Diego Maradona and Daniel Passarella have both captained Argentina to the world championship, but the men did not get along. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Diego Maradona and Daniel Passarella have both captained Argentina to the world championship, but the men did not get along. Source: Wikimedia Commons

When defenders score: The Argentine hero who fell out with Maradona

Football OlyBet 01.12.2023

Ronaldo dribbles, runs and scores! Messi did it again! Neymar – the winning goal! We have all heard those cries on football pitches: the star striker saves the day yet once again. But in reality, there are still ten men on the field, and as the saying goes – attack wins you games, defense wins you titles.

To correct the injustice of the (football) world, we invite you to a ten–part series with Olybet.TV, where we talk about defenders. But to make things a little more appetizing, let’s talk about the most productive defensemen in football history.

Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi? This is a question that causes great controversy and uproar in probably every (sports) bar in Argentina. Because who is the better player anyway? We’re not going to debate that, but instead, we’re going to introduce you to the best defender who has ever worn the shirt of La Albiceleste: Daniel Passarella.

Passarella, who celebrated his 70th anniversary this year, was the one who steered the Argentine national team to the World Cup title for the first time in 1978 and lifted the golden trophy towards the sky as captain. And he was also in the bright-white-striped shirt when Argentina triumphed for the second time eight years later.

Although the two World Cup titles are Passarella’s greatest contribution to Argentine football, it is far from the only one, as the defender also scored 175 goals during his medal-filled career.

King of River Plate

For Passarella, who was born in Chacabuco, a suburb of Buenos Aires, football was just a game as a child. He first started thinking about football as a job at the age of 18, when he joined Sarmiento, a club in the neighbouring town. Passarella wore their shirt for two years, until in 1973 the great River Plate came knocking on the door.

It was for Los Millonarios that he really made a name for himself. Passarella organized and managed River Plate’s defense, helping them end an 18-year title drought in 1975.

A year later, Plate, with a team of defenders led by the hero of today’s story, reached the final of the Copa Libertadores for the first time in history. Although it was not possible to reach gold then – in the three games in total the Brazilians Cruzeiro triumphed – Passarella was chosen as Argentina’s footballer of the year in 1976 for his exploits.

During the following years, he continued to deepen his footprint in his home country: Passarella was crowned the champion of Argentina with River Plate in 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981. But those gold medals all paled next to the 1978 World Cup title.

The first Argentine

Indeed, Passarella made his debut for his country in 1976, and two years later, when the World Cup came knocking, he was already the captain of the national team! On the way to the Golden Cup, Argentina, under the guidance of Passarella, passed Hungary, France, Poland, Peru and, after extra time in the final, the Netherlands.

And since Passarella was the captain of the national team, it was his name that went down in history as the first Argentine to lift the World Cup trophy into the sky.

Four years later, Argentine failed to defend the title – losing to both Italy and Brazil in the second round – but Passarella’s good performances caught the eye of Fiorentina, who lured the Argentine to Europe for the first time.

Of course, it took some time for Passarella to adapt to the football playing style cultivated in the Old World, but even at Fiorentina, he quickly rose to be the mainstay of the team. By the 1985/86 season, things were already going so smoothly for him that the defender even diligently rushed to the attack, scoring 11 goals after the season. This record was only surpassed in the 2000/01 season when Marco Materazzi scored 12 goals for Perugia.


Then Passarella moved on to the ranks of the great Milan Inter, with whom he did not triumph. Why? Partly because Diego Maradona was doing his great deeds in Naples at the same time.

Maradona was a key player in Argentina being crowned world champions for the second time in 1986. The gold medal was then also hung around Passarella’s neck, but there are two sides to this coin…

Passarella was the one whose goal in the group stage against Peru secured Argentina a place in the World Cup, but he could not play in the final tournament. Gastroenteritis was what kept him out of the starting lineup in the first place, but Passarella’s poor rapport with Maradona is said to have played a role as well.

The defender has claimed that it was the star player of the team who pressured the head coach at the time, Carlos Bilardo, to leave him on the bench even after he had overcome the issue. How much truth there is in this story, only the parties involved know. But it is also clear: since the World Cup title came, the winners will not be judged.

Over the years, there have been attempts to find out from Passarella why he has such a big fallout with Maradona. However, he has not washed the dirty laundry in public. “It’s private,” he told El Grafico in 1995.

Titles as a coach as well

Passarella ended his career at his beloved River Plate, which he later coached for a short (but successful) time. Namely, the 1990, 1991 and 1993 Argentine championships were won under his guidance.

He was then promoted to the head coach of the Argentine national team, but the expected success did not come. In 1995, they won the Pan American Games and a year later they won silver at the Olympics, but they only reached the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup. During his later coaching career, he also coached the Uruguay national team, Parma (Italy), and Corinthians (Brazil) and became the champion of Mexico with Monterrey.

However, returning to Passarella’s playing career, he has been characterized above all as a great leader and fighter. He has been called El Gran Capitan (after the Argentine freedom fighter Jose de San Martin), El Kaiser (after Franz Beckenbauer) and El Caudillo (the chief), precisely because of his great thirst for battle and will to fight.

Although Passarella was a short defender – only 173 cm – he won an extremely large number of header duels. The man’s skillful elbow play also played a role in this: he flashed them all the time, but just so cunningly that the judges did not notice.

In addition to scoring goals from corner kicks, Passarella was often entrusted with free kicks and penalties, which were also useful in increasing the goal balance. In total, the Argentinian scored 153 goals (538) in his club career, to which he added 22 more goals (in 70 games) for the Argentine national team.

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