Sat, 16 Jan 2021

Maradona Mourned: 'You Were the Greatest of All'

Voice of America
26 Nov 2020, 09:35 GMT+10

BUENOS AIRES - Diego Maradona, widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of all time before drug and alcohol addiction marred his career, died Wednesday at his home in Argentina after suffering a heart attack, his lawyer said. He was 60.

Beloved in his homeland after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, and adored in Italy for taking Napoli to two Serie A titles, Maradona was a uniquely gifted player who rose from the tough streets of Buenos Aires to reach the pinnacle of his sport.

He died four years to the day after one of his political heroes, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and 15 years to the day after another troubled but talented football folk hero, George Best, whom Maradona cited as one of his boyhood inspirations.

Maradona had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma several weeks ago.

He suffered a heart attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday, acquaintances of the former player said. His death was confirmed by his lawyer.

In Buenos Aires, people began pouring onto the streets to mourn the nation's favorite son, gathering in the San Andres neighborhood where he lived, in Boca, the gritty barrio where he first became a star, and in the nearby city of La Plata where he had lately been technical director for local team Gimnasia y Esgrima.

The Argentine government 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."

At Buenos Aires metro stations, digital billboards replaced messages about trains with the words: "Gracias Diego."

In the suburb of Villa Crespo, the song "La Mano de Dios" by folk singer Rodrigo Bueno rang out from a balcony, a reference to a goal Maradona scored with his hand against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In Argentina, Maradona has long been worshipped as "El Dios" - The God.

While that goal - and his description of it as divine intervention - was Maradona's most controversial, his second in that game, where he ran through the England team to score a stunning solo goal, showcased his extraordinary dribbling and control that many consider unmatched.

Highs and lows

Maradona charmed the world with ball-juggling skills that he first showed off as a 12-year-old ball boy. But a controversial side of him surfaced in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, where he was sent home after failing a doping test.

His last goal for Argentina came in that tournament against Greece in Boston, and he celebrated by screaming angrily into a television camera.

Pele, the Brazilian footballer who is considered one of the only players to have come close to Maradona's skill level, was quick to pay tribute to the Argentine.

"Certainly, one day we'll kick a ball together in the sky above," he said.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, "What Diego has done for football, for making us fall in love with this beautiful game, is unique. Diego deserves our eternal gratitude for that."

At club level, Maradona broke onto the scene with the Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires before playing in Spain with Barcelona. He was idolized in Italy after leading Napoli to their first-ever Italian league title in 1987.

Mayor Luigi de Magistris of Naples 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-inspired street art and graffiti in the Italian city have long been tourist attractions, but he later faced tax problems in the country. In 2009, police seized his earrings to recover unpaid taxes while he was at a health clinic in northern Italy.

Maradona ended his playing career in Argentina, returning to Boca. He had a brief and controversy-packed spell as Argentine national team coach from 2008 to 2010 before club coaching in the Middle East and Mexico.

He had five acknowledged children from relationships with several women, but there have been others who have also claimed he was their father. His daughter Giannina was married for four years to Argentine player Sergio Aguero, who is a striker for the English Premier League club Manchester City.

Maradona became friends with Castro while receiving medical treatment in Cuba. The football star had tattoos of the Cuban leader and Che Guevera, Castro's former comrade. He was also a supporter of ex-Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

'Unparalleled magician'

Years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism truncated his stellar career and altered his appearance from a lithe athlete who could slalom effortlessly through teams to a bloated addict who nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000.

At his peak, he was, said Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, an "unparalleled magician."

"Today, I say goodbye to a friend, and the world says goodbye to an eternal genius," he said. "One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician. 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."

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