Icons of Cigars: Diego Maradona
By Nick Hendry
Diego Armando Maradona is a name known all over the world for his achievements in football, yet far fewer people are aware of his passion for Cuban Cigars. This is a man as revered for his skill and achievements on the pitch as he was loved for his fallibility and humanity off it. His stature in his home country of Argentina – and his adopted city of Naples – is almost god-like and there is hardly a place on earth where people do not know his name. If “Legend” is a title often overused in this day and age, it is certainly fitting in his case.
Maradona is a man known as much for his flaws as his genius. His victories with Argentina and Napoli are as well-known as his defeats to drugs and alcohol, and it is this humanity, this open willingness to admit that, despite his extraordinary talent, he is just as fragile as the rest of us that endears him to so many. His footballing abilities meant that from a young age he was afforded special treatment and his immediate instinct was to use this for the good of others – he once refused a performance bonus due to him at Argentinos Juniors so it could be distributed equally among the squad. He was still only a teenager, and one who came from a dirt-poor background, but his sense of justice prevailed. In 1981, when at Boca Juniors, he faced a mob of armed and angry Ultras who had arrived at the training ground to threaten the squad, with Maradona the only man exempt due to the quality of his play. El Diego gave them an ultimatum – leave the squad alone or he would sit out the next game.
Diego Maradona enjoys a Cohiba Robusto in the sunshine. Image from The Telegraph. Main Image of El Diego smoking a Cohiba at a match from The Sun.
Having come from such poverty and developed a strong sense of socialism led to a rather unlikely friendship. In 1986 Maradona was at the peak of his powers, and his fame. He had just led his country to World Cup victory, delivering the most notorious and most celebrated pieces of play in history within a 6-minute period of the quarter-final against England. Riding the wave of this success he began to visit Cuba, where he was granted audience with Fidel. The pair spent hours discussing football, life and Fidel’s comrade-in-arms (and Maradona’s countryman and hero) Che Guevara. Diego would bring Fidel gifts of football shirts from throughout his glittering career; Fidel would offer counsel and became Maradona’s “second father”. It is well-known that Cohiba were Fidel’s chosen brand, and these fine cigars would be the accompaniment to their talks.
Maradona enjoys a Romeo y Julieta Cigar at a match. Image from The Star.
This relationship continued and became the saviour of Maradona. In 1994 he was sent home from the World Cup in the USA after a failed drugs test (he showed traces of steroids in his bloodstream) and was in the firm grip of cocaine addiction. Eventually, in early 2000, Fidel offered him use of La Pradera, a clinic in Cuba, to fight his addiction and would call him every morning to discuss sport, politics and remind him he could defeat his demons. Maradona stayed in Cuba for 4 years, remarking that Castro had “opened the doors of Cuba to me when Argentina was closing them”.
Maradona poses for the camera with his Cohiba Behike cigar. Image from Pinterest.
The love Maradona developed for cigars during his time in Cuba punctuated the rest of his life. In 2009, when manager of his beloved Argentina, he travelled to Manchester to watch striker Carlos Tevez represent Manchester United in a match against Chelsea. The preparations of the visiting Chelsea squad were disrupted when the fire alarm went off in their hotel; the hotel also happened to have been chosen by the visiting Argentine delegation, who decided smoking cigars in their suite until the early hours was the best way to spend the evening before the game. While official sources refused to confirm the cause of the alarm, blame was laid firmly at the feet of Diego and his entourage by local media. At the Russian World Cup of 2018 Diego’s love affair with cigars once again hit the headlines, as he chose a proudly smoke-free match between Argentina and Iceland as the perfect spot to light up what looked to be a Cohiba Robusto. After the match, a 1-1 draw, he apologised, claiming to have been unaware of the rules and blaming his need for a smoke on nerves. One suspects this excuse would only work for him.
SHOP DIEGO'S FAVOURITE CIGARS
These mistakes and transgressions were forgiven of El Diego because they only served to make him more human, to remind the rest of the world that he was every bit as prone to error as the rest of us. He did not attempt to hide behind an aura of perfection, rather he showed the world he was capable of the same missteps we are. Perhaps this is what allowed his popularity to endure over the years: the constant reminder that he was one of us at heart, albeit one who had been blessed with an astonishing talent for the world’s favourite game. Whatever the reason, bonding over cigars with him would surely have been the highlight of any aficionado’s smoking career.