In Diego Maradona's Death, Football Stands as the Biggest Loser

Wednesday, 03 March 2021


In Diego Maradona's Death, Football Stands as the Biggest Loser

Nibir Deka | November 28, 2020 16:31 hrs

Brazil and Argentina are long time rivals seeking domination in football in South America. The Brazilians naturally think of their own Pelé as the best footballer ever. But they are putting aside this argument to mourn the death of Argentine superstar Diego Maradona and salute the legacy that he has left behind. 

A brief introduction of the football legend

Diego Armando Maradona (30 October 1960 – 25 November 2020) was an Argentine professional football player and manager. Maradona was considered one of the greatest players of all time and was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award. 

Maradona's vision, passing, ball control and dribbling skills were combined with his small stature of 1.65 metres (5 ft 5 in), which gave him a low centre of gravity allowing him to manoeuvre his body better than most other football players. 

He would often dribble past multiple opposing players on a run. His presence and leadership on the field had a great effect on his team's general performance, while he would often be singled out by the opposition as the player to tackle. 

In addition to his creative abilities, he possessed an eye for goal and was known to be a free kick specialist. A precocious talent, Maradona was given the nickname "El Pibe de Oro" (The Golden Kid), a name that stuck with him throughout his career. He was also a troubled character, who was banned in the years 1991 and 1994 for drug abuse.

Maradona's relationship in Naples

Prior to Maradona's arrival, Italian football was dominated by teams from the north and centre of the country, such as AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan and Roma and no team in the south of the Italian Peninsula had ever won a league title.

Maradona arrived in Naples and was presented to the world media as a Napoli player on 5th July 1984, where he was welcomed by 75,000 fans at his presentation at the Stadio San Paolo.  

Sports writer David Goldblatt commented, "They [the fans] were convinced that the saviour had arrived." Naples at that time lacked basic civic amenities but it didn't matter to the people as for them Maradona was something bigger than real-life needs.

Maradona captained the Argentine national team to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, winning the final in Mexico City against West Germany. Throughout the tournament, Maradona asserted his dominance and was the most dynamic player of the competition. He played every minute of every Argentina game, scoring five goals and making five assists, three of those in the opening match against South Korea at the Olímpico Universitario Stadium in Mexico City.

Although Maradona was successful on the field during his time in Italy, his personal problems increased. His cocaine use continued and he received US$70,000 in fines from his club for missing games and practices, ostensibly because of "stress." He faced a scandal there regarding an illegitimate son and he was also the object of some suspicion over an alleged friendship with the Camorra. Later on, in honour of Maradona and his achievements during his career at Napoli, the number 10 jersey of Napoli was officially retired. 

The Hand of God: The biggest football controversy

Controversy never left the football legend. Be it off-field with his drugs antics and even on the field. "The hand of God" was a phrase used by the Argentine footballer Diego Maradona to describe a goal that he scored during Argentina vs England quarterfinals match of the 1986 FIFA World Cup. The goal took place on 22nd June 1986, at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Under association football rules, Maradona should have received a yellow card for using his hand and the goal disallowed. However, as the referees did not have a clear view of the play and video assistant referee technology did not exist back then, the goal stood and Argentina led 1–0. The game ended with a 2–1 win for the Argentines, thanks to a second goal scored by Maradona, known as the "Goal of the Century". After the match, Diego Maradona stated that the goal was scored "a little with his head, and a little with the hand of God.”

Beyond football: The politics of Diego Maradona

Across Latin America, Maradona supported many socialist leaders and was friends with several leaders. Maradona supported Venezuela's late socialist president Hugo Chavez throughout his political career, even appearing on his talk show in 2007.

He had a tattoo of Fidel Castro, the Cuban President, on his leg as well as a tattoo of revolutionary Che Guevara on his arm. He has also dubbed himself the "Che Guevara of football." Maradona's anti-American sentiment was a longstanding theme throughout his life.

As reported by The Guardian in 2004, he participated in an anti-Iraq War and anti-free trade protest which drew thousands.

Maradona and his Indian links

Traditionally, football fans in the country, especially in West Bengal have been divided over Brazil vs Argentina. But love for Maradona was evident in everyone when he visited Kolkata at a felicitation program at Salt Lake Stadium on December 6, 2008. 

As such, following the news of his death, the members of Shreebhumi Sporting Club in Kolkata paid tributes to Maradona. 

The fans in Kerala were also shocked as they recalled the iconic footballer, who had visited the southern state for two days in October 2012 for a private event.

Indian cricket legend Sourav Ganguly too expressed his sadness on the legend’s death. “My hero no more mad genius rest in  peace ..I watched football for you..,” Ganguly posted on Twitter. 

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