A tribute: Diego Maradona

Source: The New Yorker

25th November 2020 is a date that no football fan will ever forget. What started off as an ordinary Wednesday turned into a day of mourning for football fans around the world as news trickled out from Buenos Aires that a myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, had claimed one of the greatest minds ever seen in football – that of Diego Armando Maradona. 

Maradona – or “El Pibe de Oro” (“The Golden Boy”), as he was called during his career – was a regular face in the newspapers both for actions on and off the green grass of the pitch. There is one thing that no tribute dedicated to Maradona, no article written about the footballing relations between England and Argentina, and no list compiled about the greatest goals of the footballing world will ever miss out on – the “Hand of God” during the Argentina-England quarter final of the 1986 World Cup.

Known even by non-football fans, the “Hand of God” was a defining moment in the history of Maradona’s life as it was also the moment when he was etched into every Argentine’s heart forever. The goal did not even come close to being the best Maradona’s ever scored (the one he scored four minutes later, also known as the Goal of the Century was) – but it marked an important milestone for Argentine fans as the match marked an integral shift in the already intense England-Argentina rivalry, given the immense and increasingly volatile history between the two nations, not only on the pitch, but also geo-politically. To put it in context, here’s a timeline of major events that involved the two nations before the historic match of 1986:

  1. 1966

Th 1966 World Cup quarter-final match marked an important turning point in the history of the footballing rivalry, with the Argentine captain Antonio Rattín being inexplicably sent off during the match, and the Argentines terming it “el robo del siglo” – “theft of the century” – as the goal that England scored (which caused them to win the match) was disputed by the Argentines as an offside. The tensions heightened even more when the press reported the then England manager Alf Ramsey calling the South American side “animals”, which did not go down well with the Argentines. 

  1. 1982

The Falklands War – even though not officially termed as a war – was a conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the ownership of the Falkland Islands. England gained back possession of the Islands, but not without the Argentines suffering more casualties than the English side (650 to the Brits’ 255).

The victory of Argentina over England on that hot day in Mexico City was the event that cemented Maradona into the hearts of Argentines everywhere. And both the goals – arguably the most famous two in history – are the reasons why Maradona is known in every corner of the world where a football is kicked. 

Diego Maradona, as the captain of the national team, led Argentina to being the World Champions in 1986 – repeating the feat of 1978 – and being the last captain to ever lead Argentina to a World Cup. 

His career has been the stuff of legend and his Wikipedia page is more than ready to help you get acquainted with it. It’s more about the magic that he brought to the pitch that built him such a huge fan following. 

To many, Maradona represented the perfect underdog story – starting at the bottom and rising to the top. He brought the stuff of fairy-tales to the stadium, moving with the ball seemingly glued to his foot, full of tricks and flair that made him absolutely mesmerizing to watch. Everywhere he went, he brought trophies and magic and money in – he turned squares in cities into party-zones and made every fan’s dreams come true. With Maradona on the pitch, wearing the same colors that you did, you knew you were going to go home with nothing but a hoarse voice and a smile that wouldn’t fade anytime soon. 

To many, Maradona was a living legend, a proof of excellence and success, a seemingly ordinary person who was capable of extraordinary feats.  There wasn’t a shred of doubt that the announcement of him being awarded “Player of the Century” jointly with Pelé  was the right one, given the fact that Maradona was synonymous with football in many fans’ hearts.     

Earth may have lost an icon of football, but Heaven just gained their best footballer. 

Rest in peace, Diego Armando Maradona. 

-Rajlakshmi Chavan

SY B.Sc. Economics

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