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By Jim Rhodes
Last week Diego Maradona died.
Over a socially spaced Thanksgiving dinner, our son and I were reflecting on the outpouring of grief in Argentina at the loss of a national icon. He turned to me and said, “You know this was the same date that George Best died fifteen years ago.”
Simply stated, Diego Maradona and George Best were the most talented footballers who ever lived.
Both possessed superhuman skills that defied description in terms of incredible ball handling, speed, skill in penetrating defenses and sheer bravado.
They had something else in common. Addiction.
For Maradona, it was cocaine and booze. For Best, it was alcohol and sex.
Standing only 5 ft. 5 in. tall, Diego Maradona was as unstoppable as a bowling ball rolling downhill. He was hailed as a national hero throughout Argentina for his World Cup exploits in 1986 when he scored what was called “the greatest individual goal ever” against England. Maradona became a superstar with clubs in Barcelona and Naples and dominated the sport during the decade of the 1980s. In 2000 he was voted FIFA Player of the Century.
It was in Naples that he became addicted to cocaine. He was twice banned from the sport for failing drug tests. His playing career over, he later managed teams in Mexico, Dubai and Argentina, and returned briefly to the spotlight in 2010 as coach of Argentina’s World Cup team in South Africa. In recent years, his weight ballooned to 280 pounds, and his obesity and drug addiction brought the inevitable medical consequences. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he was treated by paramedics when he collapsed after being seen taking cocaine in his box seat in the stands.
Last Wednesday, November 25, he died of heart failure after surgery for bleeding in his brain. He was 60 years old.
George Best was a child prodigy from Northern Ireland who was discovered by Manchester United at the age of 15 in 1961. At 19 he was a superstar, and at 22 he won all the top honors in UK club football. He loved the spotlight and cultivated a playboy image. He especially liked the boozing and became a hopelessly addicted alcoholic. He was fined by the club for skipping training sessions and even matches whilst binge drinking and dallying with movie stars and beauty queens.
Best is reported to have said, “If you’d given me the choice of going out and beating four men and smashing a goal in from 30 yards against Liverpool or going to bed with Miss World, it would have been a difficult choice. Luckily, I had both.”
His performance on the pitch deteriorated from poor conditioning and lack of training time. After Manchester United finally parted ways in 1974, he played for brief spurts at clubs in South Africa, Ireland, the United States, Scotland and Australia. In 1984 he spent three months in a UK prison for repeated drunk driving offenses and assaulting a police officer.
He kept drinking even after undergoing a liver transplant in 2002. It killed him. He died November 25, 2005, of multiple organ failure at the age of 59.
Late in life Best quipped, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I squandered.”
May I suggest you take a few minutes to view some of their finest moments on YouTube?
Amazing. Simply amazing.