Football: Singapore icons Fandi, Sundram, remember Maradona as entertainer and inspiration

In a photo from June 22, 1986, Diego Maradona (centre) runs past English defenders on his way to scoring his second goal during the World Cup quarterfinal match between Argentina and England.
In a photo from June 22, 1986, Diego Maradona (centre) runs past English defenders on his way to scoring his second goal during the World Cup quarterfinal match between Argentina and England.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - An inspiration to every player in the same era. That is how Singapore's greatest footballers, V. Sundram Moorthy and Fandi Ahmad, remember Argentinian icon Diego Maradona, who died aged 60 late Wednesday (Nov 25) after a heart attack.

Sundram, who counted Maradona as his favourite player, told The Straits Times: "Simply put, watching him play was a joy."

As it came to be, Sundram himself carved out a similar reputation as Maradona - skilful but volatile, entertaining but unpredictable.

The 55-year-old, nicknamed the Dazzler by Singapore fans during the Malaysia Cup days in the '80s and '90s, was even dubbed "Kedah's Maradona" by fans of the Malaysian state when he played for them in 1990. It comes as no surprise then that Sundram cited the South American as a "major influence" during his playing days.

"Obviously as a player you want to be different from other players, and try to do something to entertain the fans," he said.

"And when I watch great players like Maradona, of course, I tried to do some of the things he did on the pitch, and practised the skills over and over."

Fandi, meanwhile, rates Maradona as one of the top two players of all-time - alongside Brazilian legend Pele - and even shared the pitch with the Argentinian superstar once.

This was when he was invited to play in a Selangor Selection that took on Argentinian club giants Boca Juniors in Kuala Lumpur in 1982. Fandi even scored in a game that Boca won 2-1.

"It was an honour to play with one of the best players - if not the best - in the world," said Fandi. "He was a player with great skill and talent, and was an inspiration to all."

Fandi added that because Maradona was on their team, the goal he scored against Boca ranks as one of his most memorable. He added that he had a few clashes with the Argentinian star during the game, and found him to be a tough customer.

"He was very quick, and had a very low centre of gravity," said Fandi. "It was very difficult to push him off the ball. You can see so many video clips of defenders trying to push or tackle him, and he just would not go down. He was built very wide and his leg muscles were solid."

Four years after that game, Fandi got another close-up view of Maradona when he travelled to Mexico to watch the 1986 World Cup tournament, which Argentina went on to win.

Fandi chuckled when he recalled Maradona's infamous Hand of God moment in the quarter-final against England.

"I was there, seated very close to the ground, and from where I was, it was very clear!" he said.

The Hand of God is also what Sundram said he would remember Maradona most for.

Said Sundram: "The second goal (in the 1986 quarter-final) where he dribbled past so many people, was a great goal of course.

"But the Hand of God was something that had never happened in football. It was quick thinking, and how he did it, putting his hand close to his head… some may say it was not pure sportsmanship or whatever, but hey, that's Maradona."