Former soccer superstar Diego Maradona began a new career on television last night with a show of his own, to which he added a big roster of guests including his Brazilian peer Pelé, considered the greatest soccer players of all time.
Diego Maradona has called fellow soccer legend Pelé to be his kickoff guest last night as Maradona hosts the splashy, star-studded premiere of a TV talk show that is the talk of Argentina.
Maradona, who is recovering from a cocaine addiction talked about drugs with the Brazilian soccer hero. Pelé’s son has been in jail in Brazil after having been arrested accused of doing and trafficking drugs.
Both players showed their musical talent during the TV show. Pelé played guitar and sang a composition of his own. Maradona sang an Argentinean tango talking about soccer. They also played a little football and ended up swapping national jerseys.
Always the gentleman, the Brazilian player praised Maradona for what he called an example on how to deal and defeat drug addiction. Pelé called the Argentinean an inspirations for his son who is in jail.
Argentines have long claimed Maradona as the best soccer player of all time and Brazilians staunchly stand by Pelé, but for the first time the two legends were together to hash it out on-air in Maradona’s prime-time show.
Called La Noche del 10 – Spanish for The Night of the 10 in reference to Maradona’s famed No. 10 soccer jersey – last night’s premier by the soccer great-turned-television host also was to feature former Argentine tennis star Gabriela Sabatini and Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta – most famed for the ’94 film Il Postino or The Postman.
Maradona also invited heartthrob singer Diego Torres and the leading Argentine national team scorer of all times, Gabriel Batistuta, for what he said would be the first in a regular series as his variety show gets under way this season for local network Canal 13.
Maradona recently was named a vice president of his beloved Boca Juniors soccer organization, and his entry into prime-time television marked a wholesale return to the public limelight for the Argentine since his retirement last decade amid cocaine addiction and severe health problems.
Maradona, 45, has recently dropped weight, unveiling a slimmer profile after stomach stapling surgery. He also has been jetting around the world, making appearances as a broadcast commentator at European soccer matches and showing up for celebrity charity events.
At least one movie documentary is also in the works on his life.
Maradona earned his greatest fame leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup soccer championship and went on to become one of the sport’s greatest legends despite battling a cocaine addiction. His most famous goal was the “Hand of God” goal in which he punched the ball into the net against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals.
The 1986 quarterfinal match against England also included what FIFA, soccer’s governing body, declared the greatest goal ever in World Cup competition – one in which Maradona dribbled half the length of the field, dodging and outrunning nine English players to score the other goal in a 2-1 triumph over England.
In his 20-year career before retiring in 1997, Maradona was an early standout at Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors locally before heading to Europe. He also led Argentina to the 1990 World Cup final and won Italian and Argentine league titles. In 2000, FIFA chose him and Pelé as the best players in soccer history.
In 1991, Maradona failed a drug test and was banned for 15 months. He retired from the sport in 1997 and sought to stay close to the game even as he gained weight and appeared winded and bloated while playing exhibition matches.
In 2000, he had what doctors described as a brush with death when he was hospitalized in the Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este with a heart doctors said was pumping at less than half its capacity. Blood and urine samples turned up traces of cocaine, authorities said.
In need of rehabilitation, Maradona chose Cuba – in part out of his regard for Cuban President Fidel Castro. He also underwent a 12-day hospitalization in Buenos Aires in April 2004 for what doctors described as heart and lung problems.
At a media conference after the show, a Brazilian journalist asked Maradona who was better on the soccer field, him or Pelé.
“My mother says it was me and Pelé’s mother says it was him,” Maradona said, his grin irrepressible.