The evident, outspoken revolutionary to a sharp- tongued rebel, a quintessentially fit athlete to a bloated addict, voice for the oppressed and the presence who made himself felt. Listless attributes and attainments, albeit the vices, lies the question, of how Diego Maradona, would etch himself in the history, the most polarising figure in football history, succumbing to a cardiac arrest, bidding adieu abruptly, at the age of 60.
Honing skills in the shanty town of Villa Fiorito, in his early days, over dirty roads, wastelands and mud rivers, to a meteoric rise, to the National favourite and to God for many, the sublime football legend had the rag-to-riches backstory to romanticize the upheaval of a stardom. Perhaps, the rumbling stomach and the dusty feet intensified the quench to persist and made the rebel out of him. That he continued to stay with the oppressed and staunchly rebel against imperialism.
The voice amongst the voicelessness of the game is what brings him out of the pitch to polity. Undisputedly, he was the best at his peak time, yet, the passionate and ardent fighter in him fought for equality and justice. And the man with short body and dark curly hair, hurled multifaceted, with small, quick, steps, embroiled it to knock-off the ball nor his opinions, making stances and taking chances that no one, but only Maradona could dare, of how he was at loggerheads with America or how the Hand of God intervened a goal.
The sailor who sailed the sinking ship of Napoli, the trampled Italian town, to shores with the first ever Serie A title in 1987 an year after his World Cup lift. The poorest town with the most sought player, won fortunes for the club, the next in 1990, saw his posters next to Jesus. The Italians held him as a deity.
To err and to later admit it and to not apologise is the fury what Maradona held against England. And the ‘Hand of God’ reflected the determination within him. England massacring 700 of marginalised, unprepared Argentine soldiers to occupy the disputed Falkland island, and to face off four years later on a World Cup Quarter-finals, the predestined fate of the malice politics, saw a fiendishly cunning fist and fiercefully strong head, jam in the ball.
Despite doubts, he celebrated his wicked luck over the English, confidently. He is the man of his own beliefs. He is the man of his own rules. He vindicated the death of hundreds of soldiers, within. And to him football was never less than any politics, nor more. He dared to fool the thousands of spectators, he dared to lie, and he succeeded. Perhaps, the Hand of God worked against England than for Argentina. Which could be why his Goal of Century flushed in flamboyance decreeing their win.
How can such a Maradona ever be confined to football ? He was a phenomenon that launched ideas, gathered opinions, that front pages discussed. From ill to good, he was never far from the headlines. He took football out of the pitch. He brought politics inside the pitch. He stood for Palestine with loudest and clearest voice. He spited to shudder Bush, boycott anything and everything that is American. He spoke what is difficult to speak.
The five-feet-five man with a small body had a heart bigger than him. He mourned uncontrollably for the loss of his fatherly figure, Fidel Castro, in 2016. He never forgot his dusty and doomed past that he constantly fought for equality. He was one amongst who wanted to make the world a better place. His determined decisions, signified his voice defending the less privileged and left-wing movements in Latin America. With the delicate politics of subjugation and colonisation in the continent, being political is irresistible, yet amidst to the fleeting youth and flaunting fame, the fuelling fight for justice is what distinguishes him from the rest in the field, ruled or ruling. Perhaps the football world shall never see such an ardent and genius player with strong social fervours.
Considering himself a Chavista and fighting against the U.S. Imperialism in Venezuela, and to support for the Bolivarian process, being a political proponent of Nicolas Maduro, he claimed his stand by saying,
“We are chavistas until death. When Maduro orders, I am dressed as a soldier for a free Venezuela, to fight against the imperialism and those who want to take our flags, which is the most sacred thing we have. Long live the revolution!!!”, Diego wrote on his official Facebook page. He had political problems everywhere. But the vibrancy, the multi-cultural face, the sublime genius player in him, gave admirers all around the globe.
Though his many vices had plagued his life off the pitch, and mistakes and errors blighted various stages of his career, he is the man with remorse who wished he held his life tighter. Speaking to an Argentine television channel in 2014, he had said, “Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn’t taken drugs? I am 53, going on 78 because my life hasn’t been normal. I’ve lived 80 with the life I’ve gone through.”
Ushering an extraordinary career in football, rising from an unremarkable neighbourhood and vying trophies and records, he is more like an event that the world celebrated yet, criticized for years.
As the event culminated, with thousands writing the tales, and endless condolences bequeathing the pain, now, Diego is all, but a memory.
And what will remain is what he left behind.
Jushna Shahin is a freelance football writer and en English language asistant at IES Beatriz de Suabia, Sevilla, Spain.