Barcelona's Gamper Trophy opponents Boca Juniors recall Diego Maradona's time in Catalonia
For someone regarded as one of the best footballers ever, Diego Maradona's career is littered with regrets and what-ifs, and his disappointing and chaotic two-year stay at Barcelona ranks particularly high among them.
Maradona signed for Barcelona in 1982 after a protracted transfer from Boca Juniors, who visit the Camp Nou on Wednesday as Barca's opponents for the traditional Trofeo Joan Gamper, the team's final preseason friendly.
A statue of Maradona greets visitors at Boca's museum and it is hard to walk around the surrounding area of La Bombonera without seeing his image on murals, even though he won only one league title with the Buenos Aires giants.
His footprint at Camp Nou is far less visible. Maradona played only 58 times for Barca between 1982 and 1984, his time on the pitch severely cut down by a three-month absence with hepatitis and another three months out injured from the infamous ankle-shattering tackle from Athletic Bilbao's Andoni Goikoetxea.
When he left for Napoli two years later, shunned by incoming manager Terry Venables, he had only two trophies to show for: the 1983 Copa del Rey and the short-lived Copa de la Liga. Injuries and disease were far from the only things that went wrong for Maradona at Barca, though.
The writing was on the wall in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which came just after he completed his $8 million move from Boca. Three of Argentina's five games were in Barcelona and they lost all of them, with Maradona being sent off in their 3-1 defeat to Brazil for outrageously kicking Joao Batista in the genitals.
That was the first time the city of Barcelona witnessed Maradona's "bronca" -- that inner fury that often inspired him on the pitch but also led to him losing his head. It would not be the last.
For former Argentina and Barcelona coach Cesar Luis Menotti, Maradona was unsuited to the city.
"Barcelona is a special city, but I think his lifestyle was more suited to Naples, a more earthy place," Menotti told El Periodico. "In Barcelona, Maradona suffered a lot because it is a more elitist city."
Jimmy Burns, author of the biography "Hand of God," also talks of a culture clash.
"You have to remember this was his first experience in a foreign country. He was away from his family, his tribe. He found Barcelona to be quite an alienating place, very different to Buenos Aires," Burns told ESPN FC. "Naples, which shared the parallel legality to his upbringing, suited him down to the ground.
"His lack of discipline at Barcelona and his manners horrified traditional Catalan hierarchy, particularly president Josep Lluis Nunez."
Maradona proudly explains in his highly entertaining autobiography "El Diego" how he defied German coach Udo Lattek in his first season at Barca by refusing to partake in pregame walks or lift heavy medicine balls in training. He also did not take kindly to the club confiscating his passport to ensure he would not play in Paul Breitner's testimonial 10 days before a Copa del Rey final, picking up trophies and threatening to smash them until his passport was returned.
The club initially tried to appease their star player by hiring his old mentor Menotti as coach. Menotti, however, indulged Maradona by arranging training sessions in the afternoon, and the player took full advantage.
The Up & Down nightclub around the corner from Camp Nou was said to be his favourite haunt and the place where he first took cocaine, which would go on to dog his life and almost killed him in 2000 following an overdose in Uruguay.
Menotti, perhaps feeling some guilt for Maradona's future troubles, has denied that the player took drugs while in Barcelona. Maradona, though, has admitted many times that he began using drugs in Barcelona.
"I have to admit that's when I got going and in the worst possible way," he wrote. "When you go into it in fact you're wanting to say 'no' and end up hearing yourself say 'yes'. Because you believe you're going to control it, you're going to be OK, and then it gets more complicated. But the drugs thing in Barcelona had no effect on my football life."
Veteran Barcelona agent Josep Maria Minguella, meanwhile, blamed a numerous group of Argentine hangers-on for his decadence.
"His problem, the famous clan, grew following his disease and injury. In his house there was always too many people," Minguella wrote in the newspaper Sport. "Whenever you turned up there, there was always someone there eating at the table."
Maradona's time at Barcelona was not all bad, though. Despite only 58 appearances, he scored an impressive 38 goals.
An audacious strike against Real Madrid in the Copa de la Liga summed up his trademark cheek and arrogance: When presented with an open goal following a counter-attack, Maradona decided to wait for Real defender Juan Jose to chase back, only to dance past him before tapping into the net.
His most famous act at Barcelona was the mass brawl after the 1-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao, then the best team in Spain, in the 1984 Copa del Rey final. It was also his last.
"I felt embarrassed for King Juan Carlos, who I was fond of. It was his Cup, and we were beating the s--- out of each other," Maradona recalled.
"My last match was symbolic of everything that happened to me there. I truly believed Barcelona was the club for me, the best club in the world. But I didn't anticipate the idiosyncrasies of the Catalans."
Barcelona did just fine without Maradona, snapping an 11-year wait for the Liga title the season after he left. The Argentine, meanwhile, headed for Napoli, finding a team and a city where he truly felt at home.