The difference between Diego Maradona's difficult spell at Barcelona and Lionel Messi's triumphant reign at the club is largely down to luck, said the man who helped bring both Argentines to the Camp Nou.
‘They are two very similar players. They are two number 10s. That is a position highly valued historically in Argentina,’ said Jose Maria Minguella. ‘The number 10 is the creator of the game, the one who collects the ball and somehow creates danger.’
Minguella has been involved with Barcelona since the start of the 1970s and helped arrange the deals to secure not only the two Argentine stars but also a host of other players including such international stars as Romario and Hristo Stoichkov.
After a long courtship, he brought Maradona, aged 21, to Barcelona for a then world record fee of 7.6 million dollars in 1982. He was also involved in the deal that brought Messi to the club at the age of 13.
Remembering Maradona, who died on Wednesday aged 60, Minguella told AFP: ‘Diego was unlucky.’
Maradona played for Barcelona from 1982-84, but his first season was cut short by hepatitis and in his second Athletic Bilbao defender Andoni Goikoetxea broke Maradona's left ankle.
When the two clubs met in the cup final at the end of the season, Maradona started a brawl that earned him a three-month Spanish ban. He then moved to Napoli, where he was adored.
‘He was alone for two years, a serious injury and an illness deprived him of his explosiveness, ‘ said Minguella. ‘The explosion came in Naples.’
Messi's experience has been much happier.
‘Leo has been of a benchmark of Barcelona football,’ said Minguella. ‘He has shaped an era, won titles, broken records of all kinds.’
‘We could say that Leo has been the more successful in terms of trophies, but as far as players are concerned I don't notice any great differences between one and the other,’ Minguella said. ‘They are left-sided, a similar height and the only contrast is they played in different eras.
‘In the time of Maradona, the referees were much more permissive, all the teams had their warriors in the midfield and defence who in one way or another, would deprive opponents of the chance to show their skills,’ Minguella recalls.
‘And then there was also the condition of the ball, the quality of the boots, the playing fields, which are now real billiard tables. Before players had to cope with water and mud.
‘All this makes it a comparison very difficult, but I would say that they are players obsessed with their game, with playing football, obsessive about tactics, obsessed with getting to the opponent's area as fast as possible and obsessive about scoring goals.
‘They are two players who are not very expressive, but rather closed off. When you went on a trip with the team, the players would go out for walks on the morning of the game. Diego would stay in the room,’ he recalls.
‘In this sense, he has a certain rapport with Leo in that they are withdrawn people,’ added Minguella.
He said both players needed time at a club: Messi at Barcelona and Maradona at Napoli.
‘Leo has been much more effective because he has been here for many more years. The effect has been direct, very powerful. Diego didn't have this opportunity in Barcelona, because he left.
‘Yet Naples went from being unknown to being at the top level in Europe. This is the power of the greatest players.’
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