I refused to believe that he would die. Even if he would die, he will survive it, I said to myself. He already had done it so many times before: looked death in the eye and made death leave in shame. I learned to acknowledge my own mortality and this of the ones that I love, but not him. He bit the odds, the mafia, the press, north Italy, the addiction, the flagrant fouls. Death should be a piece of cake.
I will leave the argument about who is the best football player ever. There are plenty of people who understand football better than I do. Every argument is legit: Messi, Pele, Cruyff. It’s like having Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet in one room and asking someone to pick one of them. Maradona was different. He was in another museum. When you saw Cruyff, you could look and appreciate the art and its aesthetics. When you looked at Maradona you you didn’t watch the picture, you were part of the picture. You were experiencing Maradona.
Maradona’s left foot was an extension of his country. Argentine learned the game from the British and then adjusted it to their style, virtuous football played by magicians with low center of gravity. He was kicked out of the squad that won the World Cup at home in 1978. He was 17 then and he would never recover from it. in 1982 he was sent to save the country again. Two days before the games began, Maradona was introduced to the lies of the Fascist regime: Argentine was defeated in Falkland, hundreds of bodies were flown back to Argentine. He finished the tournament with a red card.
Maradona’s biggest international stage came in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico against England in the quarterfinals. In less than five minutes, Maradona was going through a complete metamorphosis: the rebel, the cheater, the hero, God. He scores a goal with his hand, and four minutes later scores the best goal ever. Maradona could have done this only against England: bockish England, the cradle of football, the murderous England of Thatcher and the Falkland war. First he showed it that God is Argentine, and then, using only his left foot, he showed them how far away they are from him talent wise. Maradona scored two goals also in the semi-final against Belgium. Both of the goals were beautiful, but he didn’t cheat and wasn’t spectacular. This was Maradona’s political statement: the game against Belgium was just a match that he had to win. England he had to destroy, humiliate . It was a war, and there are no real laws applied during a war. We are in the Semi-finals and you can stick Falkland you know where.
Maradona arrived as a different person to the next World Cup, in Italy 1990. By then his body, soul and nostrils were attached to the mafia. The Gomorrah accompanied him everywhere, dark and tempting, like death. All of Italy with the exception of Napoli, hates him for his connections with the mafia, and mainly because he dared to lead southern, boycotted, retarded-child Napoli to two championships over Milan, Turin and the rest of the rich north. Everywhere he plays he is being booed. Argentine is playing Brazil in the 1/8 stage. Again, this is not a football match but a war about football dominance. Toward the end of the game, Maradona cuts the Brazilian defense and leaves Claudio Caniggia alone against the goalkeeper. Caniggia scores, but it should have been a goal even if he would have missed. that’s how unique was the assist by Maradona. This is the image of the tournament. Argentina plays against Italy in the semis in Napoli and win by penalty kicks. Like in 1982 Maradona had finished his tasks before the final. The finals, twice against Germany, are just for the record.
Again, I have no intentions to write about Maradona’s football skills. There is a famous 2;56 minute long YouTube video of Maradona warming up for a game in Munich in 1989. Maradona with a pile of coal-colored hair, all of him radiate the naughty of a young man in his prime, his Puma shoes are not tied, he is having fun, so much fun. The speakers are playing „live is life“. The announcer is joining the song, the camera is zooming in on Maradona. He is stretching his hips, his calves, he is dancing. Here, you are in the picture. You see it and all you want to do is just do the same, be one with him. Then Maradona takes the ball and uses every part of his body to tame the ball: his heels, shoulders, head, back, knees, neck. Maradona kicks the ball, and it just bounces back to him, like a dog returning a bone to its master. I will say one things about Maradona’s skills: the one time he touched the ball with his hand turned into the most famous handball in the history of the game.
It must be remembered though that Maradona’s real legacy was written during his club career. His first European club, Barcelona, was supposed to be the perfect match, but Maradona failed there miserably. His most memorable moment there was the scuffle he had at the end of the Copa Del Rey game against Bilbao. It was his last game for Barcelona and Maradona was kicking rival players in their face, his shirt was completely torn, and all of this happened in front of the gaze of the royal family of Spain. Barcelona wasn’t the place for him. It was too cultured, too European, too artistic, too designed, too fashion, too beautiful, too favorite. Too removed from home and the memories he grew up on. Maradona needed the dirt, the poor, the ugly, the dark, the „nothing will come out out of you“.
Hello, I am Diego. Hello Diego, we are 75,000 people welcoming you just for your reception, and everyone in Italy is treating us like shit. You better do something. It took Napoli six years, two Italian championships, one EUFA Cup, million seconds of magic and pure joy, of experiencing the picture, being in it, until it turned into a mirror of Maradona: still the shanty town, still the unfavorite child, still feeling at home only in the ghetto, but self confident, champion, proud of itself.
Maradona’s years in Napoli were insane. Insane. In his first press conference a reporter from north Italy asked him if he knows that the mafia was behind his purchase. He plays on Sunday, goes on a drug-women-alcohol escapade until Wednesday, cleanse himself until Saturday and plays again on Sunday. No one ask him why he doesn’t show up to practice or why he is being lazy. He lives excessively. Every one was just happy that he was alive on Sunday.
A nurse takes a blood sample from him and put the vile in a church, posters and pictures in a glass frame are being hanged everywhere. Then Napoli travels to plays in Milan or Turin and he hears the nasty, evil screaming by the home fans: „you are cholera“, „survivors of earthquake“, „the Africa of Europe“. Maradona shoots another incredible free kick to the back of the net, and then he goes home and teach his daughter, still in diapers, the Maradona alpha-beta: Vaffanculo Juventus. Fuck you, Juventus.
After the first championship, a banner is hanged in the entrance to the cemetery. It says: „you don’t know what you have been missing. Maradona plays every game like a rock star that wants to die on the stage. But he doesn’t know what to do with himself once the game is over: the fame, the love, the fans, the adoration, the money. More and more people are surrounding him, more and more people want a part of him. The more people want to be around him, the more lonely Maradona gets. It reaches the Absurd status: Maradona calls a whorehouse in Napoli at 3:30 in the morning and asks for girls. He promises that he will get the girls some extra cocaine. The man on the other side of the line is asking Maradona to talk to his teenage son. It’s 3:30 in the morning. Vaffanculo.
The law authorities are recording the call, and will use it later to accuse Maradona of possession and trying to distribute cocaine. It leads to his suspension and finally to him leaving Italy. There are some things you don’t do in Italy: you can distribute one ton of cocaine and trade women, but you don’t tell Juventus to go fuck itself
Maradona of Napoli is no longer just a rebel-cheater-hero-God. To watch him play is an emotional experience, as close a thing to divine revelation as football ever offered. After the second championship and the defeat to Germany in 1990, Maradona asked to be traded. Napoli refused. Maradona is detached from the club and the city, they are not good for him anymore, they are the favorite. Nothing is left from his bi-polar of genius on the pitch and self destruction off it. When you are overstaying a place, your freedom becomes your prison.
I know for a long time that one day I will die. But not Diego, not the kid from the ghetto who wanted to play all day and prayed that that the sun won’t go down, not the hero who bit the odds, not the one who became God in one of the most catholic cities in Europe, the Indian who married a white woman. He can’t die, can he?
Well, at least no one can steal the memories from us.
When Maradona celebrated his 60th birthday he was asked what was he wishing for. „I hope to score again against England,“ he said, „this time with my right hand“. If you were born to be a cheater you will never rehab from it. The biggest trickery of Diego Armando Maradona, number 10, wasn’t to let us be in the picture with him or to experience him. It was not telling us that when he will die, a part of us will die with him