A few weeks ago I was sitting in a Argentinian restaurant in Antwerp, Belgium on a cold winter night. While I was eating my wonderful steak, my eyes wandered along the memorabilia on the walls. One item caught my attention: A poster with the picture of a former soccer player and just two words written on it: “EL DIEGO”.
This is the first part of my soccer play maker series, in which I will blog about one of the best play makers of all time on every second Thursday of each month (learn more about this series here). What better way than to start than with Diego Armando Maradona.
Even 7000 miles from Buenos Aires and many years after the end of his career, obviously people are still thrilled by Maradona, maybe the best midfielder ever on a soccer pitch. In Argentina they have two gods. One for soccer and one for the rest. However for most Argentinians, soccer ist more important than the rest. A couple of die hard fans even created the “Maradonian Church” (Iglesia Maradoniana) – some say with over 100.000 members.
What is so fascinating about Maradona?
I used Sally Hogshead‘s new book “Fascinate” to find answers to this question. In “Fascinate”, Sally identifies seven “Triggers” that lead to fascination. If you’re in Marketing, the book will probably be some of the best 27 Dollars you will spend this year, as it also tells you how to use these triggers to get your messages and brands across.
For Diego Maradona, I identified three of the triggers as being the most important ones:
Maradona was the best soccer player of his time, maybe of all times. The match of his life was undoubtedly the one against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. At the time, Argentina and England were still heavy rivals due to the Falkland War, that took place just four years earlier. On June 22, they met each other in the quarter finals in front of nearly 115.000 spectators at the Azteka Stadium in Mexico City.
The second Argentinian goal (yes, we will also talk about the first one shortly…) is one of the most beautiful goals of all time, voted the best goal ever scored at a World Cup. 10 yards into his own half, Diego Maradona received the ball and started to run towards the English goal. On the next 60 yards, he went past four defenders before dribbling round the goal keeper and converting easily. He was dancing with the ball and the defenders at an incredible speed. And he did not finish it off with a simple shot low into the corner, no, he also danced around the goal keeper. A feast for any soccer connoisseur. Click here for the video on Youtube. Even if you don’t speak any Spanish you’ll easily agree that the commentators sound pretty impressed.
We are fascinated by people that are number one in the pecking order or by all things that signal the top of the rank, like emblems or symbols of luxury brands or by products and services that are very limited in their availability. Diego Maradona fascinates by demonstrating mastery at the top of his peer group – the soccer players (thanks for your help with this one, Sally).
But there’s more about him that fascinates and here’s the next trigger activated by Maradona:
Let’s go back to that match in Mexico. I promised to also talk about the first goal, which was scored four minutes earlier, and this first goal is probably even more famous than the second one – for a different reason though:
Six minutes into the second half, a ball was flying high into the penalty area. Maradona, 5ft5 (1m65) jumped up and headed the ball into the net past England keeper Peter Shilton (6ft1 – 1m85). A miracle? Well, not quite – he actually did not use his head, he used his hand to hit the ball in. The referee didn’t see it and allowed the goal. Maradona’s reaction? No, he did not tell the referee he used his hand. Instead he pushed his team mates to hug him to make it appear like a regular goal. The icing on the cake was his comment in an interview after the match: The goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” – a little bit with Maradona’s head and a little bit with the hand of god – probably the most famous quote of a soccer player ever.
It’s not just that he did something that wasn’t allowed, he also indicated that there is maybe nothing wrong with doing so. He presented the forbidden fruit of cheating to win the game. And when he got caught by the pictures, he did not accept and excuse himself, he left the option of cheating intact.
The Vice trigger means that we are fascinated by that forbidden fruit, by something that we know we should not do but are tempted to do anyway. Like hand-balling the ball into the net when the referee does not watch closely. It’s about provocation, about pushing the boundaries. When Maradona then mentions the “hand of god” and thus puts himself on the same level with god, he does exactly this (and also displays Power, another trigger that often accompanies Vice).
The third of Maradona’s fascination triggers is:
Mystique is about making others curious to learn more about you or your story. It is based on limiting the release of information, making others curious and building legends or mythology. Let’s illustrate this with our example:
Diego Maradona’s behavior is not transparent or predictable. A lot of the things that Diego did or that happened to him are not easy to understand. And even though a lot of the stuff could also trigger fascination by means of Power or Vice, I believe that the combination of all topics fascinates because we do not understand it and are curious to learn more about it or to see what will happens next. Here are some examples:
In 1991, Maradona was arrested for possessing a pound of cocaine. Three years later he was sent home from the World Cup, tested positive for ephedrine. In 2000, he went for a detoxification and drug rehab. May sound normal, given his obvious addiction, however the place was quite unusual: Cuba. Maradona openly admires Fidel Castro and his political views, he has a portrait of Castro tattooed on one of his legs, on one of his arms there is Che Guevara. He also supports Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Rather interesting for a multi-millionaire. By then he had his hair colored in yellow and looked at least 10 years older than he actually was.
Just four years later one was hardly able to even recognise him on photos. He suffered from severe health problems, including a heart muscle damage and obesity, weighing in at 125kg / 275lbs (his “normal” weight was at ca. 70kg / 155lbs). In 2004, he was also sent to a hospital with a heart attack due to a cocaine overdose, which resulted in traffic chaos as his fans gathered on the street in front of the hospital for days, trying to be the first to learn any news about their idol. But he came back again:
After stomach surgery reduced his weight, he unexpectedly appeared on the Italian version of Dancing With The Stars (he played in Italy from 1984 – 1991). Speaking about Italy: One years ago it became known that he ows the Italian government some 37 million Euros (50 million US$) in taxes.
During the 2006 World Cup and during multiple games of his beloved team Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires, Maradona was seen celebrating extensively in the stands, taking of his short and waiving it above his head. Just one year later, in 2007, he was back in a hospital, this time to be treated for hepatitis and alcohol abuse. He claimed to be clean a few weeks after.
What a curriculum vitae! Sounds like a derelict. Sounds like he’s finished. Sounds like he would never find a decent job again.
But hey, we talk about Mystique, about the unexpected. Maradona’s current job? Guess what – Head coach of the Argentinian National Soccer Team, one of the favorites for winning the World Cup this year. Can there be any more proof for the fascination of Diego Maradona than that he was offered this extremely important position after what he went through?
But the surprises doesn’t end there. In his new role, he calls up players that no one would expect (including some injured ones!) and after winning a crucial match he fumed about the journalists that criticized him beforehand: “They can suck it and carry on sucking it” (sorry for the explicit language!). One week ago at a press conference after a friendly match against Germany, he did not accept to be interviewed while a German player was around. He wanted all the stage for himself. Seems pretty much like the story of his life.
How the story will continue? Who knows. But I am sure he will continue to fascinate.
How Sally’s book continues? What the other triggers are and how you can use them to promote yourself, your products or services? Well, let me use some Mystique here and not tell you any more about it. You’re curious? Good. Okay, just one sentence as a short preview of another one of the triggers, Power: “Get the book! Now!”