Some consider him god, some call him a devil, but nobody can dispute Diego Armando Maradona’s place in football folklore. From lifting the Fifa World Cup in Mexico in 1986 to being arrested for drug possession in 1991, Maradona has seen it all. His story is one of grit, hard work and talent. And his book, Touched By God: How We Won the ‘86 Mexico World Cup (written with sports journalist Daniel Arnucci), reflects all this.
Touched By God takes readers through the heroics of the Argentinian football team in Mexico during the 1986 Fifa World Cup moment by moment. And it’s all narrated by the architect who single-handedly took his team to victory.
Argentina came into the World Cup that year amid a lot of political tussle and tumult within the team—the coach was almost sacked by the government. One night in Italy, months before the competition began, Maradona got a call from the government. But before they could say anything, Maradona put his terms forward: “If you get rid of (Carlos) Bilardo (then coach of Argentina), I’m out of the door. So just to be perfectly clear, you’d be firing two guys instead of one. If he goes, I go.” And he hung up. Bilardo stayed.
Needless to say, Maradona was loyal to his game, team and country, the evidence of which he gave after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when he resigned as national coach after Argentina’s exit in the quarterfinals. He was replaced by Bilardo, the same Bilardo whose job Maradona once saved. This, however, didn’t go down well with Maradona who said he had been betrayed by the government and, above all, Bilardo. “I want to make this clear here and now: I did not stab Bilardo in the back when the government called me about getting rid of him. He, on the other hand, betrayed (me) almost thirty years later,” writes Maradona.
The 1986 Fifa World Cup in Mexico is perhaps best known for the ‘hand of god’ incident—Maradona rose for the ball in mid-air, punching it into the net over England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona is blatant about his strike. He reveals in the book his habit of scoring goals with his hands on a regular basis and has no regret accepting this. In fact, he takes pride in it, saying, “I beat out Shilton because physically I was in the best shape of my life.”
Victor Hugo Morales, a sports journalist and commentator, described the goal thus: “‘Genius, genius, genius’, was the modest word I repeated as the fearless player approached the summit, plowing through the furrow he was making on the turf. At what point did Maradona decide to go for goal? As he moved forward, he kept his eye on the ball, but how many legs, how many square feet of land come into his peripheral vision? He was able to connect with the ball, to stop, to start up again at an angle, to finish up the play from afar. In a thousand different ways, this play was one in a billion.”
Indeed, it was one in a billion. It gave Maradona the name, ‘Barrilete Cósmico’ (Cosmic Kite). And decades later, that goal was voted as goal of the century.
Maradona has always been surrounded by controversies, both on and off the pitch. In 1994, it was his drug problem that led to his exit from the World Cup in the US, four years after he took Argentina to yet another World Cup final only to lose to Germany. After 1986, Maradona—and Argentina—never won a World Cup.
Touched By God also gives readers a peek into Maradona’s opinions of other players. “… Bruno Conti—a great guy, I give him a big hug whenever I see him—was a star at Roma. Before the World Cup, when everyone was talking about who might really stand out, I couldn’t believe that they didn’t mention him. He was an innovative player for that time, with a style that was hard to pin down,” he writes.
Maradona’s talent and game sense are stuff of legend. The lad from Lanus, Argentina, never left without a fight and it’s this attitude that forms the essence of this book.