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15 'Next Diego Maradonas' and How They Lived Up to the Hype

Paul MurphyCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2017

15 'Next Diego Maradonas' and How They Lived Up to the Hype

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    Diego Armando Maradona is not only the greatest player in Argentinian football history. Some would say he is the greatest player the world has ever seen.

    Whichever side you fall on in the eternal Pele/Maradona debate, there is simply no doubting the brilliance of the man.

    Despite his numerous failings, "El Pibe de Oro" (The Golden Boy) retains god-like status in Argentina, especially at Boca Juniors.

    He was a boy from the barrios who overcame all life threw at him to become the best player in the world.

    Since he delivered Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, a host of talented young stars have borne the burden of being compared to Maradona, all with varying degrees of success.

    The basis for the comparisons could be tenuous at times. Some players mimicked Maradona's style, others were compared for their stature at their respective clubs and some simply played for Boca Juniors.

    I will list those who have been burdened with the moniker chronologically before ranking them in terms of success.

Diego Latorre

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    With Maradona having delivered Argentina the World Cup in 1986, fans and media alike were desperate to anoint an heir apparent to their idol.

    The first man chosen was Diego Latorre.

    The similarities were plain to see. He had a similar physique, wore the same number and was the star attraction for Maradona's beloved Boca Juniors.

    His play in helping Argentina to Copa America success furthered his acclaim. The bright lights of Europe were calling, and Latorre seemed on the fast track to stardom.

    In 1992, Fiorentina secured a deal to sign Latorre along with his Boca Juniors strike-partner Gabriel Batistuta.

    While fans now will be more familiar with Batistuta, the signing of Latorre was just as heralded.

    Batistuta would go on to become arguably the greatest player in Fiorentina's history. Latorre lasted less than a year before moving on to Tenerife.

    It was all downhill from there, and he would spend the next 13 years moving from club to club without making any real impact.

Ariel Ortega

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    After Latorre's flop, fans and media took more caution in burdening young players with the Maradona comparison, but the manner in which Ariel Ortega burst onto the scene was too hard to ignore.

    Ortega not only possessed a similar skill set to Maradona, but he was cursed with the same destructive personality.

    While Maradona was able to keep his demons at bay for most of his career, Ortega wasn't. His career has been dogged by bouts of alcoholism and moments of rage.

    After a bright spell at River Plate, the man known affectionately as "El Burrito" (Little Donkey) earned himself a big-money move to Valencia. He didn't last long, however, as Claudio Ranieri thought little of his poor attitude.

    He moved to Italy, first to Sampdoria and then to Parma, but wasn't successful with either club. Parma eventually sent him back to River Plate to clear an outstanding debt.

    He returned to Europe with Fenerbahce in 2002, but despite a bright start, he quickly decided Turkey wasn't for him and went MIA on international duty.

    Since then he has floated around Argentinian football with a measure of success.

    Most football fans will remember him from his time with Argentina. His career with the national team lasted 17 years, a testament to his ability, but will forever be defined by his headbutting of Edwin van der Sar in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals.

Marcelo Gallardo

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    No sooner had Ortega jetted off to Europe than the famed River Plate Academy spit out another precocious playmaker bearing resemblance to Maradona.

    Though short and stocky, Marcelo Gallardo's game was much more technical than his predecessor's, but that didn't deter comparisons.

    He was much more comfortable dictating tempo than taking over games the way Maradona did.

    "El Muñeco" (The Doll) had a bright spell in Europe with Monaco in the early noughties before he fell afoul of manager Didier Deschamps.

    After a brief sojourn back with River Plate, he returned to France with Paris Saint-Germain for a short, troubled spell.

    In 2008 he joined D.C. United in the MLS, becoming the third-best-paid player in the league under the "designated player" rule.

    His signing was seen as a major coup, and the U.S. media was quick to play up the "New Maradona" link to attract attention to the domestic game.

    An injury put paid to his time in America, and he went back one more time to his beloved River Plate.

    He finished his playing career with Nacional in Uruguay in 2011 and was swiftly appointed manager. He won the league title in his first year in charge.

Juan Roman Riquelme

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    While there are huge similarities in their career path, the stylistic comparisons couldn't be further apart.

    Where Diego Maradona is short and ferocious, Juan Roman Riquelme is tall and elegant. While Maradona has a huge personality that draws people to him, Riquelme is quiet and a loner.

    Like Maradona, Riquelme left Boca for the draw of Barcelona, only to quickly leave and find success at one of Europe's lesser teams, Villarreal.

    Riquelme fell afoul of Louis van Gaal at Barcelona, who felt the Argentinian was forced on him. He played Riquelme sparingly and out of position.

    An unhappy three-year spell ended when he made way for Ronaldinho, initially loaned out to Villarreal in a deal that was made permanent two years later.

    Villarreal got themselves a steal, as Riquelme began living up to the hype and steering El Submarino Amarillo to unprecedented heights.

    Things would eventually sour, and Riquelme returned to his spiritual home, Boca Juniors. His return helped Boca Juniors reclaim their place at the top of both Argentinian and South American football.

    While he hasn't reached the heights predicted, there is no doubting that he has had a hugely successful career.

    He will be fondly remembered by fans of Villarreal and Boca Juniors, with Boca having unveiled a statue in his honour. He became only the second player to be honoured in such a way. The other? Diego Maradona.

Pablo Aimar

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    I got a bit of a shock on Wednesday night watching the Champions League when I saw Pablo Aimar's name on the Benfica team sheet. I was even more shocked to learn he was just 32 years of age.

    How was it the man who I had built my team around in Championship Manager 01-02 was still showing off his wares on the biggest stage?

    When he joined Valencia in 2001, he was the most hyped of the names on this list so far. Like Maradona, he was short, quick and showed huge intelligence on the ball.

    Unlike those who came before him, he was a huge success on arrival in Europe. He provided the creative spark in a Valencia team that won two La Liga titles and the UEFA Cup and reached the 2001 Champions League final.

    Perhaps it is the maturity and leadership he showed in that side that led me to believe he was much older.

    His lithe frame eventually took its toll, and a string of injuries and an unfortunate illness led to a loss of form and his falling off the radar.

    He joined Benfica in 2008, and his career gained new momentum. His chemistry with compatriot and friend Javier Saviola led Benfica to League success in 2009, and they have become Champions League mainstays.

    Aimar will be remembered as a player who shone brightly for a spell before fading into the background, then rising once more to remind fans what could've been.

Javier Saviola

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    The next man on the list is one with whom most football fans will be familiar, such was the hype that Saviola generated when he burst onto the scene.

    While he was a striker, he earned the New Maradona moniker on the back of the phenomenal form he showed at such a young age.

    Fans and journalists thought he was a talent that Argentina could build a team around for years to come.

    By the time Barcelona came calling in 2001, "El Conejo" (The Rabbit) had built up a serious CV. He had scored 45 goals in 86 games for River Plate, became the top scorer in World Youth Cup history and was named South American Footballer of the Year at just 18.

    He enjoyed a bright start to his career in Barcelona, scoring 21 goals in his first year at the club. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong at Barcelona, where he averaged 20 goals a season.

    But he was deemed surplus to requirements, due to his non-EU status, and loaned out, first to Monaco and then Sevilla, to make way for the incoming Samuel Eto'o.

    When his contract expired, many felt his time at the very top level was done; thus, his move to Madrid surprised many.

    Looking back, he may have been better served moving elsewhere, as he spent his two years at Madrid struggling to win a role in the side.

    It was only when he moved to Benfica in 2009 that he reasserted himself, enjoying a profitable three-year spell at the club.

    This summer he moved on to troubled Malaga, perhaps eager to show Madrid and Barcelona what they missed out on.

Carlos Marinelli

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    Middlesbrough may sound like a strange place for the the next Maradona to make his name, but then again, the original Maradona almost ended up in Sheffield.

    Once again, the links were tenuous. Carlos Marinelli was Argentinian, signed from Boca Juniors and played in the same position, but he had never shown anywhere near the ability Maradona had.

    Middlesbrough fans, on the back of Juninho's success, clearly felt they had unearthed another South American superstar-in-waiting.

    Three years, 43 appearances and just three goals later, they'd had enough. He would never last that long at a club again.

    He tried, and failed, in Italy, Portugal, the MLS, Colombia, Hungary and even the Argentinian second tier.

    He is currently turning out for Universidad San Martin in Peru, without any distinction.

Andres D'Alessandro

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    While the Northern press were lauding Marinelli as the "New Maradona," the London papers had their very own in Andres D'Alessandro.

    He spent a few weeks training with West Ham under Harry Redknapp in 2001, but it was not to be, and he returned to River Plate to continue his development.

    "El Cabezón" (The Big-Headed One) would eventually move to Wolfsburg in 2003 for a club-record €9 million and enjoyed a measure of success there.

    But Redknapp had clearly seen something he liked in D'Alessandro and recruited him in his quest to help Portsmouth fight off relegation in January 2006.

    D'Alessandro put in a couple of top-notch performances, including scoring a Maradona-esque goal against Charlton, earning himself a move to Real Zaragoza in Spain.

    Is was all downhill from there, as he struggled to make an impact. When Zaragoza were relegated in 2008, he was packing his bags again.

    Drawing little interest from Europe, he returned home to Argentina and then went on to Internacional in Brazil, with whom he has enjoyed a successful four-year career.

Carlos Tevez

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    We're finally reaching the names with which modern football fans will be more familiar.

    Tevez is like Maradona in so many ways. They are both short but well-built and are idols at Boca Juniors. They both play the game with huge heart and have a tendency to walk themselves into trouble.

    But style-wise, they aren't very similar. Tevez plays a further-advanced role and is a tireless worker, something not many would label Maradona.

    The two also share a close friendship, with Maradona claiming responsibility for Tevez's eventual return to Manchester City after his "golfing holiday."

    Tevez may not have the talent of Maradona, but he has had, and continues to have, a fine career.

    What he does have is huge likability. Fans love the way he plays the game, and this means he is held in a regard normally retained for greats.

    At just 28 years old, he has years left to build on his legacy.

Lionel Messi

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    If any player in world football ever warranted comparison to Maradona, it is Barcelona's brilliant Argentinian.

    However, unlike most names on this list, he was viewed with a certain skepticism in his homeland after he burst on the scene.

    He had never played for an Argentinian club side, and fans were unsure of what to expect from him. They also worried that he might switch allegiances to Spain.

    They needn't worry. Messi only ever wanted to play for Argentina, making his debut at the tender age of 18.

    In what will be the answer to a quiz question for years to come, his debut lasted two minutes, as he was sent off for "elbowing" an opponent.

    While fans and media were falling over themselves praising Messi, it was a goal he scored against Getafe in 2007 that earned him the moniker "Messi-dona" for the way the strike mirrored Maradona's goal against England in 1986. Another Maradona-esque finish, of a different, more infamous nature, only added to the claims.

    Looking at Messi's career, he has already surpassed Maradona at club level, winning every competition he has played in.

    But in Argentina he has one more bridge to cross that would put the Maradona tag to bed: He needs to win a World Cup.

    If he can do that, then Argentina will join the rest of the world in the search for the "New Messi." If not, the search for a New Maradona may continue.

Sergio Aguero

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    When Sergio Aguero made his debut for Independiente aged just 15 years and 35 days, way back in 2003, he broke a record that had stood since 1976, becoming the youngest player ever in Argentinian football.

    The previous holder of the record was Diego Maradona, and thus the comparisons began.

    A bright underage career with Argentina and a big-money move to Spain at a young age further fueled the links between the two.

    The Spanish press lapped it up when he used his hand to score a goal to win a game, once again bringing back memories of the "Hand of God'" goal.

    He was successful at Atletico Madrid, but without ever setting the world alight the way Maradona did at Barcelona, often playing second fiddle to first Fernando Torres and then Diego Forlan.

    Last season's move to Manchester City pushed him back into the spotlight, and he didn't disappoint

    Whatever pressure Aguero felt as the New Maradona, his son will face even bigger pressure. That's because Aguero married Maradona's daughter, creating an enviable bloodline.

    Poor old Benjamin Aguero will have to live with the shadow of both his father and grandfather. 

Ezequiel Lavezzi

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    Ezequiel Lavezzi is a player who has flown under the radar for much of his career. Unlike many of the players on this list, he wasn't a youth-team star or turned out for one of the Argentinian big two.

    The basis for the comparison comes from the fact that, thus far anyway, both players have enjoyed the best spells of their careers at Napoli.

    In Napoli Maradona is a star like no other, so for the Azzurri faithful to compare the two shows just how good Lavezzi is.

    Even Maradona himself said he felt that Napoli should take his No. 10 shirt out of retirement and bestow it on Lavezzi.

    After a bright start to his career at Estudiantes, a disastrous spell in Genoa put a premature end to his European career.

    He rebuilt his career at San Lorenzo, and newly promoted Napoli beat a host of teams to his signature in 2007.

    He sparked a resurgence in fortunes for the Naples outfit and formed an impressive strike partnership with Edinson Cavani on the Uruguayan's arrival in 2010, bringing Napoli back to global attention.

    He was linked with a host of big-name clubs before Paris Saint-Germain's new owners bit the bullet and spent €30 million on him.

    Much like Maradona, his spell in Naples was brief but fruitful, and he will always hold a place in the hearts of the Azzurri faithful.

Mauro Zarate

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    A nomadic player if ever there was one, Mauro Zarate never seems to stay in one place long enough to vault himself into the limelight for an extended period of time.

    A highly-rated teen in his time with Velez Sarsfield, he seemed destined for a bright future.

    The only question was whether "The Zarate Kid" would move to one of the European giants or continue his growth with River or Boca in Argentina.

    You can imagine the surprise that met him when he announced he was moving for €22 million to Al-Sadd in oil-rich Qatar.

    He didn't last long, going on successful loan moves first to Birmingham and then Lazio.

    His spell at Lazio was enough to persuade them to make a substantial investment in him, and he became a huge fan favourite for both his goals and some questionable behaviour.

    A cooling-off of relations in Lazio meant he was sent on loan again, this time to Inter, without any real success.

    The arrival of a new coach in Rome gave him a fresh start at Lazio, and he seems to be regaining a semblance of his previous form.

Diego Buonanotte

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    When Diego Buonanotte burst onto the scene, he was a breath of fresh air. At just 5'3", he was abnormally small for a modern professional footballer, and he played the game with a constant smile on his face.

    His lack of size didn't hold him back, as he made a mockery of bigger men while quickly rising through the ranks, much like Maradona did at a similar age.

    Already a star in Argentina, a sublime free kick in the 2008 Olympics announced "El Enano" (The Dwarf) on the world stage, as scouts flocked to Buenos Aires to see what all the fuss was about.

    A year later his life, and career, was to change forever.

    Driving home in his father's Peugeot 307 with three friends after a night on the tiles, he lost control of the car and collided with a tree.

    Diego was only saved by the fact he was wearing a seat belt. His friends were not so lucky, and all three lost their lives.

    It would be months before he fought his way back to the pitch. His journey was made all the more difficult as opposing fans tormented him with chants labeling him a murderer, even after a Buenos Aires court cleared him of any wrongdoing.

    But that joie de vivre that set him apart was gone. He was still a standout in a poor River team, but he wasn't the star he once was. The weight of that night still weighs heavily on his shoulders.

    A move to Malaga last summer, and away from his past, was too good to refuse. He is yet to have a significant impact, but a change of scenery might be just what he needs.

Diego Sinagra

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    A list of players labelled the "New Maradona" wouldn't be complete without the one player who can claim to be the fruit of the great man's loins.

    The result of an extramarital affair, Diego Sinagra had to wait until 2003 to meet his famous father. Maradona only admitted Diego's legitimacy during divorce proceedings in 2004.

    This admission led to young Diego being catapulted into the limelight, with much focus being placed on his footballing talents.

    While he was a decent player and had been on the books of Napoli since 1997, he was nowhere near good enough for top-flight football.

    He has used his famous heritage to secure contracts at a host of lower-division clubs without any success, eventually fading from the limelight.

    He is currently plying his trade, rather successfully, playing professional beach football in Italy.

Conclusion

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    In breaking down the rankings I decided to weigh in favour of actual accomplishments rather than potential ability.

    Thus a few players on this list, given their age, have the ability to move even further up the list if they continue to shine.

    Just like the great man himself, all of the players have enjoyed colourful careers, some with more downs than ups, and most show the perils of being tagged with such high hopes at a young age.

    Without further ado, the ranks are as follows...

Rankings

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    15. Diego Sinagra

    14. Carlos Marinelli

    13. Diego Latorre

    12. Diego Buonanotte

    11. Andres D'Alessandro

    10. Mauro Zarate

    9. Ezequiel Lavezzi

    8. Marcelo Gallardo

    7. Ariel Ortega

    6. Javier Saviola

    5. Pablo Aimar

    4. Sergio Aguero

    3. Carlos Tevez

    2. Juan Roman Riquelme

    1. Leo Messi

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