Chris Burton reflects on the welcome afforded to the Hand of God in Scotland
Last Updated: 17/11/08 4:14pm
Maradona: Marmite man
It was perhaps fitting that Diego Armando Maradona's arrival on Scottish shores this week occurred on a Sunday.
The man who revels under the 'Hand of God' moniker enjoys a social standing second only to the big man upstairs back in football-mad Argentina.
The greatest player of his, or anybody else's, generation, Maradona is, in sporting terms, about as close to a Messiah as you are likely to get.
Yes, he may have had a tendency to go off the rails in spectacular fashion throughout an illustrious career, with drug problems following him around like a bad smell.
And yes, having never been one to shy away from controversy, he has even managed to maintain a considerable public profile since hanging up his boots 11 years ago.
Fluctuating weight problems, the omnipresent drug suspicions and a questionable friendship with Cuba's revolutionary president Fidel Castro have all helped to ensure that Maradona remains as much a part of football's fibre today as he was during his playing days.
But, there is no denying that the man is a living, breathing legend - the kind of which we are unlikely to see again.
However, I may be allowing my own personal opinions of a man I deem to be the greatest sportsman to ever grace this planet to cloud my judgment here.
I appreciate that Maradona is not to everyone's taste and, to paraphrase the slogan of a well-known yeast-based product, he is your stereotypical 'Marmite man' - you either love him or you hate him.
Having led his homeland, almost single-handedly, to World Cup glory in 1986, his place in the hearts of Argentines across the globe is sealed indefinitely.
That comes as no surprise, though, and it is only when you begin looking at Maradona's popularity away from South America that you start to gain a greater understanding of how one man can cause such a massive fluctuation in opinion.
His exploits with a ball at his feet captivated the world, and the pop star-esque welcome which greeted him at Glasgow would, unquestionably, be repeated were he to roll into town anywhere from Timbuktu to Texas.
He occupies a select group of individuals who enjoy almost universal acclaim - standing alongside such sporting greats as Pele and Muhammad Ali.
However, if there is one country that has embraced El Diego more than any other, then it would appear to be Scotland.
The Scots and the Argentines you see have something in common - an all-encompassing dislike for all things English.
Therefore, anyone who makes said nation look like a bunch of mugs is instantly hailed as a national hero - regardless of nationality, past misdemeanours etc.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise to find that Maradona's infamous goal which helped dump England out of the World Cup 22 years ago features prominently in many Scotsman's, and Argentine's, all-time greatest sporting moments.
The sight of the Diego's dumpy frame rising above Peter Shilton's outstretched fist to glance the ball home with his fingertips equates to the stuff of dreams for Tartan-clad men everywhere.
There is even a bar in Ayr dedicated to that one moment in history, with the 'Hand of God' dominated by a wall-length mural of the goal and staff kitted out in Argentina replica shirts as they tend to smirking customers.
The fact that Maradona actually scored his first international goal against them at Hampden Park in 1979 has long been forgotten, with his actions seven years on ensuring that he will not go thirsty should he decide to frequent a Glasgow watering hole during his current jaunt to Britain.
How many other men can claim to enjoy such acclaim so far from home? England certainly do not have a comparable figurehead, while no-one springs to mind in regards to Wales or Ireland.
Maradona has always been one of a kind, an individual who stands alone in a world dominated by meaningless 'celebrity'.
His place in the starry eyes of Scots would only seem to confirm this, with a nation proving to be equally as welcoming to a Latin superstar who speaks little English as they were to their returning Olympic heroes this summer.
It remains to be seen how forgiving those inside Hampden on Wednesday will be should Maradona's first game in charge of his beloved country end with the Albicelestes running rings around George Burley's men.
But, with that said, should the game go the way of the visitors then it will be the home coach who will be looking to shelter from the torrent of terrace bile.
Whatever happens in midweek, though, I am of the opinion that the world is a better place for having welcomed Maradona back into football, and those who take the time to catch the game on Sky Sports 1 are likely to be in for a treat.