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Some things never lose currency in Argentina - beef, women and dulce de leche (a caramel dessert) among them. Football is another source of comfort for the masses, and one player in particular has provided more than his share of tender loving care - Diego Armando Maradona. The former national team captain headed the queue when the football muses visited the republic. And in a land which looks to the game for its daily bread, he is considered nothing short of divine.
Born on 30 October 1960, Maradona made the ball an early friend. It was his constant companion in the games of street football that taught him how to compete with older and bigger opponents. Despite this toughening process, however, Maradona's physique, or lack of it, almost cost him his career.
The Argentinos Juniors youth coach, Francis Cornejo, had no doubts about his ability - yet could not believe that the little left-footer was old enough to play for his team. His date of birth duly established, Maradona became the star of the 'Cebollitas' helping them go 136 matches unbeaten. The senior squad beckoned, and on 20 October 1976 the 15-year-old debuted for Argentinos Juniors in the first division against Talleres de Córdoba.
Another 21 seasons, another bow: the final curtain fell on Diego's career after Boca Juniors' 2-1 defeat of River Plate on 29 October 1997. In the intervening years, Barcelona, Napoli, Seville and Newell's Old Boys had all witnessed the Maradona phenomenon at first hand - a pocket battleship of a player blessed with supreme technique and a magical left foot.
It was the national team that saw the best of him, however. Thirty-four goals in 91 appearances make him the Albiceleste’s second top scorer after Gabriel Batistuta. And his contribution was such that the Argentine Football Federation (AFA) recently 'retired' his old No.10 shirt. This love affair began on 3 April 1977 when Maradona first played for his country in a friendly against a local selection. Soon there were calls for coach Cesar Luis Menotti to include him in the squad for the forthcoming FIFA World Cup finals. Argentina would win the tournament on home soil - but without Diego whom Menotti thought too young to participate.
Amends were made the following summer when Maradona inspired his peers (not that he had many equals) to victory at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Japan. "That was the most fun I had on a football pitch," he said later. "Apart from my daughters, nothing has given me as much pleasure."
No stranger to success then, he also courted controversy. Apologists spoke of the star's "honesty" and "refusal to sell out". Critics did not want for ammunition either - after all, this was a man who once shot at journalists with an air rifle and insulted the Pope on national TV. He always roused the extremes of emotions, yet on the pitch he did as he pleased - and as no other could. "The things I could do with a football, he could do with an orange," eulogised French star Michel Platini.
Balance was the key - which was ironic given his struggle to find equilibrium elsewhere in life. It was impossible to stop 'El Grande' as he slalomed towards goal; and just as unerring was his accuracy from set pieces.
The 1982 FIFA World Cup finals did not see enough of those qualities. Argentina lost their opening game to Belgium then beat Hungary and El Salvador. Diego scored twice against the Hungarians, but was unable to repeat the dose against Italy and Brazil in the second round. In fact, he grew so frustrated with his markers that he was sent off against the latter as the holders crashed out.
Mexico 86 was another matter entirely. Maradona's five goals - one against Italy and two apiece against England and Belgium in the quarter and semi-finals - took Carlos Bilardo's side to the final, and sealed his reputation. It was as the greatest player on the planet that he lifted the FIFA World Cup after a 3-2 win over West Germany.
Four years on, he assumed a quite different role for the title defence. The tournament took place in Italy, where Maradona was nearing the end of a seven-year spell with Napoli which would yield two Serie A championships and a UEFA Cup. Though his physical powers diminished by a serious ankle injury, the skipper's will remained as strong as ever and this carried the team through against Brazil, Yugoslavia and Italy in the knockout stages. However, there was nothing he could do about Andreas Brehme's Cup-winning penalty for West Germany.
The last chapter in Diego's FIFA World Cup history was also the darkest. It unfolded at USA 94 where he helped Argentina triumph over Greece and Nigeria. Then, however, he failed a drugs test - showing signs of the banned stimulant ephedrine - and was banished from the competition. His team-mates followed soon after, the result of defeats by Bulgaria and Romania.
Nevertheless, Argentina celebrated this beautiful, if chequered, career on 10 November 2001 with a testimonial match at La Bombonera stadium, home of Boca Juniors. The No.10 captained the national team to victory over an All Star XI. Same old routine, one might think, but this was a variation on an old theme - Argentina bringing comfort to her favourite footballing son.

Playing career

1976-1981 Argentinos Juniors (166 appearances, 116 goals)
1981-1982, 1995-1997 Boca Juniors (71 appearances, 35 goals)
1982-1984 Barcelona (58 appearances, 38 goals)
1984-1991 Napoli (259 appearances, 115 goals)
1992-1993 Seville (29 appearances, 7 goals)
1993-1994 Newell's Old Boys (5 appearances, 0 goals)

1977-94 Argentina (91 appearances, 34 goals)
21 appearances over four FIFA World Cup finals
Argentina's second highest goal-scorer

Club honours
1981 Argentine championship
1987 Italian championship
1987 Italian Cup
1989 UEFA Cup
1990 Italian championship

International honours
1979 FIFA World Youth Championship
1986 FIFA World Cup winner
1990 FIFA World Cup runner-up
1993 Copa Artemio Franchi

Coaching career
1994 Mandiyú de Corrientes
1995 Racing Club de Avellaneda

Individual honours
1979, 1980, 1981 Argentine Football Writers' Footballer of the Year
1979, 1980, 1981, 1986 Argentine Sports Writers' Footballer of the Year
1979, 1980, 1986 Argentine Sports Personality of the Year
1979, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992 South American Footballer of the Year (El Mundo, Caracas)
1986 Golden Ball for Player of the FIFA World Cup
1986 European Footballer of the Year (France Football)
1986, 1987 Best Footballer in the World (Onze)
1996 Golden Ball for services to football (France Football)
1999 Argentine Sports Writers' Sportsman of the Century