It is one of the most iconic football photographs of all time, an image that sums up the power Maradona held over mere mortals during his career, photographic evidence that one man is capable of single-handedly lifting an entire nation to World Cup glory. But in this age of football pragmatism, where we bestow the title of ‘Special One’ to the most negative coach in a generation, it seems as good a time as any to ask, what in God’s name were the Belgian defenders doing?
From a tactical point of view I think we can see that number six, Franky Vercauteren, is looking to track back and support his full back. From his position he’s trying to steer Maradona down the line and prevent him from coming aside and hurting them (as he did to the Belgians 4 years later). It is also possible to justify the position of the the follicly supreme number 10 Ludo Coeck, who is cutting off a route inside for Maradona. After that it is quite clear that tactics, formation and indeed common sense have gone out the window, they’ve all been replaced with the blind fear that only the great players can inspire in an opposition team.
This photo demonstrates perfectly a secondary effect that having a player like Maradona or Zidane has on a team. At the point this photo was taken fifty percent of the Argentinian side were umarked in vast tracts of the Nou Camp, ready to take full advantage of the situation created by the simpe presence of Maradona. There are few players at the upcoming World Cup who can have a similar effect, it is perhaps fitting then that Maradona will seek to use Lionel Messi to have a similar effect on the opposition in South Africa this summer.