'He was Everywhere on the Pitch': Igor Stimac Describes What it was Like to Play Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona file image (Photo Credit: AP)
"El Diego had a heart of pure gold. He didn't think twice before expressing himself. He never thought about how people would judge him. He lived on his own terms, left on his terms, rendering us shell-shocked. You will be missed, Diego."
Argentinian legend Diego Maradona passed away on Wednesday leaving the world of football in shock. People all over the world mourned his death and remembered and recognised his contribution to football as a genius footballer and to the society as the person and personality he was. His passion, his commitment, his football skills, his personality - everything made him the legend he is.
Indian men's football team head coach Igor Stimac called Maradona the "King of Football, the legend", failing to describe him in a single word. He said he was still in awe of the magic Maradona was both on and off the pitch.
Igor Stimac played against Diego Maradona on two occasions. First, in the 1992-93 La Liga season, when the latter represented Sevilla, while Stimac was donning the Cadiz CF shirt. The second occasion was before the FIFA World Cup 1994, when Argentina played an international friendly against Croatia.
"His balance and acceleration were things that every defender was scared of. You could barely knock him down while he was running with the ball. His no-look passes were intimidating. We played a friendly match played in Zagreb, Croatia before they would travel to the USA to participate in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Very often, he was dropping deep to receive the ball, and his long deliveries to (Gabriel) Batistuta and (Caludio) Caniggia were absolutely perfect.
"He was everywhere on the pitch. Sometimes, he was running past the defender through the right-flank. Next, he was seen playing a quick one-two with the forwards to work an attacking move. It was a menacing task to contain with the deadly attackers, obviously led by none but Diego and as a central defender, it was a real test for me.
"Thankfully, we came out with a stalemate in front of 38,000-strong Croat supporters at the Maksimir Stadium that night. But, Diego's performance was very, very special that night and we were really fortunate to have shared the pitch with him," Stimac described to the-aiff.com.
Stimac then spoke about Maradona's impact in the Sevilla team, when he and Argentina's FIFA World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo came together - something that sent the people of Spain in frenzy. He said, such was Maradona's influence on the team, that whether Sevilla played well or not, their results just depended on how the Argentine was playing.
During 1992-93 La Liga campaign, Stimac came up against Maradona's Sevilla when he was a central defender at Cadiz and the Croatian says he was lucky to not have conceded a goal against him.
"A derby between Cadiz and Sevilla never denies to be a dull affair and when someone like Diego was there, it was meant to be a high-octane one. We had a torrid time in defending against the likes of him and Suker. Unfortunately, we had a collision on the pitch and Diego had to be substituted half-way through the game. It was a stalemate and we left the pitch with an important point."
Maradona was simply passionate - not just for football in general but for his country as well and that showed in how engrossed he was in cheering for Argentina during the 2016 Davis Cup final in Zagreb.
"He had travelled all the way to cheer for Argentina when they faced off with Croatia. The amount of passion he showed when the likes of Del Potro and Delbonis were breaking sweat on the court was unbelievable. Finally, Argentina beat Croatia to lift the trophy and you won't believe, he was jumping like a kid in the VVIP Box. Little did I know that it was going to be our last meeting. We were cheering for opposite teams but spent many hours discussing various topics from politics to football," Stimac shared.