Ex-international Etim Esin has paid an emotional tribute to football great Diego Maradona who died on Wednesday, revealing the Argentine legend’s off-pitch excesses influenced his lifestyle.
Maradona, widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time before drug and alcohol addiction marred his career, died at his home in Argentina after suffering a heart attack. He was 60.
And much like his idol, Esin who was nicknamed “African Maradona” as a prodigiously gifted teenager, also saw his sublime brilliance on the pitch consistently overshadowed and marred by demons off it.
In a now deleted emotional Facebook post, Esin revealed that his off-field excesses including wild parties and drug use were fueled in part, by how much he wanted to be like his idol.
The parallels were uncanny, both diminutive, supremely gifted footballers with larger than life personalities and a penchant for courting trouble on and off the pitch.
Maradona, twice copped 15-month bans from football for doping and years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism truncated his stellar career and altered his appearance from a lithe athlete who glided effortlessly through teams at his peak to a bloated addict who nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000.
Esim, 51, once hailed as Nigeria’s most gifted player, saw his once-promising career derailed when he fled Belgium and descended into drug use after he was accused of raping a minor while playing for Belgian club Lierse SK in the 1990s.
The accusations were later discovered to be false two decades later.
But the incident robbed him of the chance of meeting his idol at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, where Nigeria’s Super Eagles lost to Argentina in the group stage with Maradona providing the assist for Claudio Caniggia’s winner in a 2-1 victory for the South Americans.
Etim described missing the World Cup and with it, the chance to meet Maradona as one his greatest regrets.
He revealed that goalkeeper Peter Rufai and forward Samson Siasia scored Nigeria’s lone goal in the defeat, told him Maradona had asked about their “black Maradona”.
Esin described Maradona as an “icon football world will never forget” adding that “all will miss your existence”.
The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale midfielder also said Maradona’s life contained a ”great lesson” on the necessity of keeping a “healthy lifestyle” and the prudence of discipline.
“It’s quite unique when you’re nicknamed after a legend,” Esin wrote.
“I followed him all my life, guess he influenced my lifestyle a bit, pass thru drugs and wild parties.
“Anyway, this is an icon football world will never forget. It’s a big lesson, learn to be humble and live a healthy lifestyle, consider discipline as the topmost pride.
“[Armando] you came, you conquered the football world, all will miss your [existence].
“My only regret was not playing against you at the World Cup, [Samson] Siasia and [Peter] Rufai said he asked at USA 94 ‘where your black Maradona’.
“Deep inside it’s painful but all will go someday.”