Flawed genius

Sports | REUTERS 27 Nov 2020

Diego Maradona had more talent than almost any other footballer in history but his cult status in Argentina and around the world went far beyond the pitch. His flaws made him human and his battling nature won him adoration.

The 60-year-old icon, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday, won the World Cup in 1986, lifted Italian club Napoli to unparalleled heights and, in one crucial game against England, scored two of the most memorable goals of all time: one with his hand and the other with his feet.

"As a player he gave everything to us," a Buenos Aires resident said. "He gave us a world championship ... He always played for the jersey."

Off the pitch, Maradona was passionate and outrageous, a small man with big appetites. He knew how to push people's buttons and he did not care what anyone thought. That behavior brought him love and hate in equal measure.

He was revered in Naples, where 30 years after his stint there his likeness still adorns walls, billboards and shrines. In Argentina he was lionized in songs and a virtual "church" sprang up to worship the silky playmaker whose number 10 shirt number gave rise to his nickname D10S - a play on the Spanish word for "god."

"Maradona is not just any person, he is a man glued to a leather ball," Argentine singer Calamaro declared in his song Maradona. "I don't care what mess Maradona gets into, he's my friend and he's a great person."

Maradona loudly championed Argentine causes - including the country's controversial claim to the Malvinas, the British islands known as the Falklands that sit just east of the Argentine coast.

He was a friend to left-wing Latin American leaders, including Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

In Italy, he spoke out on behalf of the poor south against the rich north.

In a sport where blandness prevails, Maradona was willing to speak his mind and Argentines loved him for it because they saw a bit of themselves in him.

His all-consuming and often destructive passion was the epitome of what it means to be Argentine, where huge outpourings of joy are often followed by deep troughs of melancholy.

On the field, Maradona was Argentina personified and not just because of his undisputed brilliance.

His cunning, his love of putting one over on his rivals and his deep suspicion of authority marked his football.

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