Football / World Cup USA '94: Flaws and gifts bestowed at birth: Ken Jones on the final fall of a flawed genius who remains hostage to his genes

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THERE was always something surreal about the resurrection of Diego Maradona, the impression that astonishingly he had come to this, his fourth World Cup as no mere totem.

Could it be true that far from being a labouring relic of the game, included in Argentina's squad to satisfy public clamour and despite the resistance of the coach, Alfio Basile, that Maradona would defy the ravages of a blemished nature?

A relaxed air, a philosophical response to the fouls committed on him by Greece and Nigeria, the impression that he was astutely marshalling the residue of remarkable gifts, suggested that Maradona would leave us with rather more than the sad notion of a disastrously flawed genius.

And yet when news came that a player in the tournament had failed a test for stimulants, Maradona's was the first name that sprang to mind. Sure enough, our worst fears were realised and at a press conference in Dallas yesterday, held while Argentina were playing Bulgaria, it was announced by Fifa that Maradona had been suspended, his career finally in ruins.

Doubtless, there will be a temptation in the minds of many people to say that the poor boy from the barrios of Buenos Airies who rose to become one of the true giants of the game, should not on the grounds of past misdemeanours, have been allowed an opportunity to redeem himself on football's last frontier.

That the World Cup should be defamed not by an obscure participant but a renowned figure, Argentina's captain and even in the autumn of a highly controversial career, unquestionably their inspiration, is a blow to the game's future in North America.

Perhaps we should have seen it coming, realised that Maradona was corrupted beyond salvation, irredeemable. In truth a victim of fame, feeling safe only within the boundaries of play, the real world so beyond his comprehension that disastrous personal blunders were inevitable almost from the moment he emerged as the natural successor to Pele.

There is no simple explanation for the catastrophic course Maradona's career has taken. To think him the antithesis of Pele and offer the great man up in comparison is pointless. In common with all of us, Maradona is a hostage to his genes. The flaws, like the gifts, came from the womb.

We hoped, didn't we just, that Maradona was in consultation with his conscience, that he had come to accept the investment of responsibility in him. That the nightmares of Naples had at last flown from his mind.

Maradona could no longer call upon his his freakish frame for explosive surges, but otherwise the outward signs were encouraging. His left foot was still as sensitive as a hand. He was seeing things quickly. He appeared relaxed, even friendly. Perhaps the world was at his feet again. He spoke enthusiastically about the future.

Instead he was still the same bewildered, unreasoning, mixed-up product of deprivation, unable to cope with the dream world of children's games.