IN­TRO­DUC­ING… THEBRAZILIAN MA R A D O N A !

FourFourTwo - - UPFRONT -

“It’s very weird. I’ve got an Ar­gen­tine name but I’m Brazil­ian, and we’re… ri­vals, I would say.” It’s a con­cise de­scrip­tion of a foot­balling en­mity by our in­ter­vie­wee, one Diego Maradona. The Brazil­ian Diego Maradona. Who plays in Eng­land’s eighth tier.

If you’re feel­ing as lost as he is, let’s back­track a bit. A 12-year-old Diego Maradona Pe­triaggi was taken from Brazil to Italy by Bres­cia, then in Serie A. “As a ball boy I’d see Roberto Bag­gio and Pep Guardi­ola play,” Diego re­calls to FFT. Af­ter six years in the Lit­tle Swal­lows’ academy, and seven else­where around Europe, he de­cided at 25 to come to Eng­land, crop­ping up at the bizarrely hy­phened Corinthian-ca­su­als.

It’s a match made in heaven – not least as the club ap­proached Diego on his wed­ding day. Ca­su­als helped to pop­u­larise foot­ball around the globe a cen­tury ago, and in­spired the found­ing of Corinthi­ans in Sao Paulo. The Club World Cup and Copa Lib­er­ta­dores win­ners (av­er­age at­ten­dance 29,000) are still grate­ful to Ca­su­als (av­er­age at­ten­dance 140), do­nat­ing ban­ners and invit­ing them to Brazil for a rather one-sided derby in 2015.

“My father was a sup­porter of Corinthi­ans Paulista so I knew about the English Corinthi­ans,” ex­plains Diego. “When I had the chance to play for them, I was in­ter­ested be­cause of their his­tory.”

But we’re get­ting away from the real is­sue here. He’s a Brazil­ian foot­baller who is called Diego Maradona. That sounds… awk­ward.

“Peo­ple never be­lieve me at first,” he says. “They think I’m jok­ing. At my first train­ing ses­sion, ev­ery­one started laugh­ing.” Stu­art Tree, Ca­su­als’ press of­fi­cer, pho­tog­ra­pher and 12ft gi­ant, says: “The first time I saw his name was on the team-sheet; I thought, ‘Who’s hav­ing a laugh here?’ Then he scored on de­but! It’s just a shame it wasn’t hand­ball.”

That’s not all. Diego has two brothers: Riv­el­lino and Michel Pla­tini.

“My dad re­ally liked th­ese play­ers and my mother had no op­tion but to ac­cept it,” laughs the middle child. “I tell my wife we’ll name our child Ronald­inho. She says: ‘Are you crazy?!’ – but I’m just jok­ing.”

It’s not all fun and games. Un­able to find work in Lon­don, Diego com­mutes to Ca­su­als’ home matches in Tol­worth, Sur­rey, from Bices­ter in Ox­ford­shire, pro­vided he can get time off work. It’s a four-and-a-half-hour round trip. And be­cause Corinthi­ans are proudly am­a­teur, the divi­sion’s only side not to pay their play­ers, he spends his own money to get to matches by train.

“I came here to learn English, but also to play at least semi-pro­fes­sional foot­ball be­cause I’d al­ways been paid for play­ing,” says the 27-year-old. “I’d never worked in a job. Foot­ball was my job. My first work ex­pe­ri­ence was in the UK.

“At first, I thought it was strange they don’t pay. I was ex­pected to be paid. And on top of that, I’d have to spend my money on the train, which isn’t cheap! But be­cause I knew the team’s his­tory, I de­cided I’d be proud to be part of it.”

An un­usual part of an un­usual his­tory – his name­sake would be proud.

Oh, and he’s play­ing in Sur­rey. Am­a­teur out­fit Corinthian-ca­su­als have a fa­mous name in their ranks, but that’s only part of a tale that in­volves Michel Pla­tini, a wed­ding and an epic com­mute

Diego has been per­plex­ing press of­fi­cers aplenty

“No pay? No thanks”

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