Diego Maradona: How the ‘world’s most famous football’ became a ‘gift from God’ for former referee Ali Bin Nasser



CNN

Both goals are perhaps as famous as each other – the former legendary for his audacity and cunning, the latter for his brilliant and stunning skill.

Just four minutes separate Diego Maradona’s two memorable contributions to Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca 36 years ago, and together they typify Argentina’s flawed genius and beloved footballing icon.

‘Hand of God’ – when Maradona rose above England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and kicked the ball into the net – needs no introduction to football fans of all eras, while his slalom run through the heart of the England defense moments later was voted the goal of the century.

It’s no surprise, then, that the match ball from that day in Mexico City — now deflated and faded in places — is expected to fetch as much as $3.3 million at auction on Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, it’s the most famous football in the world,” Terry Butcher, England captain in the 2-1 loss to Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, told CNN Sport.

Maradona evades Butcher (left) to score against England.

Even being in the presence of the ball, as it was at Wembley Stadium in London ahead of this week’s auction, brings up unsettling memories for Butcher.

It’s reminiscent of how he protested to Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser after Maradona’s first goal, and how he tried unsuccessfully to stop the second with an outstretched leg.

“It’s really weird to be in the same room as the ball, it’s hard to explain,” adds Butcher. “It’s quite surreal in many ways… This ball – it’s the greatest injustice the world has ever seen in football matches.”

In the aftermath of his death two years ago, memorabilia from Maradona’s life and career fetched huge sums at auction.

In May, the shirt he wore against England sold for $9.3 million, making it the most expensive sports memorabilia in history at the time.

As for the match ball, it currently belongs to Nasser after football’s world governing body FIFA said the referees would keep the ball after every game they officiated in the 1986 World Cup.

The 1986 World Cup quarter-final match ball is expected to sell for up to $3.3 million.

Nasser is now 78 years old and his refereeing days are far behind him. With the proceeds from the sale, which is overseen by Graham Budd Auctions in the UK, he will donate some of the money to charity and says the rest will “raise my standard of living a bit”.

“It’s a gift from God,” Nasser told CNN Sport, “because I had a 25-year career … and I made all the decisions that needed to be made.”

Asked about Maradona’s first goal and Nasser is eager to defend his reasons for letting it hold.

FIFA’s instructions for the tournament, he said, were to rely on other match officials if they had better insight into an incident. Unable to see what happened in the aerial contest between Maradona and Shilton, Nasser instead turned to his linesman, Bulgarian Bogdan Dochev.

“[Dochev] arrived on the halfway line, which means that the goal is 100% valid,” explains Nasser, adding that he “applied the FIFA guidelines regarding the first goal”.

Maradona's controversial hand ball gave Argentina a 1-0 lead against England at the 1986 World Cup.

For his part, Dochev, who died five years ago, said he thought he saw ‘something irregular’ in the goal but claimed FIFA protocols did not allow assistants to discuss decisions with the referee. The fallout from the incident would tarnish his refereeing career.

“Diego Maradona ruined my life,” Dochev later told Bulgarian media in the years before his death. “He’s a brilliant footballer but a small man. He’s small in stature and as a person too.

While multiple balls were used during a game in today’s game, back then only one was used for the full 90 minutes.

According to Graham Budd, president of auction house Graham Budd Auctions, Nasser’s ball was cross-checked with match footage and high-resolution photography, while an independent body also verified it to be the original.

With the World Cup kicking off in Qatar on Sunday, this week is the perfect time for the ball to go up for auction. it could also become the most expensive sports ball ever sold at auction if it eclipses the $3 million paid for Mark McGwire’s 70th home run in 1999.

Ali Bin Nasser speaks to the media after Maradona's death two years ago.

The considerable price of the ball does not only stem from the nature of Maradona’s two interventions.

The match was the first time England and Argentina had met on a sports arena since the Falklands or Falklands War four years earlier, and many players had – at least on the Argentine side – friends or relatives. who had been drafted to fight in the war. .

This backdrop created a sense of drama long before the “hand of God” took center stage.

“We had an energy, a great desire to win, not just because it was England, but also so that our country could somehow be happy,” said Jorge Luis Burruchaga, who then scored the goal of victory in the final for Argentina against West Germany, told CNN Sport four years ago.

“We knew we wouldn’t bring back the Falklands War dead, but we knew we would bring happiness.”

Former England international Peter Reid also acknowledges the political context of the game, which he says contributes to the match ball’s “unique” status.

“There are a lot of Argentines there, there was a lot of pressure on both groups of players, and that’s when he [Maradona] handled the pressure very well,” says Reid. “Whatever you say, he was a genius footballer.

And for the first goal? “Look, he cheated,” adds Reid, “but he was also very smart.”

Despite his decades-long career in football as a player and manager, Reid says he still doesn’t care that he was edged out by Maradona for the second goal – even by the man himself when the couple broke up. met in Jordan several years later.

And while it was Nasser who kept the ‘Hand of God’ match ball from that game and his former teammate Steve Hodge who kept Maradona’s jersey, Reid ended up with a gift from his cunning opponent – well decades after they clashed in Mexico City.

“He came with an autographed shirt for me: ‘To my friend. Lots of love, Diego Maradona,” Reid said. “I have this on my wall, so it’s not bad. I will stick to it.

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