Flawed Genius: The Curse of Maradona, Best, and Adriano

Jon NaylorSenior Analyst IApril 24, 2008

In discussions of the most gifted footballers of the postwar era, George Best, Gazza, and Diego Maradona are amongst the names frequently mentioned, with their silky skills and awe-inspiring ability lasting long in fans' collective memory.

But why does it seem that those with the most natural talent end up suffering off the pitch?

Non-footballing difficulties ultimately cost Best his career; his fight with alcoholism is well documented. Both Gazza and Maradona waged their own battles against mental illness and addiction, leaving many pundits to describing theirs as a "talent wasted."

And the phenomenon does not seem to be limited to footballers.

Andrew Flintoff's alcohol-fuelled exploits during the World Cup were the latest in a string of drunken misadventures, whilst Rugby Union's newest sporting genius, Dan Cipriani, was recently removed from his first England squad after being spotted leaving a nightclub in the early hours, albeit under disputed circumstances.

Even more troubling, the trend doesn't seem set to end anytime soon. Just ask Brazil's Adriano.

When Adriano burst onto the scene as a lightning-quick striker, Fabio Capello was in awe of his ability.

"Imagine what he could do if he brought his right foot up to a decent standard," the coach said. "At that point I think we would need to change the rules of the game. Otherwise it would just be a mismatch every time he steps on the pitch."

Adriano's promise was exponential; he produced 25 domestic and nine international goals in just one season. Yet it appears that this potential may go unfulfilled.

Following the death of his father and a separation from his long-time girlfriend, Adriano sought the comfort of a long-term foe of the professional footballer: alcohol.

"I felt abandoned and I began to look for comfort elsewhere," Adriano said of his drinking. "I wanted alcohol to absorb all my problems."

The downward spiral led to his removal from Inter's Champions League squad and a loan spell back to Sao Paulo in his native Brazil, where he's currently trying to get his career back on track.

A return to Inter might never materialize if Adriano cannot repair his relationship with coach Roberto Mancini, despite the striker's obvious desire to return and his great form for the Tricolor Paulista.

In any event, as rumors abound about Ronaldinho's nighttime exploits and stories emerge about Barcelona's No. 10 taking young Leo Messi with him on the town, the curse of the naturally talented footballer seems likely to recur into the new generation.

Why is it that those with innate aptitude for a sport are so often prone to personal downfall? Is it the pressure to perform at the highest level at such a tender age—and being thrust into the limelight when too young and naive, or not characteristically suited to it?

Best admitted to suffering from shyness, an obstacle he overcame with booze. Does his fate set a precedent for other shy sportsmen who are forced into the public eye?

There are obvious exceptions to this rule, such as Real's Alfredo di Stefano, whose glittering career continued to the ripe old age of 40. Still, it seems that many of football's brightest prodigies will continue to be dogged by off-field problems.

It can only be hoped that it doesn't cost another brilliant player his career.


Why do you think football's greatest talents suffer off the pitch? Do you disagree—and believe that troubled stars are merely a visible minority? Please post your comments below.