With Diego Armando Maradona, probably the most loved football player of all time died on Wednesday. The Argentinian is considered a god in his own country, despite (or perhaps partly thanks to) numerous incidents off the field.
The only football player with his own religion
He is affectionately called ‘Fluffy’, or ‘Fluff‘ in Spanish. That nickname is a reference to his luscious head of hair and the way he seems to float across the field.
The 1.65 meter short playmaker is a classic number 10. As an attacking midfielder, he determines the game of the teams in which he plays. With his unparalleled technique, he casually dribbles past opponents and makes the best hits.
Maradona makes his most famous goal at the 1986 World Cup in the quarter finals against England (2-1). In the Azteca stadium in Mexico City, he still receives the ball in his own half, surrounds five opponents and pushes the ball into the net. The goal is almost immediately renamed Goal of the Century.
In the same duel, the world also sees the other, sneaky side of Maradona. He hits the ball into the goal with his hand, a trick that he later calls “the hand of God.” A statement that the whole world will remember.
The 1986 World Cup is the absolute highlight of his career. Argentina, which has a mediocre team, actually only becomes world champion thanks to Maradona.
Maradona grew up in Villa Fiorito, a slum of Buenos Aires, where he learned the laws of the street at an early age. Its common ancestry explains its popularity among the Argentinean population.
Because with them Maradona is much more beloved than Lionel Messi, that other absolute world star from the football addicted South American country. In fact, he is the only football player with his own religion, the Iglesia Maradoniana. His estimated 500,000 followers use an era from his birth and now live in the year 60 after Diego.
The fact that Maradona (who has tattoos of guerrilla fighter Che Guevara and the controversial Cuban president Fidel Castro) is still extremely popular almost 25 years after his last match, has been shown again in recent weeks when he has to undergo brain surgery. Dozens of fans watch over the hospital in La Plata and celebrate when their hero returns home.
Not only does ‘Fluff’ have hero status in his own country, he is also idolized in the Italian city of Naples. He leads Napoli to the only two league titles (1987 and 1990) in club history. With this, the team from the poor southern Italian city breaks through the decades-long hegemony of clubs from the rich north and from the capital Rome.
The most famous images of Maradona in his Napoli days were without a doubt not taken during a match, but during a warm-up. Prior to the semi-final of the UEFA Cup against Bayern Munich, the Argentinian with loose laces keeps to the music of Live is Life a ball high for minutes. His love for the ball radiates.