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In the spotlight again

In the last few months, it has been his apparently uncontrolled increase in weight which has shocked the football world.
PTI | By Brian Homewood (Reuters), Buenos Aires
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2004 05:36 PM IST

It was hard to imagine that the bloated figure sitting in the Boca Juniors VIP box on Sunday once won the World Cup almost single-handed.

Diego Maradona's fight against drugs has been well-documented, ever since he was given a 15-month ban after testing positive for cocaine when he was at Napoli in 1991.

In the last few months, it has been his apparently uncontrolled increase in weight which has shocked the football world.

Maradona, who helped an otherwise unremarkable Argentina team win the 1986 World Cup, was rushed to a Buenos Aires clinic on Sunday, in a serious, feverish condition with breathing difficulties and a swollen heart.

His condition was described as critical.

On Tuesday, Maradona's family doctor Alfredo Cahe said the 43-year-old former Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell's Old Boys player had improved slightly but still needed help breathing and faced a long spell in hospital.

Cahe has denied widespread rumours that cocaine was responsible for his patient's illness and asked for "respect" for Maradona and his family.

But the scare is bound to raise questions over Maradona's lifestyle and the success of the treatment he has been receiving in Cuba.

Maradona has been living at La Pradero medical centre, to the west of the capital Havana, since 2000 where he has been going through a drugs rehabilitation programme.

The move followed an earlier fright when he was taken to hospital in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

Although Maradona has been keeping out of the media spotlight in Cuba, reports have emerged that he has been indulging in a life of golf, champagne and Argentine-style barbecued meat.

"He came to have dinner here almost every day, to eat his steak," said Esteban Graveras, a chef at Maradona's favourite "Parrillada" restaurant in Cuba, earlier this week.

"He stayed until it was all over. He drank champagne but he didn't dance," added a doorman.

On one night out in 2000 Maradona escaped unharmed from a car accident when he was involved in a collision with a bus.

It was at another typical barbecue on Sunday -- this time in his homeland -- that Maradona felt ill and was rushed to hospital.

HOME RETURN

Maradona had returned to Argentina for the first time in over one year last March to sort out personal problems.

He first headed for a house in a country and since then has popped up in several television interviews, where he has been almost unintelligible, and at the Bombonera to watch his beloved Boca Juniors.

Former Argentina doctor Ruben Dario Oliva said that the real problem was not Maradona's health but the company he kept.

"I remember Diego having a strong heart and I believe he will get out of this situation," he told the daily newspaper Clarin.

"In reality, the problem is deeper because he can't differentiate between the people who want to help him and the ones who want to take advantage.

"As he doesn't produce money like he used to, they've destroyed him.

Maradona's former Argentina team mate Jose Basualdo agreed.

"Diego is suffering the consequences of the people who surround him," he said.

"We, his friends, have not had an important role. He's allowed in other people, which is what has brought him down."

"I wish him all the best."

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