Then he had his whole life ahead of him. He was barely 17 years old, but the pain felt like the pain at the end. It was a pain of frustration. If he had shown sufficient evidence of his gifted quality, if his debut in the light blue and white jersey in the friendly against Hungary in February 1977 had been a national event. But a year later the deep voice of César Luis Menotti fell as a tremendous curse: “You will not be in this opportunity, kid, but your road is long. There will be time for Selection. It has all the conditions to be in the next “.
And Diego Armando Maradona bit his lips hard to avoid allowing himself to show tears in public. And he left with clenched teeth to cry in the dressing room of the Salvatori Foundation, owned by José C. Paz, the bunker of that National Team: his absence from the World Cup that was coming, precisely the World Cup in Argentina 78. He cried and swore that he would never forgive him to Menotti that slight. Because he had an enormous illusion to register his last name among the 22 who would represent Argentina in that world. And above all I knew that Pelé had the pleasure of lifting a World Cup just when he was 17 years old.
It didn’t take long for the first rematch to arrive. It was just a year later, in Japan, with that unforgettable Youth World Cup and a brilliant Diego that led the team towards the Olympic return. So Maradona forgave Menotti, although he did not forget that pain of 78. Not even with his champion title, the first of his career. But he continued, if he had his whole life ahead of him. And he took over the number 10 shirt, no less, of the National Team forever.
And he dazzled on the tours of Menotti’s team in Europe. With spectacular goals, magical plays and a display of talent. Everyone was talking about that “lefty left-hander” that from his native Argentinos Juniors had passed to the great shock of Boca and that he was already the patron of the world champion team. The one with “monsters” like Passarella, Fillol, Kempes, whom he had come to with his friend, the “Pelado” Ramón Díaz to add shine. And the roar of Barcelona came. And the World Cup in Spain in ’82. Also the indecent kicks of the Italian Gentile and the Argentine frustration.
César Menotti was followed by Carlos Bilardo. Nothing changed for Diego. Or if. He became the owner of the captain’s belt that had been tied to Daniel Passarella’s arm in recent times. But he owed to his pride a world title with the Argentine National Team and he prepared for the World Cup in Mexico 86 with full faith, crushing the scourge that was already persecuting him. It produced the miracle of incomparable performance. And those goals against England. Right against England: one, the best in the history of all the World Cups; the other, that of the “hand of God” as a mischievous offering that – for once – deserved the applause of the claim. And everything else. The Cup and the title, after the 3-2 victory over Germany.
But there was time. And he cried again in Italy, at the 1990 World Cup, when the dream of another title had vanished at the last step. His magic, that meeting with Claudio Caniggia, another of his football buddies, was enough to eliminate Brazil and continue until the final with Germany.
Diego arrived, physically, very handicapped at that World Cup event, especially due to an ankle injury. Still, by determination and courage, he overcame the pain and led the team to a somewhat unexpected final (after the initial loss to Cameroon). And the title narrowly escaped, the Germans took their revenge with a polemic penalty sanctioned by the Mexican Codesal.
After the Carlos Bilardo cycle, Alfio Basile assumed in the Selection. And nothing changed for Diego as to his will for the blue and white. The years had passed, he had also suffered the first sanction for doping in Italy, the departure from Napoli and the subsequent arrival at Seville (the reunion with Bilardo as DT). He was summoned by Basile when qualifying for USA 94 was in danger -after the thrashing that Colombia gave us at the Monumental- and contributed to the classification against Australia.
The team arrived in the United States with the prognosis of a champion, starting with victories against Greece and Nigeria. But what happened with Diego happened, with that famous and controversial case of ephedrine. And everything collapsed. Diego Maradona cried again. It was his famous phrase “they cut off my legs.” The crying was from impotence, when it hinted at another ending. But that was precisely his end with the National Team.