TODAY -

El Diego dies just to be etched in history as legend

John Phaltual *



November 25, the day Diego Maradona passed away, will be remembered as the day a piece of the football-world has died forever. The news of the death of the legend sent the sport landscape into frenzy, regenerating the aura he left behind during his heydays and, due to his seemingly surreal abilities on the field he was christened as “El Pibe de Oro”- The Golden Boy.

My first encounter with the iconic footballer “Maradona” was World Cup 1986 in Mexico, when for the first time the entire World Cup matches was telecasted live in India by Doordarshan. At that time only few people had the luxury of television and with that TV antennas propped up by a bamboo pole had to be regularly adjusted for good signal reception. Or else we have to rely on radio commentary or news updates on newspapers.

The year 1986 breakthrough India’s exposure to international football due to Doordarshan live broadcasting of FIFA World Cup and color TV coming to India at exponential rates.

That was the World Cup of Maradona and it led to massive fan following for his brilliant ball playing. One immense impact was the support for teams also got diversified. Since 1986 a new generation of people veered towards supporting Argentina, even everywhere, whose fans traditionally supported Brazil. The football world began to expand more and also fans following Argentina swelled feverishly. That was Maradona's global phenomenon.

Diego Armando Maradona was born on 30 October 1960, in a shanty town of Lanus in Buenos Aires. Despite his poor family brought up, little Diego’s passion for football wasn’t a deterrent to success. He took to football at a young age of nine and his first team was a local club called “Little Onion”.

Impressive footwork, dribbling skill and accurate passes made the little Diego rise up to the ranks within a short period of his childhood. His real football professional career began with Argentinos Juniors, and after only one season with Boca Juniors, he moved to Europe and Barcelona was the first club outside of Argentina that Maradona played for.

He joined the Spanish giant Barca for a then world-record fee of 7.6 million US dollars. During his stay between 1982 and 1984, Barca won Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup.

He next moved to Naples, in Southern Italy, where he felt more at home and played for the Napoli club between 1984 and 1991. Inspired and energized, he carried the club to two league titles in 1987 and 1990 when the Italian League “Serie A” was the best league in the world. It was at Napoli that he was regarded as a hero and became an icon. He reached the crest of his professional career by snapping the dominance of Serie A by clubs from north and central Italy.

As attacking midfielder, Maradona participated for the Argentina national team in four World Cups – 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994, among which the 1986 World Cup was remembered as his masterpiece. As the team captain, the quarter-final against England, stands as the defining moment for Argentina with the Falkland war just four years behind.

He was then, an everyone Argentine, who lived out a national fantasy with his two winning goals. The first was the infamous “Hand of god” goal, and then four minutes later followed up with one of the greatest solo goals in World Cup history. Undeniably, scoring those two goals immortalized the fame of Maradona.

He led his country to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where they were losing to West Germany in the final. But, sadly, in the United States World Cup in 1994, his captaincy was cut short and sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine.

After that his life is constantly downhill. The cocaine addiction that he developed in Naples resurfaces and, if not for the discipline of football, his life will be in total chaotic affairs. It was because of his love for football that he could get up back again.

He retired from professional football in 1997 during his second stint at Argentine giants Boca Juniors. He was also appointed head coach of the national team in 2008 and left after the 2010 World Cup, where his side was beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals. He subsequently coached the Mexican club Dorados from 2018 to 2019 and was in charge of Argentine Primera Division club Gimnasia de La Plata from 2019 until the time of his death.

The legend made just as many headlines off the pitch as well. Maradona is a footballer who transcended sport. He was an icon, a political player and of course, a lovable rogue. He became an outspoken political figure of Argentina’s right-wing President Carlos Menem, and then moved to the left by becoming a close friend of Cuban socialist dictator Fidel Castro and tattooing himself with the image of the revolutionary icon - Che Guevara.

His health condition was not stable since early November and had successful surgery on a brain blood clot. However, on 25 November 2020, at the age of 60, Maradona died of heart attack at his home in Tigre in Buenos Aires. The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, declared three days of national mourning. His coffin draped in the national flag was lying at the Presidential Palace, the Casa Rosada, with thousands of mourners paying their last respect.

Arguably, one of the greatest players of all time and who was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th century award, Maradona, the genius footballer's mortal body was laid to rest next to his parents at the Jardin de Bella Vista cemetery on 26 November.

During his lifetime, Maradona generated an extraordinary amount of interest in football which influence goes beyond Argentina and so his fame resonated across the world. His insane dribbling skill, the legendary goals and many moments of impossible footwork he created cannot be forgotten. That was the Maradona phenomenon- all the time.

Adios Diego! Gracias Maradona! You will always be missed and always remembered.


* John Phaltual wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be reached at yochananyy(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 30, 2020.



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