TRIGORIA, ITALY, JULY 6 -- This town south of Rome is in turmoil. Why? Because this is where Diego Maradona is. And wherever Maradona is, trouble of some sort is certain to follow.
Parked 100 feet inside an iron green gate that separates the Argentine team from a curious public, a parked car is kept literally under wraps, swathed in a bright red cover. Under that cover is Maradona's new $318,000 red Ferrari F-40, which he likes even better (maybe because it costs even more) than his Ferrari Testarossa.
Police were told to watch that car, that nobody but Maradona had better be driving it. But Thursday night, as Sunday's World Cup final between West Germany and Argentina neared, Maradona scuffled with Italian police -- after an argument involving the red F-40.
Soccer's litle big man even took a wild swing at an officer before being restrained, kicking all the while like a small boy. Little wonder that Maradona is fast wearing out his welcome in Italy. Having beaten Italy -- especially now that the reality has sunk in hard -- Maradona is facing an increasingly disenchanted Italian public.
Maradona's latest of many scrapes began when his younger brother Lalo, 23, tried to drive the car away from the Argentine camp. It was about 8 p.m. Thursday. He was abruptly stopped by police, who asked him for his driver's license. It was in Naples, Lalo said. An argument ensued.
Words heated when the car's passenger, a large man who is Maradona's wife's brother, got out and began brawling with police. A policeman said several officers could not get him under control. It took reinforcements to subdue the man.
When she heard of the ruckus, Claudia Maradona, Diego's wife, came out of the team compound to intercede. So did Argentina's coach, Carlos Bilardo. And then, Maradona himself. He accused the police of "retribution" for Argentina's victory over Italy, and began flailing away.
"No, Diego, no, Diego," Bilardo yelled.
Two police officers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries. "Diego's brother-in-law is a mountain," one police officer said. "We couldn't hold him down with four of us."
It was unclear whether Maradona would be charged. But it appears that he won't. As word of the incident spread, coming as it did after the Maradona-inspired defeat of Italy, public sentiment seemed to be turning against soccer's best-known man-child.
Last December he claimed that the World Cup drawing to decide the six groups was rigged because Italy got an easy group. Subsequently, he backed off.
Last summer he wouldn't report on time for training with Napoli. He said he was tired. Photos of him skiing reached Italy. Napoli's president, Corrado Ferlaino, told him to come. Reports swirled that the Camorra, the Neapolitan arm of the Mafia, told Maradona in no uncertain terms to show up. He showed up, denying any Mafia-related incentive.Life of Luxury, and More
They are demigods, the world's greatest soccer players. They may be the most publicized, pressurized, scrutinized men on earth -- especially the "adopted Italians," foreign imports brought at phenomenal prices to play in the Italian League.
Maradona lives under a microscope. Others in the same petri dish include West German standout Lothar Matthaeus, who plays with the club Inter Milan, and Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit from the Netherlands, the stars of AC Milan. Matthaeus, West Germany's attacking midfielder, is idolized in Milan as the "Italian German."
Maradona earns $8 million a year, including $1.3 million in annual salary. Van Basten's contract calls for almost $1.7 million annually, Gullit's more than $1 million. Italian-grown Roberto Baggio, bought recently by the Juventus team in Turin from Fiorentina for at least $13 million, will receive $1.5 million a year, in addition to a villa.
Cash, fast cars and a villa -- that is the payoff for the man-child in short pants who provides the fun and the rivalries that the Italian CEOs promote and can easily afford. Gianni Agnelli, owner of Italy's largest car company, Fiat, brought Baggio to Turin. TV station magnate Silvio Berlusconi has stocked AC Milan.
Maradona lives with his wife and two daughters in a mansion set in the hills above the Bay of Naples. Perhaps as a sign of growing disenchantment with him, Romans threw rocks at the house after Italy's defeat. Neapolitans still tend to forgive him. As one explained, "He is like a spoiled child. But we put up with him. On the field, there is no one like him."
In the north, Matthaeus has settled into a lifestyle his fans realize is extravagant, but they don't envy him because -- unlike Maradona -- he behaves himself.
Matthaeus, his wife Sylvia and two daughters have a villa in Como province, a mountainous area where the air is clear and Matthaeus can look out from the village in winter on snow-covered slopes. He would love to ski down those slopes and has the ability to do so, but he dares not, for fear of breaking something that would sever his cash flow. Instead, he rides around Lake Como in his boat. Such are the sacrifices of soccer's gods.
When they pout or act like children -- and none sulk better than Maradona -- they are rebuked by press and public. The tendency is to forget their humble origins.
Matthaeus, for instance, was a shy youth, almost despairing because he was so small. He is only 5 feet 7, 155 pounds. When he played for Bayern Munich in the mid-1980s, he spent much of his time hiding from the German press. Now the ruddy-cheeked Matthaeus says Italian life has mellowed him; it has made him more agreeable to occasional interviews.
Maradona came from the slum streets of a neighborhood called Villa Fiorito outside of Buenos Aires. At 29, he has taken a vicious physical beating on the soccer fields for years, because opponents discovered long ago that often the only way to stop him was to cut him down and take the penalty.
Sunday he will be making a last World Cup stand almost alone against West Germany. Part of it is his own fault. He didn't want an excellent forward, Ramon Diaz, on the team; personality conflict, it is said. Now that four players will be ineligible Sunday because of accumulated fouls, including Argentina's top scorer, Claudio Caniggia, Maradona could use Diaz.
But at Argentina's workout here late this afternoon, Maradona showed no sign of repentance for anything -- not for the incident Thursday night, not for beating Italy, not for banishing Diaz. He fooled around on the edge of practice, never really practicing.
Later, he kicked several balls, not hard, rather brushing them with his foot, trying to place them. He was working on free kicks, just one of his specialties. Maradona had no message to anyone after practice. But his silence gave one: On Sunday, he will be a man alone, a disadvantage that should produce his supreme effort.