by Howard Green
There are few people in this world who have had a more eventful life than Diego Armando Maradona, who has unfortunately passed away aged 60 years on Wednesday 25th. His existence has been a tale of spectacle and interest. The man has died as one of the best footballers ever to play the game, and a hero to the Argentine people.
The beauty of the tale of Maradona lies not in his brilliance, but in his imperfections. Football players tend to be focused on their sport, never to utter a word about anything else and only content when achieving physical or sporting glory, with only a number of them ever achieving it. Maradona was not this. An impulsive passionate man who had the confidence to speak about what he truly believed, much like our current hero Marcus Rashford. Like many of us, he was flawed, inconsistent, and if there ever was a football player who symbolised so much about the human spirit, it was Diego. Here he is in three parts:
Maradona: The Footballer and the Artist
Born into a shanty town in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, his early childhood follows the narrative of many South American footballers. Spotted by a talent scout and signing his future away at a young age. Starting professionally in the Argentinos Juniors, whose football ground is named after the man, and later moving to Boca Juniors. Maradona became a name in Barcelona when he transferred there in 1982.
Later he moved to Napoli, the club which his football is best remembered by, and where his role as an attacking midfielder was best suited. El Pibe de Oro was no longer a boy, but a diamond ladened man of monstrous footballing value.
His best remembered, but certainly not skillfully his best, goal was the ‘Hand of God’. A still hotly debated goal in which Maradona appeared to punch the ball into the back of the net while playing against England in the 1986 World Cup. A clear foul to the eyes of an Englishman, but a divine move from a national deity who clearly bent the rules of footballing reality. Argentina went on to be crowned champions that year.
The ‘Hand of God’ is a goal that ascended the rules of football and ascended Maradona into the heights of worship amongst his most dedicated fans. Sadly his skills, like so many great football players, never transferred into coaching,failing to find much success with the Argentine national team or any club.
Maradona: The Imperfect and the Divider
Maradona’s off-pitch existence has always been a source of much debate. If you’re going to be commended as one of the greatest footballers to ever exist, it is hard to not have faults that are drastically exaggerated when the world’s eyes are on you.
Maradona has always been a dividing character. Beyond the Hand of God, he split heads on the ongoing debate on whether he or Pelé were the greatest players in the world. What was a civil discussion between fans and members of the footballing world became a fierce rivalry after Maradona had retired. Maradona and Pelé represented both the football and non-footballing rivalry between Argentina and Brazil. In this regard, Maradona had to be braggadocious for his country’s sake.
A critically important part of the myth of Maradona is his unapologetic political views.
Maradona unfortunately had many issues relating to his physical and mental health. He has been infamously known by many for having a cocaine addiction, along with obesity and alcohol issues. His habit with cocaine began during his time at Barcelona, showing the striking change between footballers’ mental and physical well-being back in the 1980s and today. It was hard for Maradona to be a character so adored by people, and to have to deal with the inevitable truth that his best days would someday, inevitably, be over.
His unfortunate addictions led him to be besmirched and vilified by the media. There was a profit to be made about his imperfect character, particularly in the UK, where many continued to have a nagging hatred of him. Despite this, Maradona was a god to his Argentine compatriots and to many in Naples, who have already begun making shrines in his honour.
Maradona: The Revolutionary and the Renegade
A critically important part of the myth of Maradona is his unapologetic political views. While he always has been, of course, a footballer before anything else, his socialist principles reflecting his unequal upbringing were evident.
During much of the early 2000s, Maradona was a very vocal critic of American imperialism. With South America being washed in the pink tide, the United States had changed its socialist enemy from the USSR to the democratic socialist movements that were gaining huge momentum in Venezuela, Brazil, and Diego’s native Argentina. In the most Maradona way possible, Maradona called George W. Bush “human garbage”.
Maradona showed solidarity with the socialist cause through his direct links with many socialist leaders. Pictures can be seen of Maradona meeting with the likes of Fidel Castro (who died 4 years to the day before Maradona), Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez. He regularly expressed solidarity with their movements. Maradona’s body was also adorned with the faces of the Cuban revolution, including a tattoo of Castro on his leg and one of Che Guevara on his right arm.
Being a religious man for much of his life, Diego still found time to disrupt the fabric of organised religion too. Meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1987, he famously said “…I was in the Vatican and I saw all these golden ceilings and afterwards I heard the Pope say the Church was worried about the welfare of poor kids. Sell your ceiling then amigo, do something!”.
Beyond what we clearly see about Diego, a footballing genius and a hero to the people of his nation, what he truly represented was hope. Hope for those in poverty to reach the greatest heights. Hope for those who are flawed and who have many obstacles to overcome. Hope for a socialist future. Maradona, much like his compatriots Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara, was a rule-bender and revolutionary in football and a myriad of other ways, in his private, personal, and public life. Gracias Diego.
Featured image CC BY-NC 2.0 Ryan Whitney
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