Football / World Cup USA '94: Maradona and an enduring greatness

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The Independent Online
THIS digression is very relevant to the past mastery of Diego Maradona. For a man of such early and sustained success, his renewed efforts in this World Cup are already significant, almost inspiring.

In the first place, there is the opinion of Argentina's coach, Alfio Basile, who pays no account to the notion that sentiment is an endearing quality. 'Diego is in the team on merit because he has shown us that the desire has not left him,' he said. 'He has worked hard and we sensed that our players wanted him to lead them.'

In the second place, there is Maradona's instinctive realisation that the residue of great natural gifts is best applied conservatively. Instead of responding with indignation to reality of premature decline he has worked out what could be a decisive method, operating as the fulcrum of Argentina's attacks, moving the ball around sensibly.

Time waits for no footballer but from the evidence so far it has slowed respectfully to a crawl for Maradona who is perhaps honouring a contract with his conscience. Of course he can no longer rely on his body for the sudden surges that thrillingly helped him to become one of the true giants of the game but he has discovered a role that is promising.

A recent dispatch touched on the probability that the current sense of adventure will remain collective rather than individual, that the emergence of a great star is unlikely.

It is common knowledge that coaches tend to depecrate dedicated soloists on the grounds that they are unreliable.

Thus Basile thinks no differently from Germany's coach, Berti Vogts, and Carlos Alberto Parreira, of Brazil, who excitingly may be close to achieving a decisive balance between natural virtuosity and dedicated teamwork.

From memory, past World Cups have provided plenty of opportunities for the sort of conclusions that end up as litter on racecourses.

For example, Peru were rated considerable outsiders in 1970 because too much attention was paid to their technical ability and not enough to their physical shortcomings. West Germany's ariel assaults did for them.

Encouragingly, in contrast with the the mediocrity of Italia '90 there seems to be a sufficiency of innovation and outstanding players. Perhaps it is wrong to be infatuated with the notion of an overwhelming presence but whence does the truly great player cometh?

Through adaption to the work ethic individuals are subordinate. Among the lesser contenders this results in frequent emotional disturbance.

So far the World Cup has brought pleasure to millions who were alien to the game. Watching it on television, many Americans have concluded that they are looking over the shoulders of artists. Viewers who had never seen a round ball kicked tell you that they find the experience exhilarating.

Coming to the performance of the United States team, which has been way beyond expectations, the host nation pays no account to status. 'As of Wednesday, when Ernie Stewart's goal put the US soccer team ahead of Colombia, 2-0, and goalie Tony Meola made it stand up in a 2-1 victory, America's new fad is soccer,' Matt White wrote in the Los Angeles Times.

Maybe those of us who believe that there is no future for football on the last continent cool to it will have to think again. According to the LA Times, 'recent polls and, more indicatively, TV ratings, paint a brighter picture of public awareness'.

Above all, what appears to be gaining football recognition on its last frontier is a capacity to cope with the drenching heat of an American summer. Despite it, the pace is relentless, the initiative frequently inspiring.

As we were goggling over this, and suspecting that some studious individual would place a dead hand on proceedings, Argentina took advantage of Nigeria's defensive limitations.

The look on Maradona's face after seeing his cunning free-kick tucked away by Claudio Caniggia was that of a man sensing resurrection.

In most cases today the people on the outside, commonly known as the public, make assumptions that people on the inside consider to be nave.

But who can argue against the widespread conclusion that was reached about Maradona? Circumstances may yet save his greatness from the vulgarity that almost destroyed it. So far he has been good for Argentina, good for himself, and good for football.