Almost twenty-two years earlier, football fans witnessed an event that found its place in the history of football. They concerned two goals – one famous, another infamous – by the Argentine Diego Maradona. While the former was termed as “Goal of the Century”, the latter attracted negative criticism from fans all around the world.
In England vs. Argentina in the 1986 World Cup Quarter Finals, six minutes into the second half and Maradona scored the first goal for Argentina ,using the outside of his left fist to push the ball into the net, thereby beating the goalkeeper Paul Shilton. The referee and the linesman did not seem to take notice and took it as Maradona heading the ball, thus awarding a goal to Argentina.
22 years later, Maradona was quoted as saying during an interview for The Sun, “If I could apologize and go back and change history I would do. But the goal is still a goal, Argentina became world champions and I was the best player in the world. I cannot change history. All I can do now is move on.” This is the man who coined one of the most famous quotes in sports at the post match press conference – “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of Gods). Be it news online, blogs, electronic media or in print, everyone got a crisp news story to put up – Maradona apologizes for the ‘hand of God’ goal.
A football follower like me was shocked to read this. Too many things went on in my head. As far as I could recall, Maradona had never before apologized for the strike responsible for Argentina victory in the tournament. In fact, he stood by what he had done when he said on his TV show La Noche del Diez (Number Ten Night), “The truth is that I don’t for a second regret scoring that goal with my hand,”
However, he did admit that the ball came off his hand, in his autobiography Yo Soy el Diego: “Now I feel I am able to say what I couldn’t then. At the time I called it “the hand of God.” What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego! And it felt a little bit like pick pocketing the English.”
Anyhow, I moved on to read the reaction of other famous footballers about Maradona issuing an ‘apology’ for his deed. Talking to The Sun, English goalkeeper Shilton said, “He’s had so many chances to do it over the years it actually feels hollow now. The guy should have said sorry straight after the game – that’s what a truly great player like Pele would have done. It’ll stay with me for ever.”
Talking about his team’s chances of winning the game he said, “The first goal in that game was always going to be so important. It gave the Argentineans a psychological edge and we all knew we’d gone behind to a handball – it cast doubt in our minds. If it had gone into extra time, who knows what would have happened.”
Well, Maradona said, “I cannot change history.” So cannot we. The question that kept on lingering in my mind was how it was possible for him to apologize after twenty-two years. Not long after the incident, my question had been answered and that too by the man himself, Maradona. Talking to Radio La Plata of Buenos Aires, he said, “At no time did I apologize to anyone. I said you can’t change history.” He told the same thing to the reporters at Ezeiza International Airport, in Argentine capital Buenos Aires,” I did not ask forgiveness from England.”
I never got the opportunity to witness the ‘great’ man’s game. However, of all that I know about him, the episode two of the apology series seems to be more correct and easy to digest. I guess rightly so. Why should he apologize? He was there playing for his country and his only aim was to make sure his team wins. Now whether the goal came off his head or fist is for referees to see. Did he pressurize the referee or, by any means, try to influence the referee’s decision? I have no reason to believe that, had the referee seen the ‘hand ball’, then Maradona would not have accepted the decision gracefully.
People also criticized Cristiano Ronaldo during the previous Football World Cup when he appealed to the referee and got his club teammate Wayne Rooney sent off for a foul he committed on Ronaldo’s teammate. Ronaldo was playing for Portugal and Rooney for England. The football stadium is not the place to hang out with your friends and fellow club mates. If people criticize events like these, why don’t they run after the lives of players who commit fouls during the game? Players know the referee may see it and penalize them, but still they do it. For all the critics of my views, I agree with you on something that is called ‘Sportsman Spirit’. However, let it not come above the spirit of competitiveness and the final goal, which is to make sure that your team wins. ofcourse, even I would love to see a game where players request each other for possession of the ball or the striker requests the goalkeeper to move aside and let him score. It will make the game more peaceful. We would not even need referees or linesman. Win-Win situation, right?