However, he was also a cheat, a drug user and, combining both failings, a drugs cheat.
The 1986 World Cup game against England showed the two sides of the Argentinian superstar most clearly.
For his first ‘goal’, he punched the ball into the net in a cynical, clever and instinctive attempt to deceive the officials. It worked. Asked later about the goal, he claimed it had been the “hand of God”, a glib statement that only someone with an over-abundance of arrogance could have conjured up.
But then came what has been described as the “goal of the century”, in which he almost casually waltzed his way through the England team and scored a goal that was a most sublime example of what Pele famously dubbed the “Beautiful Game”.
Two goals that will live long in the memory for very different reasons.
The ugly side of Maradona was never far away. He received a football ban after testing positive for cocaine while playing for Napoli and then his international career ended for good at the 1994 World Cup in the US, when he was sent home in disgrace after failing a drug test for the banned stimulant ephedrine.
Maradona was the only footballer of the 20th century who could be compared to Pele in terms of their abilities on the pitch, but it will always matter how you play the game and a victory secured by cheating is a hollow one.