World Cup: Diego Maradona’s Argentina antics are a middle finger to Lionel Messi – he’s making a fool of himself

Messi and his teammates have enough pressure on their shoulders already in Russia, and the Argentina icon is becoming a distraction

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 5:56pm

Diego Maradona has always had a reputation for antics and controversy, but after his latest unseemly episode it may be best for him to take a break from football – for his own sake.

Argentina may have dramatically secured qualification for the last 16 of the World Cup by beating Nigeria 2-1 with a late winning goal from Marcos Rojo, but it was “El Diego” who stole the show once again.

Maradona, famed for his “Hand of God” goal that saw off England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, celebrated Rojo’s strike with typical gusto by putting two middle fingers in the air up in his executive box at the St Petersburg Stadium, while shouting an obscene insult.

The television cameras had been cutting to him all night, and for good reason – the legend was box-office as usual, dancing with a female Nigeria fan and crossing his arms over his chest in a bizarre Dracula-style gesture when Lionel Messi scored the opening goal.

But none of this was too out-of-the-ordinary for Maradona – it was what happened after the match that was worrying.

A video emerged on social media of the 57-year-old having to be carried by two friends from his box to the dining room area of the VIP suite, before paramedics, with a picture showing him appearing to have his pulse checked by paramedics while he was slumped in a chair.

Argentine media also reported that he was given medical treatment, but that he was able to walk to his hotel.

With Messi and Co struggling in Russia, slumping to a 3-0 defeat by Croatia after a 1-1 draw with Iceland, Maradona had already been proving a distraction in Russia with a journalist accusing him of making a racist gesture at young South Korea fans.

A Fifa ambassador no less, Maradona did not deny that he “pulled his eyes to the side”, as the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley claimed, at the Spartak Stadium during the Iceland game while smiling and waving at some Asian fans calling his name.

He gave his version of events in a post on Facebook, writing: “I, from afar, tried to tell them how nice it seemed to me that even the Asians cheer for us. And that’s all, guys, come on.”

Fifa World Cup: Marcos Rojo carries Leo Messi and Argentina into the last 16 as Croatia keep up winning routine

Maradona has always loomed large over the Argentina team since retiring in 1997, having lifted the trophy with the Albiceleste in 1986 as the country’s greatest ever player. He also took the team to the quarter finals of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the high-point of what was at times a calamitous reign.

So it’s already hard enough for the players, who are trying to deal with the pressure of representing the hopes of their football-mad nation, without having a living legend overshadow their efforts by making a fool of himself.

The wacky antics are fun, but when the paramedics need to get involved it’s not a good mix.

Maradona has had a series of health problems, including cocaine addiction, and was reportedly close to death in 2007 after being admitted to a Buenos Aires hospital to be treated for hepatitis and substance abuse.

It’s just not fair on Messi and his teammates – the players don’t need this sideshow if they’re to have any chance of beating France in their last-16 clash.

Fifa would be wise to make sure El Diego watches Saturday’s match from his hotel room, or on his television back home in Buenos Aires.