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EXCLUSIVE: Diego Maradona saluted by Paul Hegarty as Dundee United hero recalls facing legend at Hampden in 1979

Scotland and Dundee United defender Paul Hegarty attempts to chase down Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who passed away today aged 60.
Scotland and Dundee United defender Paul Hegarty attempts to chase down Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who passed away today aged 60.

He spent most of the match on the Hampden surface looking up at the great man, but what Paul Hegarty saw of Argentine icon Diego Maradona he knew was special.

Football legend Maradona, who passed away today at the age of 60, is arguably the greatest player of all time after a stellar career for his country, Barcelona, Napoli and Boca Juniors.

Despite his global reach, Maradona’s success on the international stage began in Scotland on June 2, 1979.

Aged just 18, he scored his first international goal in a 3-1 win against the Scots in Glasgow, with Dundee United legend Hegarty one of many in awe of the teenager’s brilliance that day.

So much so, Heggie was pleased he never had to face Maradona again.

“He was only 18 at the time, they’d won the World Cup in 1978 [with boss Cesar Luis Menotti deeming him too young for the tournament] and Maradona was just starting to get into their squad,” the former United defender recalls.

“He was just a wonderful player – the best I’ve ever shared a pitch with.

“He was just at the start of his career but you knew there was something special and, obviously, he went on to greater things.

“On that day when he played at Hampden you could see he was something a bit different.

“There’s a couple of photographs of me left in his wake because I’m trying to tackle him and there’s no way I could get him.

“They won 3-1 comfortably and had other guys as well like Ossie Ardiles, Leopoldo Luque and Mario Kempes. It was a quality team.

“Maradona made his mark and went on to great things.

“I never came up against him again, which was probably a blessing in disguise!”

Paul Hegarty’s view of Maradona was upwards for most of the match at Hampden in 1979.

Maradona is probably best-remembered on these shores for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, where he punched the ball past Peter Shilton to lead Argentina to a 2-1 win and the last four.

They would, of course, go on to win it all in Mexico but Hegarty, an eight-times-capped proud Scot, was keen to focus on Maradona’s magnificent first goal in that clash against the Auld Enemy as an example of his brilliance.

The 66-year-old continued: “He starred for Barcelona and went to Napoli, who hadn’t won anything for years, and wins the Serie A twice in the 80s and then, of course, the World Cup in 86.

Diego Maradona was a god in Naples.

“Everybody talks about the ‘Hand of God’ but you see the first goal he scores where he picks the ball up in his own half and just leaves players in his wake.

“He was a pocket dynamo and just said ‘bye’ to five or six of them. He had great vision, balance and two great feet.

“He’s up there with the best – Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer and George Best, and nowadays you have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, too.

“One wonderful player.”

Maradona in Dundee would’ve been great for the city

His links to Scotland and the city of Dundee don’t stop there, with former Dark Blues star and Argentina team-mate of Maradona’s, Claudio Caniggia, rumoured to have courted the great man on the idea of joining him at Dens Park.

That remarkable fantasy remained just that and never came to fruition.

Despite his tangerine links, Heggie admits he would’ve loved to have seen Maradona on these shores as he expressed his sadness at the news of his passing.

Diego Maradona: Argentine legend almost played for Dundee during Bonetti era

He added: “When Caniggia came that was a big thing for Dundee and the city. He was a wonderful player as well.

“When you had the likes of these players coming to Scotland it was incredible.

“Maradona was something else and, obviously, they were good pals he and Caniggia.

“I heard the rumours that would happen, with them knowing each other from Argentina, but how good would that have been?

“Imagine Maradona came to Scotland and signed for Dundee, even though they’re my local rivals!

“He is an absolutely iconic figure.

“He was young at 60 but he had a fantastic career and a colourful life on and off the park.

“However, 60 is young for anybody and it’s very sad news.”

Caniggia: The exciting documentary Dundee FC fans won’t want to miss

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