On the 25th of November, at the age of 60, Diego Armando Maradona died of what has been reported to be chronic heart failure in the preliminary autopsy. The death of the flawed idol of Argentina has provoked extreme controversy over the problematic individual he was and his career as he became a legend in the international scope of football, and one of the best football players to ever exist.
The world, and especially Maradona’s home country, have gone crazy with his passing. In Argentina, the frenzy has triggered actions that go from breaking the quarantine, to threatening the life of an employee of Maradona’s funeral parlor who took a picture with his dead body.
Strings of thoughts regarding the morality of worshiping this exceptionally successful football player in spite of his contentious life have been going on through some people’s heads. A spectrum of extremes has been internationally untied. But, is the cause of the on-going mass hysteria merely a result of him being considered a football God, or is it because of his humanity as a football God?
“Maradona”, by Andrés Calamaro
Maradona no es una persona cualquiera Maradona is not a regular person
Es un hombre pegado a una pelota de cuero He is a man stuck to a leather ball
Es un ángel y se le ven las alas heridas He’s an angel and you can see his wounded wings
No me importa en que lío se meta I don’t mind in which mess he is
Maradona es mi amigo Maradona is my friend
Y es una gran persona (el diez) And he’s a great person (the ten)
Diego Armando estamos esperando que vuelvas Diego Armando, we’re waiting for your return
Siempre te vamos a querer We’ll always love you
Por las alegrías que le das al pueblo For the joy you bring to the people
Y por tu arte también And for your talent as well
The excerpt from the song “Maradona” by one of the greatest Argentinian modern music icons, Andrés Calamaro, shows a glimpse of what being a human God means: a mix of a disruptive individual with a charismatic football genius.
As Calamaro’s lyrics hint, Maradona wasn’t a saint, and people are well aware of this. He was accused of sexual assault by a Russian journalist, fulfilled his urge of wildness with drugs and sex workers, and took decades to assume his bastard son although having always been aware he was his kid. Moreover, he was affiliated with the Italian mafia Camorra in Napoli who offered him protection for his wrongdoings. The definitive final endpoint of his international football career took place when, after having had tested positive for cocaine in 1991 while playing for Napoli, he was busted with five variants of a banned substance called ephedrine in the 1994 World Cup. If the aforementioned hadn’t been enough, he was given a suspended prison sentence for having shot journalists with an air rifle in 1994. Having perpetrated all these unlawful and immoral activities, some people wonder if it’s right to be boasting an individual who’s responsible for such actions. However, instead of complaining about Maradona’s veneration, isn’t it more interesting to understand why such worship is happening?
First of all, anyone who is mind-blowing at something gains public admiration. Then, if that something regards the most popular sport in the world, football, that admiration is boosted. However, there’s something besides his physical abilities that marks this individual’s story. His life was a living representation of both the denial of the impossibility of going against universal opposition, and rowing against the current and coming out victorious. He’s a symbol of fighting against the world and actually winning.
The previously mentioned might be a result of having been born in one of the most miserable neighborhoods of the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Villa Fiorito, and being a descendent of the cabecitas negras (“black heads”). In Argentina, the name of cabecitas negras is used to pejoratively describe the people of indigenous origins that usually live in rural and poor areas, and who tend to be raised with a lower cultural level and scarce financial resources. Nevertheless, Maradona always showed himself very proud of his humble background. Besides that, he was always very loving and affectionate towards his parents. In addition, as a man who dominated the world, he was extremely short compared to the average. Maradona’s height was of 1,65m. On top of all of that, he had a strong but playful character and personality, which was something that helped build his persona, and made him become an unsubordinated individual who wasn’t afraid to show his self-pride.
Despite all of this, he managed, sometimes nearly by himself, to overcome all the obstacles in a playing field. By being able to do so, he emotionally conquered Napoli and won the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
The city of Napoli was highly discriminated against in the North of Italy. To illustrate this situation, it’s interesting to note that when the Southern team went to play up in the North, they were hosted with the sentence “Welcome to Italy”. By defeating the Northern teams, he obtained the only two titles that the Napolitan team has ever got in history, besides winning other relevant titles, such as the UEFA Cup.
The 1986 World Cup was four years after the end of the Falklands War between England and Argentina, in which the latter lost. That’s one of the reasons why Argentina’s victory over England in that tournament was so emblematic. After the Hand of God, which was a legendary and illegal goal scored by Maradona with his hand, he went on four minutes later to score a brilliant goal that made his team won their quarter-final match. It’s interesting how this match is a perfect metaphor of the flawed idol that Maradona was: a merge of the illegalities of his actions with the ingeniousness of his football.
Therefore, Maradona was considered a God, as people thought he was capable of making miracles happen. The “underdogs” of Argentina, Napoli, and even the world regarded him as a redeemer. This feeling of invincibility triggered both in him and in the public the notion that he was a figure that doesn’t need to live following the rules, patterns, and molds that are applied to mortal beings. Alongside the responsibility, the pressure, and the accountability that comes with them, the absence of the previously mentioned limits is one of the factors that negatively affected his life and people’s opinion of him, either by his display of extreme disrespect towards people or by the non-fulfillment of the law.
In the end, it’s important to understand that people’s appreciation towards others are a result of their perspective of the individual at issue. People are naturally multifaceted, and you might have different opinions of the same person depending on which of their faces you are looking at.
“La Casa de Dios” (“God’s house”). Maradona’s house in Villa Fiorito, his birth town.
- Morley, Matt. “Maradona accused of sexually assaulting Russian journalist.” BESOCCER, 3 July 2017, https://www.besoccer.com/new/maradona-accused-of-sexually-assaulting-russian-journalist-3-7-17.
- “Diego Maradona’s wild ride of cocaine, sex workers, mafia, wire taps and a fake penis.” nzherald.co.nz, 26 November 2020, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/diego-maradonas-wild-ride-of-cocaine-sex-workers-mafia-wire-taps-and-a-fake-penis/VHUMNPHYTWQHNCSKFGKLIDVTNY/.
- Horsfield, Stuart. “DIEGO MARADONA AT WORLD CUP 1986: THE ARCHANGEL”. These football times, 3 March 2017, https://thesefootballtimes.co/2017/03/03/diego-maradona-at-world-cup-1986-the-archangel/
- m3ry. “Maradona (English translation).” LYRICS TRANSLATE, https://lyricstranslate.com/en/maradona-maradona.html-3.
“Meaning of cabecita negra in Spanish”. Oxford LEXICO, https://www.lexico.com/es/definicion/cabecita_negra