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Ossie Ardiles reflects on how friend Diego Maradona did keepy-uppies with a suit and new shoes

Published on: 26 November 2020

When Diego Maradona was guest speaker at Oxford Union in 1995, his great friend Ossie Ardiles was the interpreter.

But it was not anything Maradona said that night that his former Argentina team-mate remembers now.

Speaking to Sportsmail just hours after news of Maradona’s death aged 60, Ardiles is emotional, but this story causes him to smile.

‘Here was Diego, on the same stage where Nelson Mandela and Ronald Regan had stood. Suddenly, one guy shouts, “Can you do keepie-uppies with this?”, and he throws a golf ball towards us.

‘I’m thinking, “Oh no, he’s wearing a suit and brand new shoes, this will be difficult”. Diego pulls his trousers up and starts keeping the ball up. Boom, boom, boom. Easy. He then kicks it back to the guy with his heel. It was incredible. Only Diego.’

The Union erupted in cheer. But such hysteria was the norm around Maradona. It feels poignant when Ardiles says: ‘Our conversations always finished in the same way - it was very beautiful to be Maradona, but it was not easy to be Maradona.

‘When you were with him, because he was such an icon, you were always surrounded by people. Thing always happened, exciting things.

‘I loved him, absolutely loved him. He was incredibly sharp, very funny. He had an answer to whatever you said.

‘But he had so many problems outside the pitch his entire life. Inside the pitch, he was the happiest person in the world. He didn’t need to work, but the best thing for him was to be involved in football. When the pandemic happened, there has been no football in Argentina for six months. That did not help. He had been ill and he deteriorated badly. I am very sad, but now, he is in a place where he will find peace.’

Ask Ardiles if Maradona was the greatest player ever, and the answer leaves you in little doubt.

‘Diego was unique, that is the word. He was extraordinary, out of this world. He had feet like hands. I was blessed to play with the world’s best players, but he was the greatest.

‘What made him so special was his courage. It was always hostile for him, always a marked man. But he always wanted the ball. They kicked him - he wanted the ball even more. He was a winner. And I know, I’d play him at tennis! He just could not lose.’

Spurs legend Ardiles famously brought Maradona to White Hart Lane for his testimonial match one month before he won the World Cup in Mexico in 1986.

‘Argentina played a friendly in Norway and Diego said to Carlos Bilardo, the manager, “By the way, I’m going to London for Ossie”. Bilardo said, “What? You are joking, you’re not going!”. “No, I’m Diego Maradona, I’m going”.

‘For him to come, wear a Spurs shirt and play that game for me, it was very special.’

The last time the friends saw each other was in 2017 when, again, Ardiles acted as interpreter with Maradona guest of honour ahead of Spurs’ 4-1 victory over Liverpool at Wembley.

‘We went into the dressing-room and he gave some advice to Harry Kane. I was translating, “Harry, when you shoot, look one way with your eyes, but shoot the other”. But the way Diego talks, so passionate, so funny. Harry loved it.’

Kane, for the record, responded with two goals.

‘Diego was an inspirational person,’ says Ardiles. ‘He had a magic around him, on the pitch and off it. Special, so special. I am blessed to have been his friend.’


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