Diego Armando Maradona has been considered by quite a number of soccer fans as the greatest footballer to have played the game. This is regardless of the few trophies that he won at the highest levels of the game!

The Myth

The central myth is the few winning medals he won were actually won single handedly - beginning with the 1986 World Cup. For this theory to be widely accepted, several otherwise successful soccer career profiles have had to be diminished. We will examine these now in no particular order of significance.

The question as to the practicality of any soccer player, particularly an almost completely offensive player, no matter how good, winning a major tournament single handedly will be addressed in some other article!

Sergio Goycochea

He didn't spend significant career time in Europe, and that may have affected his legend status, but should we forget the man whose penalty saving heroics helped Argentina reach a consecutive world cup final in 1990? Was that feat down to Maradona? No, it was not! Without Goycochea's skills, Argentina could easily have been sent home in that almost one sided match second round encounter that Brazil dominated, with Maradona having little impact for most of it. Soccer pundits talk about Maradona's fine assist that produced the only goal of the match, however, they don't give as much credit to the men whose dedication to protecting their goal area made the goal count. That is soccer for you!

Goycochea's penalty saving heroics had arguably more impact than Maradona's efforts in the subsequent matches that got Argentina to that final, and he almost saved the penalty that gave Germany the tournament winning goal.

In truth, Goycochea should be considered one of the top 3 goalkeepers in Latin American soccer history!

After the 1990 World Cup and without Maradona, he helped Argentina win 2 consecutive Copa Americas, and was judged the best player at the 1993 Edition (very rare for a goalie).

This was a trophy Maradona never won or came quite close to winning in 3 attempts.

Oscar Ruggeri

If one looks at facts, Maradona played along with arguably the greatest Argentine if not South American centre in history. Almost everything in his resume suggests great quality, and he ended his career with more team decorations than Maradona.

His brief period in Europe for just two seasons saw him winning a league title with Real Madrid in 1990, having been judged the best foreigner in La Liga the previous year. Interestingly, just before the World Cup victory in 1986, Ruggeri had been very much involved in a spectacular defensive performance that led to River Plate's first ever Copa Libertadores trophy, achieving something Daniel Passarella never did for the same club. So, it is no surprise the defence that supported Maradona to victory in 1986 conceded only 5 goals in only 4 matches out of 7 (and more than 1 goal only once) in that World Cup victory.

The next world cup (1990) would see Ruggeri, along with Goycochea, ensuring Argentina had a strong defence line to make up for a limited attack which relied largely on a semi-fit Maradona and an inexperienced Claudio Caniggia.

With Argentina scoring only 5 goals in 7 matches and none from Maradona, it's truly astonishing the Napoli legend has been credited with a single-handed performance in that World cup. Ruggeri and Goycochea deserve as much if not more credit.

To cap it, Ruggeri would be the main centre-back helping Argentina win 2 Successive Copa America trophies without Maradona in 1991 and 1993. His 1991 performance would earn him 2 awards as not only Argentina’s but also South America’s best footballer for 1991.

Carlos Bilardo

Up until very recently in soccer, players pushed their coach's images into obscurity, and Bilardo is no exception.

How could an Argentina National side that had won nothing of significance since the 1978 World Cup become world champions again in 1986 if the manager didn't have something to offer?

While playing with Argentine Club Estudiantes De La Plata, Bilardo would help the club win 3 consecutive Copa Libertadores tournaments between 1968 and 1970. His tactical genius was already respected as he played as a sort of player tactician. Upon retiring as a player and becoming Club Manager in 1971, he took the club to a 4th Copa Libertadores final, though this time on the losing side. He would later go on to take the Colombian club side Deportivo Cali to two more losing Copa Libertadores finals in 1976 and 1978. Apparently, the luck he had as a player eluded him as a manager in that competition, but his abilities as a manager with 2 different sides are beyond question.

Bilardo began his adventure with the Albiceleste at the 1983 Copa America.

It would seem he would use those tournaments to groom some of the players who would support Maradona at Mexico 86, namely Jorge Burruchaga, Nelly Pumpido and Jose Luis Brown among others.

Bilardo is one of those associated with the acceptance of the 3-5-2 soccer formation. He is also credited with the transition of several former Argentine soccer players into managers and has for a while been the Argentine National Team General Manager.

Jorge Burruchaga

Burruchaga is one of Maradona’s key contemporaries, and a major member of the 1986 World Cup winning squad. He was one of the top scorers at the 1983 Copa America, scoring 3 of Argentina’s 5 goals in a tournament they were unable to win despite not losing a match and beating arch rivals Brazil.

Just Prior to Mexico 1986, Burruchaga was voted the best foreign player in the French Ligue 1. In the 1986 and 1990 World Cups together, Burruchaga scored as many unquestionable goals for Argentina as Maradona did, if it is to be accepted that Maradona's 'Hand of God' adventure should not be given recognition by soccer analysts.

If, as sometimes happens in big tournaments, Maradona had been badly injured at some point within the 1986 World Cup, the facts mentioned above make it impossible to conclude that Burruchaga could not have taken Argentina to victory in his place!

Jose Luis Brown

While Brown, unlike Ruggeri, probably does not Merit a comparison with Daniel Passarella, Jose Luis Brown nevertheless delivered the performance of his life in Mexico 1986.

As a result, his Castrol Index score for that tournament was second only to that of Maradona and higher than that of Gary Lineker, the tournament’s highest scorer, and so many other high profile players in that tournament.

While the Castrol Index, which only measures World Cup players’ performances since 1966, is not a perfect indication of a player’s performances, it has become one of the most respected indicators.

Brown’s performance highlights one often ignored reality, which is that in a big tournament, an averagely good player can be in the form of his life and put up a performance as good or even better than more talented footballers (another example is Salvatore Schillaci in 1990).

Careca (Antônio de Oliveira Filho)

He is the only person on this list that was not Maradona’s teammate in Mexico 86. But he also played very well in that tournament.

One of the most unfortunate Brazilian players ever as regards the World Cup Careca was arguably the greatest Brazilian striker of the 1980s, and his misfortune in missing the 1982 World Cup due to injury is often cited as one of the major reasons Brazil failed to win that tournament. Credence to that opinion was given by his performance in the following World Cup (1986), where he emerged as one of the highest goal scorers and the only player to have scored in 4 separate matches by the end of the quarter finals.

Careca went on to play a major role in Napoli’s second Serie A victory of the 1980s, alongside Diego Maradona.

He also contributed at least as much as Maradona did to Napoli’s UEFA Cup victory in 1989.

Claudio Caniggia also deserves a mention, but he is not as unfortunate since hardly anybody can forget the role he played in Italia 1990!