Ex-Ipswich boss Burley hails Maradona as the ‘best player’ he ever played against
- Credit: AP
Former Ipswich Town manager and player, George Burley, has hailed Diego Maradona as “the best player” he ever played against, even though the Argentine was only 18 at the time.
Football legend Maradona sadly died today, at the age of 60. Widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest players of all time, Maradona suffered a heart attack at his Buenos Aires home.
Burley had the dubious privilege of playing against Maradona, when the then-teenager scored his first-ever international goal in Argentina’s 3-1 victory over hosts Scotland in a friendly at Hampden Park on June 2, 1979.
And 29 years later, the duo renewed old rivalries, this time as opposing managers rather than players, when Maradona took charge of his first match as Argentina manager, away at Scotland, who were managed at the time by Burley.
“Argentina had a fantastic side for that friendly in 1979. It was a team packed with quality players, but even then a very young Diego Maradona stood out as the best player on the park,” recalled Burley this evening.
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“Maradona was head-and-shoulders above everyone else that night, and it was clear to see that he was going to be a big star, even at such a young age.
“He was so quick, so strong, so sharp. In fact, he seemed to run quicker with the ball at his feet, than without the ball!
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“It was a night when you just had to admire such a talent. He was so young, and yet so talented.
“He was sensational that night. He was everywhere, all over the park, he was that quick. It was impossible to avoid him,” added Burley, who made 500 appearances for Ipswich as a full-back between 1973 and 1985.
Maradona had actually made his full international debut at the age of just 16, against Hungary in February, 1977, although he was considered too you (at the age of 17) to be selected for the Argentina squad for the following year’s World Cup.
But teenager Maradona went on to star in the World Youth Championship in Japan in 1979, scoring six goals in the tournament to help his country to overall victory, before gracing the Hampden Park turf to such good effect in early June with the senior side.
Maradona netted Argentina’s third goal, in a 3-1 win over Jock Stein’s Scotland side, to top a memorable individual performance, after Leopoldo Luque had netted a brace in front of a bumper crowd of 61,918.
Burley was in a Scotland team which included the likes of Ipswich team-mate John Wark and the Liverpool duo of centre-half Alan Hansen and attacker and skipper Kenny Dalglish, while Alan Rough was the unfortunate keeper who was the last line of defence against Maradona and company.
Maradona went on to score 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, and of course will be best remembered for the two goals he scored against England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986, on the way to being crowned World Cup champions.
Maradona’s first goal became known as the ‘Hand of God,’ while his quickfire second was dubbed the ‘Goal of the Century’ when an 11-second burst saw him glide past several England defenders, including Ipswich Town centre-half Terry Butcher, before beating keeper Peter Shilton.
Meanwhile, Burley was later privileged once again to pit his wits against Maradona, this time when the two were international managers.
Argentina beat Scotland 1-0 in this friendly international at Hampden Park, on November 19, 2008, with Maxi Rodriguez scoring the only goal of the game early on.
“I never played against Maradona again as a player, but I was the manager of Scotland when he managed Argentina for the first time,” revealed Burley.
“I had a good chat with him, and shook his hand.
“It was a proud moment for me. In fact, Diego was the best player that I ever played against, while I would rank him as second only to Pele in the greatest players of all-time, not just of a generation.
“He achieved so much in his club career as well, for the likes of Barcelona and Napoli. He almost single-handedly won Napoli the Serie A title (1986-87 & 1989-90),” added Burley, 64, who successfully managed Ipswich for eight years between 1994 and 2002.
Maradona’s untimely death came just weeks after he had undergone successful surgery on a brain blood clot.