When you owe $54 million in taxes, paying on the installment plan might be a welcome idea. Not that Diego Armando Maradona had much of a choice. Recently when he visited a fat farm in the northern Italy city of Merano, officials confronted him about his delinquency and left, not with a cash, check, or credit card payment, but with his earrings. As bizarre as that sounds, it was not the first such incident for the former soccer champion.
Forty-eight year old Maradona is the coach of Argentina’s struggling national soccer team. Once a star who captained the team to the 1986 World Cup title and led them in other significant wins, his coaching has yielded much less impressive results. Now with only two games remaining in the World Cup qualifying matches, Argentina may miss its first World Cup since 1970. Much of the blame for that situation is being hurled at Maradona. Reporters are describing the team’s predicament as being on the “edge of the abyss.”
Maradona, who earns $100,000 per month to serve as coach, has tried to explain away the losses, but without much luck. He claims that every move he had made with the current team has been vetted by the man who coached the 1986 team to World Cup victory. Even so, when it came time to face the president of the Argentine Soccer Federation – Julio Grondona – Maradona instead fled to Italy where he checked into a weight-loss clinic in Merano.
That’s where the Bolzano Provincial Police found him when they wanted to chat about his enormous unpaid tax bill. Italian news agency, ANSA, reports that the police took from him a pair of diamond earrings, valued at $5,900, to help pay his taxes. In 2006, when he was at a news conference in Naples, police confronted him and left with two Rolex watches.
How did he rack up such a tax bill? During his soccer heyday –1984 to 1991—he was a well-paid star player for the Napoli team. He left Italy owing the government $54 million. From there, his fortunes continued to tumble. In 1994 he was kicked out of that year’s World Cup for failing a drug test for stimulants. He was banned from the game for 15 months. In 2004 he suffered a heart-attack brought on by an overdose of cocaine.
In spite of Maradona’s dismal financial prospects, the Italian government does not give up easily. Now that they’ve taken the earrings right out of his ears, the tax bill is whittled down to a mere $53,994,100… without regard to whatever interest and penalties may apply.