Football; Maradona joins Dons

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Diego Maradona, one of the most talked-about players in the world, is to have a word with Oxford's finest during a whistle-stop visit organised by a bell-boy whom the former Argentinian captain befriended in a Buenos Aires hotel 10 years ago.

Maradona, whose response to putting England out of the 1986 World Cup by dubious means was to claim it was the "Hand of God", is to address the students on 6 November.

Maradona, at 35 now a football heavyweight in both stature and standing, will precede Star Trek's Mr Spock and the former pop star Cat Stevens into the Oxford Union's debating chamber where he will talk about his life. How much will be about drugs, alleged Mafia links when with Naples and other misdemeanours, remains to be seen.

"He is a dreamer, who fulfilled his dream to play in the World Cup. We are also dreamers," Esteban Cichello Hubner, the president of the university's L'Chaim Society, said.

On the question of Maradona's colourful history, Hubner said: "There are more positive aspects to his life than negative. In any case, if we were to rule out speakers on the grounds of their past, we wouldn't have many speakers."

Hubner is the bell-boy who met his fellow Argentinian at the El Conquistador hotel in 1985. "He was a friendly guy. He didn't want me to carry his luggage, but I insisted. He used to buy me chocolate bars and call me 'Shortie'."

Their paths then diverged until Hubner, who will fly to Argentina and escort Maradona back to Oxford, made contact through the player's agent.

Last Saturday, Maradona's comeback with Boca Juniors after a 15-month drugs ban drew 70,000 fans. Only 900 can squeeze in the chamber where Maradona will speak via a translator for 20 minutes - less than half the normal time.

"He asked to have more time for questions," Hubner said. "He wants close contact with the students." A bit like his hand and the ball in '86.