Diego Maradona and Paul Gascoigne stand side by side before a friendly between Lazio and Sevilla in Seville. Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, November 1992.

When Gazza faced Maradona… & upstaged Diego with a wondergoal

Paul Gascoigne and Diego Maradona shared something.

They were both footballing royalty of course, two of the most wonderfully gifted players of the 1980s and 1990s. But it’s not that.

It’s something deeper, more fundamental in their make-up. It’s a level of talent so great that it is seemingly unbearable. Genius, unmistakably, but a genius laden with flaws that were publicly displayed and made them excruciatingly human, that made them relatable and engaging and sometimes hard to watch.

On the one occasion that they faced each other during their professional careers, they shared a laugh in the tunnel before kick-off too.

Lazio travelled to play Sevilla in a friendly in November 1992.

Maradona had rocked in the south of Spain up a few months prior to play under his 1986 World Cup-winning manager Carlos Bilardo after serving a drugs ban that ended his spell at Napoli.

Gascoigne had moved to Lazio from Tottenham at around the same time and was starting to settle in his new, Roman home.

Yet, for the three days before the friendly, Gascoigne had been on a bender at Disneyland. And on the plane to the Seville, he’d topped himself up with a couple more drinks.

“In the tunnel, I went to Diego: ‘Diego, I’m tipsy,'” Gascoigne told Good Morning Britain in 2020. “He went, “It’s OK, Gazza – so am I.'”

Inebriated though they were, it wouldn’t stop them putting on a show.

Maradona – scruffy mullet atop his head, gold earring hanging from his left earlobe, portly figure disguised by a very large shirt – was the first to get a chance to display his talents. A free-kick was won, beautifully positioned for his magical left foot, about 25 yards out. It sailed wide.

Then the Argentine showed the game’s first moment of skill, a backheeled pass setting up a half-chance for a Sevilla team-mate. Not long after, Sevilla took the lead. El Diego was not involved, but it was a fine effort, a shot from range by young midfielder Francisco Pineda.

Then Lazio – managed by Dino Zoff and featuring Aron Winter and Giuseppe Favalli – finally got their moment. Of course it came from Gascoigne.

He got the ball back-to-goal, 30 yards out and tightly marked. Too tightly. Gascoigne span his man, evaded another challenge, took a touch to the left, then another to his right. Then it opened up ahead of him and his low, curling shot slipped perfectly into the bottom corner of the net.

It was a goal Maradona would have been proud to score himself and Gascoigne didn’t miss the chance to rub it in. He told GMB: “I looked at [Maradona] and said: ‘Beat that.’ Obviously I spoke to him in Italian, because he doesn’t speak English and neither do I.”

Maradona would try to beat it, or at least provide his own special something for the fans. But we’ll come to that.

First, as he walked off the pitch at half-time, Maradona was stopped by Spanish television reporters and asked for his thoughts on the game. After answering a generic question about the game being a useful way to keep up match sharpness, he was asked if Gascoigne’s goal had come as a surprise.

“Not at all surprised,” replied a sweaty, breathless Maradona, “he’s a great player. We knew what he could do and he did it to us. We hope that in the second half we can win the game, not just beat Gascoigne.”

And it seemed they really did want to win. Certainly, Sevilla’s younger Diego did, Diego Simeone. In the second half, he made a friendly very unfriendly, kicking the legs of, then stamping on the head of, Italian defender Cristiano Bergodi.

If he was trying to rile the Italians, it worked. Simeone, after receiving the ball from Maradona a little later in the half, burst towards the box. He was taken out with a strong, revenge-laced challenge and won another dangerous free-kick. Maradona had the chance to recapture Sevilla’s lead.

This time Diego’s sights were set more accurately than the first. He hit it, sending it curling beautifully over and around the wall. It dropped towards the goal, destined for the top corner… and smacked off the bar.

Disbelief. Maradona shrugged his shoulders, put out his arms, palms facing upwards, and looked at the sky – the sign of a man thinking ‘What more can I do than that?’

The answer was not much. The referee blew his whistle and the game came to an end. Gascoigne had outshone El Diego, but Maradona had come close to equalling the Englishman’s first-half strike.

Of his words of light-hearted provocation aimed at Maradona in the first half, Gascoigne told GMB: “I think I said the wrong thing. Because after that [Maradona] was unbelievable, magic. What a player.”

As stated earlier, it was the only occasion in their professional careers that the two players faced each other.

Gascoigne was too young for the 1986 World Cup and England only faced Argentina once more during the overlap of their careers, in 1991, with both men missing the game.

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READ: The story of the day all three Maradona brothers played for Granada

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Gascoigne might also have caught the end of Diego’s time in Italy had he moved to Lazio a year prior, but again it was not to be, a knee ligament injury in the 1991 FA Cup final with Spurs keeping him out for a season and delaying his transfer.

That their only encounter came in a friendly is a shame. In a competitive match, just imagine what that desire to outdo each other might have produced.

Yet the fact that when they did meet, they were both drunk and both produced moments of magic was testament to both men’s genius and both men’s flaws.

In the 2015 Netflix documentary about Gascoigne, Gary Lineker said: “Part of his genius, part of his magnificence is the fact that he is still vulnerable. Without that vulnerable side, I don’t think that he would have been the player that he was.”

If you were told that same sentence came from the mouth of Jorge Valdano and was about Maradona, you would have no reason to doubt it.

By Joshua Law

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