Words: Mike Gibbons
César Rodríguez had been a fair player himself. Until Lionel Messi vaulted past it, he held the Barcelona goalscoring record for decades and was an icon of the club as they went nose-to-nose with Franco’s Real Madrid in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. On 13 August 1978, Rodríguez was on business for Barcelona again. He’d been dispatched to Buenos Aires to report back on a match between Boca Juniors and Argentinos Juniors and the performance of one player in particular.
If this Diego Armando Maradona kid was anything to write home about, Rodríguez certainly would. That day, he saw things we may never see. For now, no footage of that match between Boca and Argentinos is available. What has survived, though, is his scouting report, delivered to Barcelona four days later and now part of their internal club archive. Rodríguez, who would have seen hundreds of players in his lifetime, had been left awestruck by a 17-year-old with otherworldly talent.
The report is overwhelmingly effusive and a touch repetitive, time and again returning to Maradona’s freakishly advanced levels of technical ability, speed, and game awareness. In a concise yet comprehensive summary, the words ‘complete’ and ‘extraordinary’ do a very heavy lift. Maradona scores only one zero in categories where he is graded out of ten, and that’s for selfishness. Unsurprisingly given his stature, the only aspect of his game that fails to get a great-to-glowing eulogy is for heading ability. Never mind, there would be ways around that.
In the La Paternal district of Buenos Aires, they’d already seen what Rodríguez had seen. By the time Maradona eventually left Argentinos Juniors, he’d completely changed the football landscape in Argentina. “We were World Cup champions, we had the best player in the world, the most expensive player in the world, and we were youth champions,” Argentinian writer Marcela Mora y Araujo recalls of that time. “The reason we were great was him. There’s no two ways about that. He grew up in the limelight and was part of the fabric of our footballing identity from a very, very young age.”
You'll have to buy the issue to read the full story with the rest of the scouting report and some outrageous retellings of the things he did. It's really good.