Diego Armando Maradona (1960-2020)
Tributes have been pouring in from the world of sport and beyond on news of the death of Argentine football legend Diego Maradona, who passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday. He was 60.
Maradona scaled heights of individual brilliance not seen before or since on football's grandest stage, the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico, to lead his football-mad country to their second world championship.
In the space of one famous month that summer under the hot Mexican sun, Maradona captured an entire planet's imagination with his seemingly unstoppable, slalom-like runs into the opposition's penalty box, the magic of his left foot, and the striking originality of his playmaking.
Take nothing away from the likes of Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga, but if ever a World Cup was won single-handedly on the back of one player's soaring brilliance, it was this one. Maradona, a villain in 1982 for getting sent off needlessly and bitterly disappointed after just missing out on the squad for 1978 as a 17-year-old prodigy, delivered his country its second World Cup, scoring five goals, setting up several others including the winner in the final against West Germany and dominating games with his wizardry, skill and vision.
Wherever football was played in its aftermath, that 4-syllable name, 'Maradona', became a byword for an attacking player tormenting and even embarrassing his defensive opponents. But of course, no one ever did it quite like the diminutive Argentine number 10.
And the other famous number 10, Pele of Brazil, with whom he is regularly paired as the two greatest footballers of all time, has reacted to the Argentine's passing by tweeting:
"What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky."
Staying with great footballers, Portuguese ace Cristiano Ronaldo, along with Lionel Messi regarded as the two greatest players of the current generation, tweeted his own tribute to Maradona, insisting the world will never forget him.
"Today I say goodbye to a friend and the world says goodbye to an eternal genius. One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician," he wrote. "He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten."
France striker and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe, who dazzled the world in the 2018 edition in Russia as a teenager, also gave thanks to Maradona for everything he has done in the sport.
"RIP Legend. You will stay in the history of football forever. Thank you for all the pleasure you gave to the whole world," he said on Twitter.
Politicians and leaders have also been weighing in.
The Argentine government has declared three days of mourning. President Alberto Fernandez said in a tweet, "You took us to the highest point in the world, and made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all. Thank you for having been with us, Diego. We will miss you all our lives."
A wake would take place at Casa Rosada presidential palace from Thursday until Saturday, a government spokesman said.
Pope Francis, an Argentine and a football fan, was remembering Maradona in his prayers, the Vatican said.
One of the most poignant tributes has been from Brazil's former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, aka Lula, who posted on Instagram a picture of the two together. Maradona, an intensely anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist figure who had tattoos done of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on various body parts, was a big admirer of the Brazilian Workers' Party's former leader, who wrote in the caption:
"Diego Armando Maradona was a football giant, for Argentina and for the whole world, a talent and a unique personality. His genius and passion on the field, his intensity in life and his commitment to Latin American sovereignty marked our time."
Apart from the astonishing peak with the Argentina national side, Maradona is also credited with transforming the fortunes of one of Italy's oldest clubs, in what was at the time the toughest domestic football league in the world.
The Argentine had arrived in Naples, then the poorest city in Italy (some say Western Europe), to play for unheralded S.S. Napoli in 1984, after an unhappy stint at Spanish giants Barcelona, who had signed him for a then-world record fee.
Almost unthinkably, from 1986-89, Napoli, who had never won a major title previously, were twice crowned champions of Serie A, the Italian top division, and won a European trophy to boot, the now defunct UEFA Cup.
By all accounts of this period, his brilliance on the football pitch was matched by turmoil away from it, with paternity suits, a spiralling cocaine addiction, and rumoured tie-ups with the Camorra, the Neapolitan mafia.
Maradona, the quintessential flawed genius, seemed to revel in it all. Until his luck caught up with him, and he tested positive for cocaine during a routine test in 1991 while playing for Napoli, which followed the disappointment of failing to defend the World Cup with Argentina the previous summer. Banned for 15 months, he would never play in Italy again.
Nevertheless, he remains idolised to this day in the Italian city, where Maradona-inspired street art and graffiti have long been tourist attractions. And following his death, the mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, called for the team's stadium to be renamed after the player.
"Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius. In 2017 he became our honorary citizen, Diego, Neapolitan and Argentine, you gave us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!" he wrote on Twitter.
Maradona is also the single-biggest reason why every four years since 1986, as another football World Cup approaches, great swathes of Bangladesh become draped in the blue-and-white striped flag of Argentina, as tens of thousands, maybe lakhs, of Argentina supporters come out in force to show their support for the team from a nation halfway across the planet, to which the vast majority have no connection whatsoever. The two countries don't even have embassies in each other's territory.
And yet their passion for the Albiceleste, as the Argentine football team is affectionately called, is possibly no less than that of the South American nation's own citizens. That is the power of Maradona's appeal, his place in people's hearts. There really isn't a satisfactory explanation, when it's all said and done, for why he should have won so many hearts, how he continues to do so even now, and why it's almost a certainty that he will continue to win hearts for many years to come. Third World solidarity, against the old colonisers of Europe? It's true that people loved how he particularly tormented England. In the semifinal they knocked out Belgium as well, Maradona scoring yet another mesmerising goal after taking on and beating almost half the Belgian playing eleven, many of them left flailing, on their backsides, or with their hand on their heads. The Ittefaq's report on the 1986 final, is unabashedly fawning and resolutely notes it as a victory for football fans in the Third World, who were thirsting for such a triumph.
Maradona met all that and more. It was about the way he did it as well. His fearless dribbling, that wonderful relationship with the ball (he wanted to treat it 'like a lady'), the swagger you couldn't tear off him, even as defenders relentlessly kicked and tugged away at him. You couldn't stop him. He was indomitable. And in that he represented the hope and aspiration of an entire hemisphere - the 'global south' - against the entrenched ambitions of established powers. He was of the people. And he was a champion.
The people of Argentina grew acquainted with him from a very young age, after he was spotted by tv cameras as a child prodigy. Hearing, reading their testimonies, you realise just how intertwined his own individual story was with the story of a nation. From a very young age he was on TV displaying keepy-uppy skills and sharing his dream to win a World Cup, to play for Argentina.
As Marcela Mara, a football journalist from Argentina has written in a touching tribute for the Guardian: "Nobody told us about him; he was just there. We saw his moves and his plays unfold before our very eyes."
The world however, would have to wait till 1986.
'You will never forget Maradona in Mexico'
Veteran sports journalist Barry Wilner of the Associated Press was there at the Azteca that summer. In a post for the AP following Maradona's death, he has shared his memories of that tournament, and particularly Maradona's impact on it. Over to him:
From the press tribune above the Estadio Azteca field it was impossible to discern the trickery Diego Maradona had performed.
From the same location, it was impossible not to marvel at the brilliant maneuverability that Maradona also performed.
That was the paradox presented by Maradona, the great Argentine player who died Wednesday at age 60. He could be magical in positive and negative ways.
His most famous - and infamous - game came against England at the then-majestic stadium in Mexico City, a World Cup quarterfinal in 1986. The lure of being there was as strong for media members as it was for the 100,000 or so fans on hand. Not since Pele in his prime had there been such a must-see footballer on such a superlative stage.
Adding to the electric atmosphere were the legions of Argentina fans in their blue-and-white striped jerseys, waving their flags and chanting tributes to "El Gran Diego." There even were some shouts of "El Dios Diego."
If only they truly knew.
Soccer at its highest level is a game of intrigue, 11 players on each side weaving a tapestry. The wise fan does not concentrate on the ball the way hockey followers will watch the puck. Rather, you focus on the movement of the players as a group, the patterns and the probing, and eventually the penetrating attacks.
But not when Maradona was in his prime. You watched No. 10 for Argentina. Always.
Taking your eyes off Maradona was tantamount to going to the concession stand in the middle of the match.
And on that June day, in what would become the foundation of his legacy, Maradona delivered.
Following a goalless first half, Maradona struck in the 51st minute with a powerful header. Or did he?
A misplay by an England defender sent the ball high and toward the net, from which keeper Peter Shilton - one of the best ever - sprinted to clear it. The diminutive Maradona beat him with a leap and a swivel of the noggin. Or, more accurately, as video replays indicate today, a punch with his left hand from the side of his head.
GOAL!!!!!!!!! (the only way to describe such scores, of course).
From the press area, all seemed fair. To the English players and manager, it was a farce - a blatant breaking of the rules. To the Argentines, it was Diego doing his thing.
No matter, because the goal stood for a 1-0 lead. In fact, to most of us covering the game, the furor seemed misplaced.
Had the match ended with that score, Maradona's reputation everywhere but among his countrymen might have been scarred forever. But then came something so spectacular yet refined, so wild yet controlled, that even the hardened folks in the press box felt like cheering. And some did.
Maradona basically weaved around and through half of the England team, starting from just his side of midfield, and finishing his slalom run with a short poke into the net as he fell.
As the English telly announcer exclaimed, " There was no doubt about that one."
And no doubt it would be recalled globally on the same level as Americans remember Bobby Thomson's home run or the Immaculate Reception.
Watching from on high - no, not "Hand of God" on high - every reporter knew there was no way of truly describing this goal. No way of giving it justice with words.
Certainly, we all would try, fruitless as it might be. None of us, naturally, could match the skill and creativity - the sheer magnificence - conjured up by Maradona that afternoon.
Pele famously and appropriately dubbed soccer "O Jogo Bonito'′ (The Beautiful Game). That phrase fit the grace and graciousness of the Brazilian, and the way he played. Pele was a cheetah and a gazelle. If Pele's football was a musical genre, try jazz.
Maradona was a bull, a charge-ahead locomotive. His music would have been heavy metal. Yet on that summer day under a brilliant sky in Mexico City, Maradona showed us he had some of the virtuoso in him. And some impish sorcery, too.
The time for tears
Tens of thousands of fans, many weeping but eager to honour Diego Maradona, filed past the coffin of Argentina's most iconic soccer star on Thursday, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country's presidential mansion.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona's wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada, some strike their chests with closed fists and shouting, "Let's go Diego."
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket.
Open visitation, started at 6:15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafañe came with Maradona's daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.
Jana, who Maradona recognized as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.
Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors' Carlos Tévez, showed up, too.
Some fans grew impatient as police tried to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Shortly before noon Argentina President Alberto Fernández arrived and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona's first club as a professional.
In tears, Fernández also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under the Argentina's military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine Revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organizations.
The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona's death was confirmed and grew to several blocks. Among those present were the renowned barrabravas fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.
"He made Argentina be recognized all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina," de Lima told The Associated Press. "Diego is the people.... Today the shirts, the political flags don't matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy."
Maradona's soccer genius, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated deeply with Argentines.
He led an underdog team to glory in the 1986 World Cup, winning the title after scoring two astonishing goals in a semifinal match against England, thrilling a country that felt humiliated by its loss against the British in the recent Falklands war and that was still recovering from the brutal military dictatorship.
Many deeply sympathized with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into abuse of drug, drink and food. He remained idolized in the soccer-mad nation as the "Pibe de Oro" or "Golden Boy."
Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the exit of the lobby. Both had a Boca Juniors shirt and an Argentinian flag on their shoulders.
"We told him we love him, that he was the greatest," they said at the same time.
Those waiting for enter the Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they struggled to keep social distancing.
Social worker Rosa Noemí Monje, 63, said she and others overseeing health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.
"It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitizer and face masks," she said. Monje also paid her last tribute to Maradona.
"I told him: to victory always, Diego," Monje said as she wept.
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