Farewell Diego Maradona; Football genius, flawed hero

As the world received news of Diego Maradona’s passing on 25 November, players past and present paid tribute to the fallen genius, remembering how the diminutive Argentinian could light up any match with a moment of brilliance.

In the hours after, it gave many of us pause for thought, especially those of us who are entering that age where our childhood heroes are beginning to leave us.

Still reeling from the death of Dean Jones in September, Maradona’s passing comes as a shock, even if not a complete surprise given his recent health issues.

My Memories of Diego

Growing up in Australia in the 80s and 90s, it wasn’t easy to watch football.

To see Maradona in his pomp at Napoli, we had to wait for someone’s nonno to mail a video of Seria A highlights recorded from TV (as in an actual VHS tape!) from the Old Country to Australia. We would then fast forward through the Juve, Roma, and Milan highlights, going straight to the Napoli game.

Then we would rewind and watch again.

And again.

Until the video was stretched and the already grainy images became almost unwatchable.

We were young, we couldn’t tell you any of the other players on the pitch, we wanted to watch Maradona cut teams apart with his sublime skill.

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After hours of watching highlights, we would head out to the backyard and try to replicate the jinks, dummies and dribbles of our idol, convincing ourselves we were doing it just like him.

When Napoli won their first title in 1986/87 we were too young to get it, but their success in 1989-90 was ‘ours’ as we were now 10 and had been suffering at the hands of those despised northerners for what felt like an eternity.

All this and I’m not even Italian!

But if a friends nonno and nonna hated northerners, well, you quickly learn you get more cannoli if you go with it.

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When Maradona failed a drug test and was banned, we were too young to understand what he had done. But the videos stopped coming and we moved to other things.

However, over a decade later, while visiting Naples on the way to Pompei, it was incredible to see how revered ‘the saviour’ still was in those parts.

Wandering around quiet streets you could still see the faded murals of Maradona that adorned so many of the cities ancient buildings.

Diego Maradona mural in Naples.

Souvenir sellers in and around the Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza del Plebiscito were still selling Napoli shirts, scarves, and flags emblazoned with Maradona’s name on them, and people were still snapping them up.

Of course I bought a flag!

Diego Maradona: Flawed Hero

Maradona, George Best, Gazza, what is it that we love about a flawed hero?

Personally, I think us mere mortals can relate to them more than we can the other-worldy and somewhat inaccessible stars like Messi and Ronaldo.

While on one hand it would be highely unlikely to see Ronaldo walking down the street without an entourage, on the other hand it feels as if it would be completely normal to wander into the local and see Paul Gascoigne enjoying a pint.

His sublime skill married to his human frailties is exactly what people loved about him.

It’s a heady combination of the ‘Hand of God’, sticking it to the Establishment of northern Italy, speaking his mind even when (at times) he shouldn’t. Standing up against poverty, ties to the Camorra, wearing his heart and emotions on his sleeve for all to see that gave people the feeling that Maradona was likeable, and maybe even just like them in some ways.

After retiring from football, the world watched as the game he loved seemed to have passed him by, most noticeably as he managed his beloved Argentina to a disastrous 2010 World Cup exit, Argentina battered 4-0 by Germany and Maradona seemingly out of ideas.

He would leave the national team at the end of the tournament, and from then was more regularly in the news for his drug and alcohol issues than for his management exploits.

But if anything, his personal struggles endeared him to us all the more.

Maradona is ‘eternal’

Lionel Messi, the man who carries the burden of following in Maradona’s footsteps with the weight of a nation dreaming of World Cup glory, called his former national team boss ‘eternal’ as he mourned his passing on Instagram.

“It is a very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He is leaving us but he is not going, because Diego is eternal.

“I will hold close all the beautiful moments I have lived with him and I want to take this time to send my most sincere condolences to all his family and friends. RIP,” said Messi.

Cristiano Ronaldo, another in the list of GOAT candidates with both Messi and Maradona was also quick to pay tribute to the fallen hero.

“Today I’m saying goodbye to a friend and the world says goodbye to an eternal genius. One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but he leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.”

Personally, I carry these losses deeply. I still remember vividly the tears streaming down my face when I heard Ayrton Senna had been killed.

This year we have suffered the devastating losses of Kobe Bryant, Dean Jones, Sean Connery, and countless others.

Maradona’s death is another that hurts, but the silver lining is it is a great excuse to reconnect with old friends and dig out some old Napoli highlights over a cannoli.

Siempre Deigo.

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