Former Ghana and Fulham midfielder Derek Boateng has revealed his admiration for world football icon and Argentina legend Diego Armando Maradona.
In his early days, Boateng, who modelled his game on the 1986 World Cup winner as a No.10, was famous for showing an under-shirt of Maradona during goal celebrations.
The Ghanaian first rose to prominence at the 2001 Fifa U20 World Cup in Argentina, where he was arguably the Black Satellites’ talisman.
“Against Iran [in the group stage] when I scored, I removed my jersey and I had a Maradona shirt under. I have been asked a lot of questions about where I got the shirt,” Boateng told Goal in an African Legends Series interview.
“The day before the game, I was in my hotel room and I got a call from the reception that a lady was looking for me. She was an Argentine, a white woman. I was not expecting anyone so I didn’t go. She stayed on and waited for about four, five hours, so I was called again and I asked that she be allowed to come in.
“She knocked at my door and introduced herself as a journalist from Argentina, and that she wanted to give me this [parcel]. She said I should work hard and this man’s [Maradona’s] spirit will follow me. I removed the wrapper and saw that it was a Maradona shirt, so I since started wearing it under my jerseys in all my games.
“Whenever I scored, I remove my jersey and showed the Maradona under-shirt. Because of that, all Argentina loves me. We [Ghana U20 team at the tournament] were all looking forward to meeting Maradona in person but we couldn’t. We watched his interview where he said he was also supporting Ghana at the tournament.”
Boateng, then on the books of Greek side Panathinaikos, scored twice as Ghana claimed silver at the youth tournament. He would leave the competition among the stars of the championship, drawing the attention of the whole world.
“After the tournament, my agent sent me a Spanish newspaper reporting Maradona talking about me. I was so happy,” the 36-year-old revealed.
“That day even during training, I couldn’t wait to get back to the dressing room just to have a look at the newspaper for another time. I kept the newspaper for so long but now I, unfortunately, can’t find it anymore. I was so happy Maradona spoke about me.”
Although Boateng may not have lived up to expectations in terms of becoming a world superstar at senior level, he still enjoyed a good career to look back on, having been at the 2006 and 2010 Fifa World Cups with Ghana and featured at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).
“I had the chance to meet him [Maradona] when I was playing for Getafe. I was coming from national duty in Germany and I saw him in the flight, sitting right in front of me in the business class,” Boateng continued.
“After the plane took off, I approached him, introduced myself, he was happy and he hugged me and we took a picture. But I lost the phone. I met the only man I wanted to meet in football and he hugged me.”