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



CNN

The two goals are perhaps as famous as the others – the first fabled for its audacity and cunning, the second for its brilliant and breathtaking skill.

Just four minutes separated Diego Maradona’s two memorable contributions at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca 36 years ago, and together they typified Argentina’s flawed genius and beloved soccer icon.

“The hand of God” – when Maradona rose above England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and punched the ball into the net – needs little introduction to football fans of any era, while his slaloming run through the heart of England’s defense moments later was voted the Goal of the Century.

It’s little surprise, then, that the match ball from that day in Mexico City — now deflated and faded in places — is expected to fetch up to $3.3 million at auction on Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, it’s the most famous football in the world,” Terry Butcher, who captained England during the 2-1 defeat against Argentina in the 1986 World Cup, told CNN Sport.

Maradona escapes from Butcher (left) to score against England.

Even being in the presence of the ball, as he was at Wembley Stadium in London before this week’s auction, brings back haunting memories for Butcher.

It is a reminder of how he argued with the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser after Maradona’s first goal, and how he tried in vain to stop the second one with an outstretched leg.

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

After his death two years ago, memorabilia from Maradona’s life and career have fetched huge sums at auction.

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

As for the match ball, it is currently owned by Nasser after FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, declared that referees could keep the ball after every match they officiated in the 1986 World Cup.

The match ball from the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals is expected to sell for a maximum of $3.3 million.

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

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

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

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

“[Dochev] reached the central line, which means the goal is 100% valid,” says Nasser, adding that “he applied the FIFA guidelines regarding the first goal.”

Maradona's controversial handball 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 said FIFA protocols do not allow assistants to discuss decisions with the referee The fallout from the incident will end his career as a referee.

“Diego Maradona ruined my life,” Dochev later told Bulgarian media in the years before his death. “He is a brilliant footballer but a small man. He is short in height and also as a person.”

While many balls will be used over the course of a match in today’s game, only one was used for the 90 minutes.

According to Graham Budd, the chairman of the auction house Graham Budd Auctions, Nasser’s ball has been checked with match footage and high-resolution photos, while an independent body has also verified it as the original.

With the World Cup starting in Qatar on Sunday, this week is an optimal time for the ball to go to 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 price of the ball is not only derived from the nature of the two interventions of Maradona.

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

That background created a sense of drama long before the “Hand of God” took center stage.

“We had an energy, a great desire to win, not only because it was England, but also so that our country could be happy in a way,” Jorge Luis Burruchaga, who went on to score the winning goal in the final. Argentina against West Germany, he told CNN Sport four years ago.

“We were aware that we wouldn’t be bringing back the dead from the Falklands War, but we were aware that we would be bringing back some happiness.”

Former England international Peter Reid also acknowledges the game’s political context, 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 it is there [Maradona] he handled the pressure really well,” says Reid. “Whatever you say, he was a brilliant footballer.”

And as for the first goal? “Look, he’s cheating,” Reid adds, “but he’s also been very smart.”

Despite his decades-long career in football as a player and manager, Reid says he is still mocked for being surpassed by Maradona for the second goal – even by the man himself when the pair meet in Jordan many years later .

And while it was Nasser who looked at the ‘Hand of God’ match ball from that game and his old team-mate Steve Hodge who held Maradona’s shirt, Reid ended up with a gift from his wily opponent – albeit decades later that were faced Mexico City.

“He came with a shirt signed for me:” To my friend. Much love, Diego Maradona,” says Reid. “I have that on my wall, so it’s not bad. I’ll keep it.”

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