Maradona, a Legendary Footballer
Translated by Marine El Hajji
Diego has passed away. Diego Armando Maradona, 60-year-old, died Wednesday the 25th of November of a heart attack in Argentina, as the Argentine daily newspaper Clarin announced on its website: “Murió Diego Armando Maradona y ya es leyenda” (“Diego Armando Maradona died and became a legend”). The death occurred after years of dribbling death, taunting her with his excesses, hospital stays and white-powder-based nose thumbing, driving her crazy like he drove thousands of his opponents crazy throughout the world.
Maradona’s legend will be remembered through the memories, tales, myths and the stories of his glory days recalled by those who knew him, because let’s be honest, among the people who will pay tribute to him, only a few actually saw him play live. This is how we recognize a true myth, by his ability to elicit such strong emotions among the passing generations of football fans, to spark the interest of people who don’t even care about this sport when his death was made public, and to bring together in their sorrow both football fans and people who love life stories.
“Pelé could have been better than me” (Maradona during an interview on RAI, 1997)
Above all, we must, of course, pay tribute to the great champion. A genius footballer, Diego Maradona will always be remembered as one of the greatest – if not the greatest, for some. An incredibly skilled dribbler with an excessively low centre of gravity, Diego knew better than anyone how to dictate the pace of crazy races – a real ordeal for defenders – thanks to his incredibly tonic constitution, exceptional vision, and, of course, legs made of gold, from the top of his powerful tights to the tip of his divine feet. And divine is the right word, as watching Maradona play was akin to a mystical experience: one was struck by the feeling that somehow he could do just about anything, a sudden acceleration, an excessively short deceleration, and a kidney-breaking change of direction.
The incredible story of this child starts in Argentina, at the Argentinos Juniors club, in Buenos Aires, near the shantytown Villa Fiorito where he grew up. After outstanding debuts that got him noticed, young Diego was recruited by the iconic Boca Juniors club, where he scored goal after goal during a legendary season, on the eve of his twenties, revealing a talented player that did not wait to grow older to make himself known in his home country.
In Barcelona, where he discovered Europe, everything came less naturally for the young genius, as his mischiefs, provocations, nonchalant behaviour and fits of rage shook a European football world at a time when the defences did not hesitate to make it clear to artists that football was not just a game.
But after Barcelona came Napoli. The scandalous South of Italy, a modest club, a team that was made for him: Diego had arrived in the promised land to work miracles. There, he conquered the first ever won Serie A Italian Championship title in Napoli’s entire club history, during the insane 1986-87 season, right under the nose of legendary Juventus led by the great Michel Platini: a number 10 shirt driven another one out. Naples is where Maradona created his legend, in a city that made him a god and where the death of the idol caused a terrible shock. In Naples, Diego was prayed to like a deity, his face painted on the walls of the city and inside the houses like the saints painted inside churches. Naples was his church indeed, as shown by the beautifully moving tributes paid by a city whose stadium now bears the name of the icon.
In Argentina, it was the World Cup that really did it, blowing away the minds as well as winning the hearts of an entire population when, in a quarter-final against football’s mother nation, England, Maradona played the most fabulous match. A goal scored by striking the ball with his hand, the “Hand of God”, past the great Peter Shilton. An incredible slalom, the “Goal of the Century”, leading the Argentine national team – as weak as it was – toward world fame. A recital against Belgium. A final against the iconic RFA. And Diego’s Argentina suddenly found itself on top of the world – a boyhood dream that he had announced when he was twelve in the show Sabados Circulares in 1971: “My dream is to play a World cup and win it.”
We could – and gladly would – write for hours on end about the great football genius, praise his amazing physical abilities, the incredibly powerful gait of a bulk with feet made of silk, or his rarely equalled ability to carry an entire team on his shoulders at a time when talented players were far more scattered throughout the clubs than they are today.
But it would be dishonest to overlook the shadows, relentlessly and automatically amplified by the bright spotlight of such a career. Maradona is iconic in that he exposes everyone to their own flaws, especially that of a man who was too lonely, or felt in with the wrong crowd, and sought refuge in drugs. Cocaine plagued his career, especially during the years post-Napoli, dusk falling quite rapidly after the top-of-the-world era. As of the ’90s, Maradona was then suspended several times for failing anti-doping tests that revealed illegal uses. His time at Sevilla was extremely weak and his participation in the 1994 World Cup that of a player overwhelmed by his own excesses, on the verge of being suspended – again.
As for his political views and relationships, Maradona made shady relationships and commitments. In Naples, he was very close to the Camorra and hired the explosive Guillermo Coppola as his agent: the mafia saw to his protection and aided cocaine use, but also negatively affected his international image, which became that of a man under the control of the infamous criminal organization. Less scandalous, he also had a very strong political leaning to the left, as evidenced by his close relation with Fidel Castro, who was the one who introduced him to Cuba, where the Argentinean player found a home, a sense of happiness, women, gunpowder, and left a perfect tool of claims for the government, an appalling image in the United States, as well as a few unwanted children.
In the end, the life of the D10S (contraction of Dios and 10, his favourite number) was that of a man who started at the very bottom and reached the very top. An exceptional player, he is an ultimate idol for generations of football fans throughout the world. And he may be the most famous footballer among non-amateurs. A man of excess in more than one sense, Diego Armando Maradona died young, but as he himself said on his fortieth birthday:
“Until now, I have lived 40 years that are worth at least 70. I lived a full life: I came out of Fiorito and managed to stand on top of the world, up there, at the very top of fame. But once I got there I had to deal with all the shit on my own.”
Front image : Photo d’El Grafico, ancien mensuel argentin, publiée le 29 Juin 1986 (image libre de droits (+ 25ans))