“It was scored a little with my head, a little with the hand of God.”

HIS description of the infamous goal that he scored for Argentina with his forearm in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico in 1986 was met with outrage and anger by the defeated England side and their smarting supporters.

Yet, not even they would deny that Diego Armando Maradona Franco, whose death at the age of 60 was announced today to the sadness and disbelief of football fans around the globe, had a talent that was touched by a higher power.

Debate over who is the greatest player of all time has long raged. Many swear that Brazilian superstar Pele is the finest proponent of the beautiful game who has ever lived. For others, Maradona had no equal. Some are adamant that his countryman Lionel Messi is the most gifted. No consensus will ever be reached.

But there was, to borrow the old terracing chant, only one Diego Maradona.

His ability was extraordinary. Despite standing just 5ft 5in in his studs, he was brave, physical, fast, skilful and passionate. He possessed unique vision and remarkable close control. A classic No 10 who was usually handed a free role between the midfield and the strikers, he also found the back of the net frequently and spectacularly.

Alas, away from the game he was a troubled soul who was ill-equipped to deal with his celebrity and frequently courted controversy. He was tortured by his myriad demons after retiring. His later years were plagued by cocaine and alcohol addiction, ill health and financial issues.

His brushes with authority and headline-grabbing off-field exploits throughout his life, though, simply added to his legend.

When Maradona and Pele were recorded talking about Messi off camera at a promotion a few years ago, the former bemoaned his compatriot’s lack of charisma. “He is a good person,” he said. “But he has no personality.” That was never an accusation that could be levelled at him. His life, for all his many flaws and misdemeanours, was never dull.

That memorable match against England in the Azteca Stadium was Maradona in microcosm; he was the street urchin from the shanty town of Villa Fiorito on the outskirts of Buenos Aires who had no qualms flagrantly flouting the rules to gain an advantage one second, an undisputed genius the next.

Just four minutes after he had outjumped Peter Shilton and put Argentina ahead with his outstretched limb, he picked a pass from his team mate Hector Enrique just inside his own half.

He burst forward, weaved past Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher, Terry Fenwick and Butcher once again before slotting beyond Shilton. Nobody in the 114,580-strong crowd or watching on television at home was in any doubt what they had witnessed during his 10 second-long, 60 yard dash up the park.

Their suspicions were confirmed years later when his strike was voted “The Goal of the Century” on the FIFA website ahead of the World Cup in South Korea in Japan in 2002.

Maradona would go on to captain Argentina to a 3-2 victory over West Germany in the final in 1986 and lift the trophy aloft. It would be his only triumph in the tournament. Many others have been more successful. But he is arguably the only man to single-handedly inspire a national team to glory. They would have been lost without their talisman.

He enjoyed his fair share of triumphs in the club game as well. Not least at Napoli who he joined in a world record £5m transfer from Barcelona in 1984. He led the Campania club to their first Serie A title in 1987 and repeated the feat in 1990. He won the UEFA Cup in 1989. He is deified in Naples to this day.

But such a gifted individual should really have won far more. His personal problems caught up with him at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. His wild-eyed celebration after scoring against Greece was a clear sign his performance had been pharmaceutically enhanced. He failed a drug test afterwards and was sent home in disgrace. He never played for his country again.

Maradona’s erratic behaviour at the Argentina match against Nigeria at Russia 2018, where he was an official FIFA ambassador, showed he had been unable to conquer his compulsions. He fell asleep at half-time, raised his middle fingers to the crowd, swore at fellow spectators, had to be helped from his VIP box at the final whistle and required medical attention. It was desperately sad to see.

But it is Diego Maradona’s magic with a ball at his feet, not his transgressions, which will live on in the memories of all those who worshipped him in his heyday.