Only three Barcelona players in history have left the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu to the thunderous applause of the crowd: Andres Iniesta in 2015, Ronaldinho in 2006, and Diego Armando Maradona in 1983. In all three instances, the Blaugrana players earned every single decibel of those raucous standing ovations. Among them, Diego Maradona almost had an eternal rivalry with Real Madrid.
There was plenty of respect in that rivalry. Maradona hailed from Boca Juniors — the fiercest rivals of River Plate. Alfredo Di Stefano — Real Madrid’s first-ever poster boy — hailed from River Plate. Joining Barcelona signified that rivalry to a new level. Maradona wasn’t yet the national hero that he would become after the World Cup triumph in Mexico, 1986. But his rivalry with Real Madrid continued while he was playing for Napoli and Sevilla as well. However, there was a continuous mutual admiration and a huge amount of respect between Real Madrid and Diego Maradona.
Barcelona’s Maradona vs. Real Madrid
On May 31, 1982, Real Madrid and Barcelona played the only official El Clasico on non-Spanish soil. It was a rather muted affair in a third-place playoff for the Copa Presidente de la Republica, held in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, in front of merely 700 fans. When Real Madrid’s soon-to-be manager, Alfredo Di Stefano, watched on from the stands, Barcelona were already busy with finishing the signing of Diego Maradona on the other side of the planet. Diego was already in Spain to play the 1982 World Cup with Argentina.
Maradona played his first Clasico on November 27, 1982. It was also Di Stefano’s first El Clasico as manager. Barcelona comfortably defeated Los Blancos by 2-0 but Maradona wasn’t on the scoresheet. However, goals from the Spanish duo of Esteban Vigo and Quini were enough to defeat Real Madrid.
In the return game at the Camp Nou, in March of the following year, Barcelona came out on top again. In a narrow 2-1 win, Maradona was finally on the scoresheet. The other goal-scorer was Periko Alonso. He is the father of one certain Xabi Alonso. Juanito’s opener was nullified by Maradona and later proven not-enough by Alonso Sr. This game had no shortage of familiar faces either. Marcos Alonso (father of Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso) and future Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster were also playing for Barcelona. Maradona got his third straight El Clasico victory in the Copa del Rey final of the same year as Real Madrid fell short to Barcelona by the same score-line in Zaragoza.
However, Diego Maradona’s best El Clasico moment arrived in June 1983. He scored one of the most iconic goals of his career in the final of the first leg of Copa de Liga (a tournament discontinued in 1986) at the Bernabeu. Maradona continued an endless run towards the goal only to trickle past a late-arriving Juan Jose (who awkwardly crashed onto the near-post) before scoring with ease. Thanks to the goals from Vicente del Bosque and Juanito, Real Madrid claimed a 2-2 draw in Madrid. Barcelona won the second leg by 2-1 to claim the Copa de Liga title in 1983. Maradona scored from the spot at the Camp Nou.
In the following season of 1983-84, Real Madrid won both league Clasicos by 2-1. Maradona didn’t feature in the Camp Nou fixture but he scored his last El Clasico goal at the Bernabeu in the defeat in February of 1984. Juanito and Santillana’s goals proved too much to handle for Barcelona.
Maradona’s Barcelona chapter ended much more dramatically (and perhaps ironically) at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey Final of 1984. Barcelona lost the final to Athletic Bilbao by 1-0 but Maradona got into a very intense brawl with several Athletic Bilbao players. His injury troubles, constant arguments with then Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez and finally, this brawl against Athletic Bilbao meant they would part ways with the Argentine.
The Demigod of Naples vs. Real Madrid
Diego Maradona was never just a footballer for Napoli, neither in the stadium nor in the streets. He was a cult unto himself, like no other. He was barely considered a human for most of his time at Napoli. But he was very much a human when Napoli faced Real Madrid in the second round of the European Cup in 1987-88. Madrid cruised past Napoli with a 1-1 draw in the away game and a comfortable 2-0 win at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid legend Chendo created one of the most iconic moments (for any defender) against Maradona at the Bernabeu. Chendo humiliated the Argentine with a nutmeg, much to the awe of everyone watching. Chendo did not get regular game-time vs. Maradona when he was at Barcelona but the Los Blancos icon made up for it when he squared up against the demigod of Naples.
The subdued Sevillista vs. Real Madrid
Diego Maradona returned to Spain to play for Sevilla in 1992. Real Madrid and Marseille were among other interested parties when he left Napoli but Maradona chose Sevilla as his next destination. He won his first game against Real Madrid after returning to Spain as Sevilla defeated the visitors by 2-0 at the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan. Real Madrid thrashed Sevilla in the return game at the Bernabeu by 5-0, thanks to a thumping hat-trick from Ivan Zamorano.
At the beginning of the millennium, Diego Maradona was named as player of the century (based on people’s choice) by FIFA along with Pele (based on the jury’s choice). While Real Madrid’s symbol in the European arena - Alfredo Di Stefano fell short in the people’s choice, the Blonde Arrow was placed second (and ahead of third-placed Maradona) on the jury’s list.
Diego Maradona never had any extreme friction with Real Madrid. He was a rather adored character. He visited the Valdebebas training sessions in 2010-11, he also attended an event with Alfredo Di Stefano when he visited Madrid with as the manager of Argentina, he has been a friend to Jose Mourinho - another adored character in Madrid, he crowned Cristiano Ronaldo as The Best FIFA Men’s player in 2017 - the list goes on.
While he leaves behind a legacy of pure footballing genius and a unique rivalry against Real Madrid on the pitch, he was quite rightly and perfectly commemorated by Real Madrid after his demise.