legs. But Diego Maradona was about to play for Napoli in the UEFA Cup against Werder Bremen. To watch a player like that, an idol for so many, no distance was too far, no temperature too cold. I had to be there.

In 1989, at a time when not every game was available on pay-TV or the Champions League sent the same teams around Europe, these were special nights for football fans. Information about Maradona was only available via national papers or Germany’s famous sports magazine kicker. If you were lucky, there might have been a special report on public broadcaster ZDF about Italian football and the league’s stars. That was it. Football hadn’t been globalized yet. Maradona’s reputation though, certainly was.

Magical momemt

Honestly, I should be angry at Uli Borowka. Werder Bremen’s physical defender took the Argentine artist to task throughout the 90 minutes. Every time Maradona touched the ball he was there. Whoever remembers the physical nature of the game back in those days will likely shudder. Eventually, Maradona resigned himself to defeat. Werder won 5-1 and went through to the next round.

DW's Jörg Strohschein

DW’s Jörg Strohschein

    

Maradona’s incredible skill with the ball was already clear in the warm up. While his teammates warmed up seriously, Maradona preferred to juggle the ball as if it was the easiest thing in the world. The ball was his friend. It did exactly what he wanted it to do. Everything looked so easy. Even if the trajectory of the ball didn’t look possible, everyone loved him for it. The eyes of every spectator were all locked on him even before the game began.

Cheer the player not the team

Everyone got to see “El Pibe de Oro” (golden boy) on the television at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, how he effectively won the tournament for his country on his own. His teammates were just accessories. I wasn’t cheering for Argentina. I was cheering for this boy wonder. His second goal against England in the quarterfinal, as he lightly and almost arrogantly danced through seemingly the entire England team, remains for me the most spectacular goal in the history of football.

Maradona continued to play a role in my life. At the 1990 World Cup, he lost in the final to Germany. He had glorious moments in Europe, made headlines as he flirted with the Camorra in Naples. But at some point, we parted company.

Until the summer of 2006, when Argentina played Serbia and Montenegro in Gelsenkirchen.

Clearly heavier and full of smiles, Maradona still had the same aura around him. He celebrated Argentina’s 6-0 win in the stands as if it was the World Cup title itself. I was happy for him and did not begrudge him this excitement. In the end though, Argentina lost to Germany in the quarterfinals. 

Flaws covered

I was able to ignore Maradona’s escapades, his parties, his extraversion, his lack of control that eventually became a talking point. I was just happy to have seen him play live. My memories of this exceptional player cover his flaws, ones that Maradona himself didn’t want to hide. Maradona will be juggling the ball elsewhere now. And everyone else will stop and stare, just like I did back at the Westerstadion.