There is Pelé, him and a few others. But especially Pelé and him. There is always Pelé. Diego Maradona is no longer there. The Argentinian press announced his death, this Wednesday, November 25, of a cardiac arrest. Like its Brazilian elder, the Argentinian wisp was number 10, that of the most beautiful legends, and legend it was, this devil of footballer, this devil of man.
A little devil then, and a genius of the ball. How to sum it up, “El pibe de oro”, the golden kid born in the biggest slum of Buenos Aires, in 1960, who undoubtedly had to learn to juggle the ball before speaking, how could it be otherwise? How to tell it, this giant as tall as three apples, elusive on and off the pitch? Perhaps by being satisfied with a key moment, a key moment, but which sums up the man quite well.
The “hand of God” and the goal of genius
Go back to this June 22, 1986, in the Azteca stadium in Mexico City, where the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England takes place. Diego Maradona is the captain of the sky and white, and he multiplies to harangue his troops, to get this match out of its torpor and this 0-0 which still lasts after 50 minutes of play. And then there you go: a ball fallen from the clouds, and Maradona who leaps. But too small, he cannot head ahead of British goalkeeper Peter Shilton who comes out of his cages. Then he holds out his hand, trickster gesture, and the ball ends up at the back of the net. Only the arbiter of the day seems not to have seen what will become “the hand of God”.
What 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. pic.twitter.com/6Li76HTikA
– Pelé (@Pele) November 25, 2020
An incredible cheating, but which forges the legend of the player, who especially five minutes later, crosses the whole field by multiplying the dribbles, mystifying all his opponents, and plants an extravagant second goal, forever in the annals of football (the most beau of the century, according to the International Federation), which offers victory to the Argentines (2-1) soon to be world champions. A trick and a stroke of genius, Diego Maradona in all his guilty splendor. And it will always be that with him. Shadows and lights.
His time in Naples, after two years of ups and downs in Barcelona (1982-1984), would characterize the character even more. He plays on a volcano, ignites the stands, sets the lawn on fire. Maradona in Naples is an almost permanent festival, the best player in the world in action, offering his club the league-cup double in 1987, top scorer in the championship the following year, winner of the UEFA Cup ( the Europa League today) in 1989. The period represents the peak of the player, his years of absolute glory. But the other Maradona is already pointing, which glory swells with outrageous, disproportionate pride.
The time of drifts
The end of Maradona in Naples, at the beginning of the 1990s, it will be almost nothing more than a wobbly soap opera where behind the scenes the mafia and the demons of the player addicted to cocaine are agitated. His majesty Maradona takes precedence over the brilliant Diego, and it is not very beautiful. The positive tests with white powder multiply during his end of career, and it is often a ball of nerves with crazy eyes that the cameras also frame.
His end of career, back in Argentina, is rather sad, and his retirement from 1997 does not help the myth. His addiction is still present, he came close to death in 2004 after a heart attack, his conversion as a coach, with the national team or in a club, hardly left an indelible mark. The legend is damaged over time, from one detoxification treatment to another of slimming, sometimes grand-guignolesque interventions in front of the media in more or less dubious cronyism with various South American politicians. Shadows then, after the lights.
His is definitively extinct and all football lovers will remember the golden kid, the ball artist, the genius of the game. Too much adored and revered, perhaps. But for a few years, how handsome that Diego was on the land.
The shock wave is considerable. His death has since been the subject of nourished, vibrant tributes, which fall from all corners of the planet, football planet like never before.
All of Argentina, of course, the homeland of the “Pibe de Oro” (the golden kid), has stopped, flabbergasted by the news. During the three days of decreed national mourning, tears will flow in abundance. Of grief, it is also widely questioned in Naples, where the player made most of his career between 1984 and 1991, giving the Italian club its finest hours, the city devoting an always renewed passion to the brilliant will-o’-the-wisp. But the cascade of admiration comes from everywhere and from all: unanimous players, newspapers which bow, politicians who celebrate, artists who dub, supporters who salute. Without hiding the man’s flaws, his face as dark as flashes of light, and that is to say the extent of the legend: everything is involved, the worst as well as the best.