The roller coaster of a year that is 2020 has struck again as the football world mourns the passing of Diego Armando Maradona, the then diminutive Argentine, considered as one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport, and easily one of the greatest athletes that ever lived. On Wednesday 25th November, Maradona passed away from confirmed heart attack at his home in Tigre, Buenos Aires at the age of 60.
He made his professional debut for Argentinos Juniors 10 days before his 16th birthday, making him the youngest debutant in Argentine Primera Division history. He spent five successful years at the club scoring 115 goals in 167 appearances. He moved to Boca Juniors in 1981 where he scored 28 goals in 40 appearances for the club he supported as a kid and always wanted to represent. His stint at Boca lasted just a year as the Spanish club, Barcelona, paid a then world record 7.6 million dollars in the summer of 1982.
He spent two years in Spain scoring 38 goals in 58 appearances for Barcelona. During his time in the Camp Nou, he became the first player in El Classico history ever to be applauded by opposition fans after an eye-catching display against their fiercest rivals. His time in Spain was ravaged by injuries and on-field squabbles with opponents, most notably his last match in a Barcelona shirt which ended in a violent brawl after a defeat to Athletic Bilbao.
Maradona, who was a victim of violent tackles from Bilbao players and xenophobic chants from their fans during the game, lost his cool and viciously attacked several players after one of them started taunting him with the xenophobic chants the Bilbao fans had directed at him during the match. Both teams got into a bloody fight that was witnessed by over 100,000 fans in attendance, which included Spanish Royals, and over half of the country’s population watching on television. Over 60 people were reported to have sustained injuries as a result of the brawl.
That incident signaled the end of his time in Spain. In the summer of 1984, Maradona moved to Napoli in Italy for another world record fee of 10.48 million dollars. Over 75,000 fans trooped into the stadium for his presentation. It was during his time in Naples that he gained legendary status. His arrival sparked the most successful era in the club’s history, winning Serie A twice. He brought Napoli their first ever Serie A title in the 1986-87 season. They dominated domestically, and in European competitions during his time in Italy, lifting the UEFA Cup, and the Coppa Italia. He became Napoli’s all-time leading goal scorer with 115 goals.
His time in Italy ended after he failed a drug test for cocaine and served a 15-month ban from the game. In 1992, Maradona left Naples and headed back to Spain where he spent a year playing for Sevilla. He moved back to his native Argentina to play for Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Juniors before retiring from football. He had an eventful international career too. He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances. His most notable moment for Argentina came in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He scored two goals, the first of which was the talk of the match as he appeared to use his arm to guide the ball into the net and the goal was allowed to stand. In his post-match interview, when asked about the goal, he claimed it was “a little bit with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God”. That goal, from that day onwards, is fondly remembered, not by the English fans for obvious reasons, as the ‘HAND OF GOD’. He went on to captain his country to glory and lifted the biggest price in football, beating West Germany 3-2 in the final in front of 115,000 fans.
His international career came to an abrupt end during the 1994 world cup when he tested positive for banned substances. He had brief stints as a manager most significantly, his role as Coach of Argentina from 2008-2010. Expectedly, tributes have been pouring in from grief-stricken football fans across the world. Three days of national mourning have been announced by Argentine President, Alberto Fernandez to “honour the memory of Diego Armando Maradona”. Fernandez described him as “the best football player in the world and a person who made Argentinians immensely happy”.
Brazil’s football legend, 80-year-old Edson Arantes de Nascimento, popularly known as Pele, penned on Twitter, a very moving tribute to fellow talented footballer, “What a 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”.
Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper who was at the receiving end of Maradona’s Hand of God goal, in a tweet, lamented that the iconic player was “taken too soon”. Shilton acknowledged him as “the greatest footballer I ever played against without question”, and expressed sadness that “In recent years, he suffered with health and addiction…”.
Carlo Ancelotti, Everton boss, and former AC Milan player, also tweeted: “You were always a genius. Today is a very sad day and a great loss. But you my friend are eternal. Ciao Diego. Rest in peace”. Marseille head coach, Andre Villas-Boas urged world football body, FIFA. In his tribute, he wrote: For Maradona, it’s a hard blow. I would like FIFA to withdraw the number 10 for all competitions, all team”. Villas-Boas believed “…it’s the best tribute that can be given to the greatest player in the history of football. It is an incredible loss for the world of football”.
For Boca, the club where Maradona first made his name as a teenager, it was a symbolic honour. Boca Junior’s La Bombonera stadium was on Thursday night cast into darkness but for a single light of remembrance for his exploit. The only light was from Diego Maradona’s VIP box.
He is survived by an ex- wife, Claudia Villafane, and their two daughters – Dalma and Gianinna – though it is rumored that he had a total of eight children from other relationships.
The football world says goodbye to one of its most treasured ambassadors; a master dribbler on the field of play who could not dribble death to score a life-saving goal at the critical moment. And in honour of his passing, Napoli President, Aurelio De Laurentiis, has confirmed that their stadium – Stadio San Paolo – would be renamed after the greatest player in the club’s history. Maradona was an icon of football and sports in general, and his memory will forever be lodged in history.
Osayande Ero, a sociologist, sports enthusiast, and music artiste, writes in from Lagos.