Football World Cup: Maradona, the spiritual twin

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE'S appraisal of Diego Maradona as the greatest player he has ever seen could easily be dismissed in the frenzied build-up to tonight's confrontation in St Etienne as a piece of cute diplomacy aimed at smoothing troubled waters.

It is the most obvious conclusion and it would be wrong. What is not well known is the immense respect that runs as a two-way street between the South American and the Englishman, respect which survived despite the cynical fist Maradona used to put Argentina on the way to victory in their World Cup quarter-final in 1986.

Maradona is a confirmed admirer of Hoddle, the sole survivor from that game in Mexico City and on duty tonight. The former Argentine skipper says Hoddle was one of only a handful of `naturally talented players' that Maradona deemed worthy of serious attention.

Before that fateful afternoon in the Azteca Stadium, as the two players stood together in the tunnel, Maradona caught Hoddle's eye, winked and gave him the thumbs up.

They had met a few weeks before when Maradona had travelled to north London for a testimonial for his compatriot, Ossie Ardiles. Hoddle played alongside him and later recalled the occasion as one of the most enjoyable he had experienced.

After Maradona's tunnel `greeting' Hoddle admitted to a sense of gratification that Maradona had not forgotten him. He need have no doubts. Maradona never did forget him: at the time of Hoddle's first game as an international coach Maradona was in London trying to find himself a club.

He wanted to see Hoddle but England's new manager was busy. On his way home Maradona paid a visit to White Hart Lane and attempted to buy a Spurs shirt. Unable to remember which number Hoddle wore, he left London empty- handed and angry.

The two were unlikely soul-mates, the born-again Christian and the drug- taking cheat. Maradona said: "We were strangers then [in Mexico] and in many ways remain so but I feel I can identify with his spiritual side."