Argentine star Diego Maradona, faced with a possible two-year suspension from Italian soccer for testing positive for cocaine use, left Italy today to return to his home country.
Before he boarded the flight to Buenos Aires his manager declared in a statement that the 30-year-old forward was not fleeing from justice.Maradona tested positive following an Italian league game last month and is scheduled to be judged by the disciplinary commission of the Italian soccer league Saturday. He's also involved in two cases involving the state justice system. One is a controversial paternity suit and the other is an investigation by Naples police and prosecutors into a suspected drug and prostitution ring.
Officials at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport reported that Maradona and his manager Marco Franchi boarded an Alitalia flight for the Argentine capital.
The captain of Italian major league squad Napoli and of the Argentine national team arrived at the airport in his luxury Ferrari car.
He refused to talk to reporters, but Franchi, saying he was speaking on behalf of the player said, "This is a not a flight . . . Maradona plans to return to Italy when things will settle."
However sources close to Napoli and to the Italian league indicated Maradona's departure appeared to be a final farewell to Italy, where he had transferred in 1984 for a record $12 million fee.
Claudia, his Argentine wife, their daughters Dalmita and Jannina, and other relatives departed for Buenos Aires on Sunday night.
Officials of the Naples club, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said Maradona's lawyer had advised him against leaving Italy before the disciplinary commission rules.
The officials also indicated that the Italian club will have to reconsider terms of Maradona's contract, which is due to expire in 1993. Maradona was paid about $2 million a year from Napoli and earned more than that from commercial sponsors. Federation experts said Napoli could ask for a cut of up to 60 percent of Maradona's salary.
The commission meets in Milan on Friday. Punishment could range from six months to two years.
Suspension is mandatory under Italian soccer regulations in cases of positive drug tests. The player can be represented by his lawyers before the commission.
Maradona tested positive following the Napoli-Bari league game on March 17. Results of tests on Maradona's urine samples were made official last Friday.