Put simply, Maradona follows the cash and whatever impulse strikes him, the way a poor kid would. He has talked of leaving Napoli after his contract runs out in 1993 and returning to Argentina to finish out his career with the Boca Juniors, the team he played with before going to Barcelona. It is his mother's dream, he says, for him to play at least one year in Buenos Aires with his brothers Hugo, currently with a second-division team in Spain, and Lalo, who no longer plays competitively.
Diego recently told reporters, "Remember, I don't speak what I don't feel." That may explain his statement in December that the World Cup draw was a sham, prearranged to put Argentina in the most difficult group and Italy in the easiest, with the drawing itself done "just for the fun of the television audience." Joseph Blatter, the general secretary of the FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, announced that Maradona's accusation constituted "a very grave offense," and that he could be banned from the World Cup for it. Blatter added that Maradona's comments amounted to "idiocy beyond belief. I do not know what to think. Either he is stupid or he is bad."
Lost in the uproar was the fact that Milan's major newspaper, Corriere della Sera, backed Maradona, saying he had only stated "what many had thought and some had let be understood between the lines." The paper continued, "It has long been known that World Cup draws are skillfully predetermined, but nobody ever protested. Now that Maradona...said it openly, it's too easy to attack him."
It's always too easy to attack him, but as usual, he got the last word in on the matter. "If I must apologize for my remarks, I will apologize," he said. "But I am not going to recant anything."
Basically, Maradona can do whatever he wants, both on and off the field. He routinely skips practice for unannounced reasons. In late December he missed practice for a few days, claiming his daughter, Dalma Nerea, 3, wasn't feeling well and made it difficult for him to sleep. (Maradona has another daughter, Gianinna Dinorah, who turns one this month.) He joined his Argentina teammates in Cagliari just before the friendly match with Italy, having chartered a plane for $6,000. Last summer, Maradona stayed away from training camp for a month, claiming, among other things, that he was tired, and that there were vague "threats" against him. Maradona said the camorra, a Mafia-style organization in Naples, had threatened him because he had considered signing with the French team Olympique Marseille. Napoli's general manager, Luciano Moggi, said, "Maradona will play for us, or he will not play at all," and the club filed a civil suit for damages against its star. Maradona eventually arrived at camp and was confronted by Napoli team president Corrado Ferlaino.
"You are the greatest soccer player in the world," said Ferlaino. "But precisely because of this you have greater duties than others." The president then insisted that Maradona clean up his act, get in shape, stop skipping training and travel with the team to away matches instead of arriving late by private plane. Maradona also had to pay the team a $24,000 fine. For his part, Maradona asked Ferlaino to give him better protection from the media, which had had a field day linking him to the camorra and drugs, running such headlines as MARADONA MAY ARRIVE, BUT NAPOLI WILL SNUB HIM. Press problems continued after his return to the team, so he avoided contact with reporters whenever possible and reiterated his policy of charging $10,000 for an exclusive interview.
Twenty minutes after the game with Milan ends in a scoreless tie, Maradona sits patiently in front of reporters, who are obviously stunned by his willingness to answer their questions about the game. No one expected him to appear, and for a time there are no questions. Dressed in a conservative beige sports coat, navy blue slacks, blue shirt and a striped tie with the Napoli team crest on it, he looks elegantly subdued and businesslike. Only the gold pinkie ring on his right hand and the diamond earring in his left ear detract from the image.
Suddenly Milan's head coach, Arrigo Sacchi, enters and embraces Maradona. The two chat, and after Sacchi leaves, the reporters grill Maradona. What is the meaning of this? Is he going to join the Milan club?
Maradona explains that he simply likes the man. "We met and started to speak football," he says. "Now, if we stay together two hours, we speak three hours of football." He adds with a charming smile, "Remember, I never speak what I don't feel."
Of course, the rumors fly, and the next week Italy's sports pages are filled with headlines speculating about all sorts of nonsense, MILAN-MARADONA, WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT? screams Tuttosport, one of the country's national sports dailies. The article elaborates: "After the match at San Siro, we saw an exchange of such warm compliments between Diego and Sacchi that we suspect the Argentine could wear the red-and-black next year. This is not the only evidence of the biggest deal of the century...."