Celebrity deaths have a habit of taking people by surprise, despite the fact that they may have been in poor health.
Indeed, when it happens to be a celebrity that has been idolized by millions of people over the duration of their lives, the news that they are gone forever is difficult in the extreme to comprehend for their devout followers, regardless of what their ongoing state of health might have been.
For Diego Armando Maradona, that was slightly different. The world had been dreading but, sadly, also expecting the day that a breaking news ticker flashed up on their screen announcing that Argentina’s favorite son had passed away.
The 60-year-old seemed to switch between two personas, as identified by his former personal trainer, Fernando Signorini, who said there was Diego and then there was Maradona.
Ultimately, it was Maradona’s defining influence over Diego’s life that eventually caught up with him as he took his last breath in a rented home in Buenos Aires on the 25th of November 2020.
The scenes in Argentina are unbelievable.
Thank you, Diego Maradona 🙏 pic.twitter.com/jMZOYnvidh
— Goal (@goal) November 27, 2020
But, now that the greatest footballer to have ever played the game is no longer with us, the conversation should focus once again on his brilliance.
The patron saint of Naples
Indeed, the immediate narrative has been centred around what Maradona achieved on the pitch and how he made us feel when he had a ball at his feet. That feeling is hard to describe but those that were fortunate enough to feel it the most often were from the south of Italy. In reality, in Naples, the sense of loss is perhaps felt the hardest outside of Argentina.
Maradona led the Serie A club to their first-ever league title in 1987 and astonishingly helped the club repeat the feat in 1990. To this day, the Azzurri haven’t won another league title and as of the 27th of November 2020, it appears unlikely we’ll see that changing with Napoli having been priced at 13/2 to win the Serie A this season.
One might say that Maradona single-handedly took Napoli over the line, just as he did in 1986 when he captained Argentina to World Cup glory in Mexico.
It was at this tournament that Maradona scored what has been described as the goal of the century against England on the 29th of June 1986. Such is the reverence of that incredible solo goal to this day, that Prodirectsoccer.com are selling a pair of Puma football boots to commemorate the occasion.
— SBS – The World Game (@TheWorldGame) November 26, 2020
Flawed but always forgiven
The Argentine’s exploits at that World Cup would immortalize him forever. His heroics in Mexico could be seen in an art exhibition at the World Cup in Russia but that was just one of what seemed like a billion tributes to Maradona over the course of his life.
Such was the unconditional love for Maradona that, in many ways, it is interesting to observe that despite a failed tenure as manager of Argentina, when they were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup in just the round of 16, the Argentine public never once fell out of love with him.
This is the case most times when celebrated ex-players fail in the dugout.
It’s probably fair to say that Maradona wasn’t cut out for coaching but, until the very end, he was linked with a host of peculiar managerial jobs in the most far-flung places of the globe. Almost all of them ended in disaster but that didn’t once stop the world from looking past that and remembering his record as a player. That is almost never the case.
Indeed, we remember the diminutive Argentine instead dancing around the field to Life is Life as he warmed up for a UEFA Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich in 1989. Controlling the ball as he had it on a string, Maradona’s joie de vivre is contagious in this two-minute clip. He brought that joy of living to many people around the world when their day-to-day life had them feeling the opposite.
Will never get tired of watching Diego Maradona’s iconic warm-up routine for Napoli 💙
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 25, 2020
The story of Maradona’s life is perhaps best expressed by something Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Of course, millions are in mourning having been touched at some stage of their lives by this little genius, and the outpouring of sorrow has a lot to do with being unable to express just how much Maradona meant to them now he is gone. But Diego’s footballing legacy and memory of brilliance has been secured despite everything that Maradona did to ensure the opposite.