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Maradona comes clean as Scotland awaits
Matt Dickinson, Chief Sports Correspondent
As he prepares to coach Argentina for the first time, a process already mired in conflict over the make-up of his backroom staff, Diego Maradona must ponder team selection and tactics for the friendly international against Scotland at Hampden Park on Wednesday. He will do so, he insists, with a mind that is lucid and sharp. And free of drugs.
Although alcohol and cigars have been recent comforts, Maradona claims it is four years since he last touched cocaine; four years since he snorted the white powder that almost destroyed mind and body. It was a 20-year addiction going back to his days at Barcelona in 1983, “a cancer I'd been dragging around with me”, and only now is the full extent of his abuse emerging - and the lengths to which he and his employers went to disguise his habit.
In an interview for the forthcoming Maradona Opus, Corrado Ferlaino, the former president of Napoli, where the great Argentinian enjoyed his best years, has revealed the extraordinary deceptions that kept the testers at bay, including the use of borrowed urine and a tube shoved down a player's trousers.
“If a player was at risk of testing positive, they were given a small bottle with a dripper on the end, containing someone else's urine,” Ferlaino explained. “So the player would hide the small pump or dripper down his tracksuit bottoms and once he was in the room where he was supposed to provide a sample, instead of peeing into the sample bottle, he filled it with the clean urine from the container he had been given.” It is a ruse that could not succeed these days, with testers observing a sportsman giving his sample.
Ferlaino's revelations are an admission that the club were party to the crime and, worse still, he admits that Napoli indulged Maradona's cocaine abuse to the extent that their star player was free to snort from Sunday evening to Wednesday - even through the peak years of his career, when he became a world champion. With the doctors establishing that cocaine washes through the system in 48 hours, this unwritten rule was devised to give Napoli's party animal plenty of slack.
“From Sunday evening until Wednesday, Diego was free to do whatever he wanted to do, just like other players at Napoli at the time, particularly the youngsters,” Ferlaino said. “A few of them were involved, too. Come Thursday, he had to be clean. Do you get the picture?”
One can only marvel at Maradona's constitution, leading Napoli to two Serie A titles and the Uefa Cup while maintaining this lifestyle, although the great No 10 insists that he stayed clean in the month of his crowning glory, the 1986 World Cup finals.
Ferlaino admits that the club would also manipulate the “random” drawing of players for testing, simply erasing Maradona's “10” if it was selected. For six years in Naples, such techniques kept Maradona out of trouble. “I was more careful about cocaine than about wetting my bed,” he once said, although he could not evade the testers for ever.
His first positive test was at Napoli in 1991 and he was banned from football for 15 months “[Luciano] Moggi [the general manager, later disgraced for match-fixing at Juventus] asked him if he was OK, if he was clean, and he said 'yes,'” Ferlaino said. “But, of course, the fact is that cocaine addicts tend to lie to themselves.
“By the time [Luciano] Nizzola, president of the Italian FA, called me confidentially, it was already too late. I tried as hard as I could. 'Tell me what I can do, president'. But he told me that I could do nothing.” The ban brought a controversial end to Maradona's time in Italy and, although he would play on for another six years, he would never recapture the glories of Napoli.
He returned to Spain and then Argentina, but he was in physical decline. He was starting to gorge on junk food, his weight ballooning to the point that he needed a stomach-stapling operation. More seriously, his cocaine abuse brought heart problems and in 2004 he was rushed into intensive care. It was only the love of his daughters, he says, that pulled him out of his semi-comatose state and kept him alive.
This brush with death persuaded him to give up cocaine, although an addiction to alcohol followed. Now his vice is giant Cuban cigars and he may have to resist puffing away in the dugout at Hampden Park on Wednesday.
To those who have condemned Maradona for his cocaine abuse, he has a blunt response: “I only ever harmed myself,” he said. He argues that Pelé would not be mentioned in the same breath if he had only stayed clean. Imagine the player I would have been without drugs, he asks.
At 48, he claims to be clean, content - as he prepares to become a grandfather for the first time - and slim enough to train with his players. But one can only be fearful about the strains of management and their effect on his volatile temperament. He has already been forced to deny rumours that he will quit over his choice of coaches, with the Argentine federation attempting to block his plans to appoint Oscar Ruggeri, a former team-mate.
It is another reason to fear that his reign will come to a sticky end, although, after 20 years of cocaine abuse, it is an achievement simply to be alive.
Taken from timesonline.co.uk