In 1976, a little before his sixteenth birthday, he made his professional debut with Argentinos Juniors. In his five years of association with the club team, he made 167 appearances and scored 115 goals.
His proper international debut came on February 27, 1977 against Hungary.
His first senior goal came in a match against Scotland at Hampden Park on June 2, 1979. Argentina won the match by 3-1.
In 1979, he played for Argentina in the FIFA U-20 World Cup and helped the team won the tournament. He was the star of the tournament and won the Golden Ball award as the tournament's best player.
In 1981, he was transferred to Boca Juniors for 1m. It was while playing for the club team that he secured his first league championship medal.
In 1982, he played his first World Cup tournament. Despite being defending champions, Argentina did not perform to expectations and were ousted by the tournament in the second round, losing to Brazil and eventual winners, Italy.
Following the loss at the World Cup, he was transferred to FC Barcelona in Spain for a world record fee of 5m. Though he went on to win the Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup for the club, throughout his tenure, he suffered from ill-heath and injury.
In his two seasons with Barcelona, he scored 38 goals in 58 games. However, dispute with the club president and team director led to his transfer to Napoli in Italy's Serie A for another world record fee, 6.9m.
His association with Napoli was the most fruitful of all and brought successful results for both himself and the club. Not only did he reach the pinnacle of his career, but assisted the club to enjoy immense success and victory.
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He led the club to win the Serie A Italian Championships twice in 1986-87 and 1989-90. Additionally, Napoli efficaciously attained the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and the Italian Supercup in 1990. In the 1987-88 and 1988-89 Serie A Italian Championships, the club was placed in the second position with him being the top scorer in 1987-88.
Meanwhile, at the 1986 FIFA World Cup, he led Argentina to victory. Throughout the tournament, he led his team from the front and asserted his dominance in every game. He scored 5 goals and made 5 assists and played a crucial role in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals against England, Belgium and West Germany Respectively.
In the 1990 FIFA World Cup, he continued his role as a captain of the Argentina team, with the only difference being he was less dominant. He led his team to a World Cup final against West Germany but unlike 1986, he could not replicate the success as his team lost by 1–0. This marked the steep decline of the once-flourishing career.
In 1991, he received a 15-month suspension after testing positive for using cocaine.
In 1992, he left Napoli to join Sevilla of Spain, where he played for a year. Following year he played for Newell's Old Boys.
In the 1994 FIFA World Cup, he played just two games scoring one goal before being ousted for failing an ephedrine drug test. This also marked an end to his international career which spanned for 17 years. In the 91 games that he played, he scored 34 goals.
In 1995, he returned to Boca Juniors and played with the club for two years, before announcing his retirement in 1997 on the eve of his birthday.
In 2008, he was appointed as the head coach of the Argentina national team, a position he served for eighteen months until 2010 World Cup.
He joined Argentine Primera D club Deportivo Riestra in 2013 as its ‘spiritual coach’.
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Awards & Achievements
He won the Golden Ball award at the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
In 1999, he was bestowed with the Diamond Konex Award, which was one of the most prestigious culture awards in Argentina from Konex Foundation, Argentina, for being the ultimate sportstar of the decade.
He was adjudged ‘FIFA Player of the Century’ award in 2000, along with Pele. He acquired the majority of the votes at 53.6% against Pele's 18.53%. However, the latter was voted by the ‘Football Family’ committee.
His second goal against England in the quarter final match during the 1986 World Cup was voted as the ‘Best Goal Ever Scored in World Cup’ in 2002 FIFA poll. Following year, the Argentinos Juniors named its stadium after him.
In 2010, the Times chose him as the Greatest 10 World Cup Players of all times.
Personal Life & Legacy
He walked the aisle with his long time sweetheart Claudia Villafane on November 7, 1984. The couple was blessed with two daughters, Dalma Nerea and Giannina Dinorah. The couple divorced in 2004. During the proceedings, he confirmed having an illegitimate son, Diego Sinagra, who presently is a footballer in Italy.
He was blessed with another son, Diego Fernando, in 2013 from his ex-long term partner Veronica Ojeda.
From 1980s until 2004, he remained a drug addict, which negatively affected his health and performance. Though he relocated to Cuba and tried following a drug rehab plan, things did not seem to better as he suffered a major myocardial infarction following a cocaine overdose in 2004.