“Different class!DIFFERENT CLASS!!!”
That’s all journalist-commentator Jimmy Magee could muster up when the curly-haired little magician from Argentina weaved past the entire population of England on that bumpy pitch of the Aztec to score, possibly, the most famous goal in Football history. This scribe wasn’t even born when the iconic moment happened. Watching that goal, many in our generation started to understand the magnitude and impact of those 8-10 seconds on Argentina’s football history. As if, “I was there in that moment”, anyone of us would say.
Those who lived through the 1980s have stories to tell others, as they had real-time glimpses of Maradona on television in his prime. They all say: Diego Armando Maradona was unmatchable.
Emerging with a big bang on the 1986 world cup scene, this short, stocky guy with a divine left foot and a cheating right hand (of God?) made the kids dream and the grown-ups believe in magic.
The timing was immaculate for Bangladesh too; black and white TV screens had started becoming a novelty in Bengali households when ‘the mad genius’ showcased his unreal ability with a ball at his feet. Had it not been for Maradona, we would never have seen generations after generations donning the blue and white stripes in every corner of this country.
There are people who support Argentina but could never justify why. It was just something that they inherited, the same way you inherit the family name. That’s what Maradona did to this country. Through his sheer creativity and personality, he made our previous generation love the beautiful game. And it’s not just Bangladesh.
Move over to West Bengal,you’ll hear exactly similar stories. From a tea-shop owner to Sourav Ganguly, Diego’s feet and its rhythmic connection to football inspired millions all around the world. His brilliance just transcended boundaries, religion, race and language. Diego Maradona had an impact on the lives of many modern-day athlete anywhere in the world. He is the favourite player of all our favourite players today!
Be it nutmegging someone on his professional debut at the age of 15 (because the coach asked him to), be it winning the league title with his boyhood club (because it has his dream), be it receiving a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu (because he was just that good), be it scoring a goal with his hand (because why not?), be it leading his country to World Cup glory (because he just that good x2), Diego Maradona achieved the impossible and did the unthinkable.
While Argentina and the rest of the world loved him for his flamboyance, guile and fearless attitude; the relationship he built with the city of Naples was nothing short of a fairytale out of a romantic novel. Napoli fit Diego like a glove to a hand, it was as if Maradona and Naples needed each other to complete each other’s myth.
When Maradona was welcomed by 75,000 fans at the Stadio Sao Paulo, a local newspaper in Naples stated that, “despite the lack of a mayor, houses, schools, buses employment and sanitation, none of it matters because we have Maradona!”He arrived in Naples as the messiah –leading the club to Scudetti, domestic cup triumph and European glory – titles which the club had never seen before. Murals of Maradona can still be seen on the city’s ancient buildings, while newborns at that time – more often than not – were named in his honour.
Blindly worshipped in Naples, perhaps the greatest accomplishment – albeit intangible – for the kid from Buenos Aires, however, was when Argentina played Italy in the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup in his adopted home in Napoli. Before the match, Maradona declared that Naples is not Italy and asked the fans to support Argentina. His loyalty towards Napoli was so absolute and spiritual that many ditched their national team for their anointed emperor. Why, you ask? Because they were and are bound to Maradona, eternally, in a lifelong emotional attachment that is beyond any kind of rational understanding. They haven’t been forgiven since, but they do not care. In the city of Naples, to this day, nothing else matters except for Maradona!
Actually, as it is understood, his love for the game was born out of pure, raw emotion. His superhuman talent lit up the eyes of the millions that were lucky enough to see him perform on a Football pitch. Maybe, that’s why it didn’t matter to people that he failed as a manager or that he lost his way a little in life. Everything was forgotten and forgiven, even self-destruction.
The devil that was inseparable from the genius, eventually consumed him. But Maradona was never shy or unapologetic about what he did; he was honest and open about his flaws, his life, his mistakes, his imperfections. He had a tattoo of his compatriot, romantic revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara on his right arm and his affinity with Cuba’s Fidel Castro was well-documented. In a lot of ways, Maradona represented artistry, revolution and freedom all at once.
Maradona’s Facebook post on Bangladesh special Olympic team
“Sport is something wonderful because it brings us closer and unites us, beyond everything,” reads a Facebook post from Diego Maradona’s official Facebook page on March 15, 2018. That day, he met the special Olympic football team of Bangladesh and wished to come to Bangladesh someday. He had the will to come to Bangladesh being aware of the fact how crazy the people are here about him.
Last year, Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) president Kazi Salahuddin announced that Diego Maradonaagreed to come to Bangladesh during this MujibBorsho celebration. Who knew that Covid-19 would block his visit to Bangladesh, depriving the people here from seeing their most beloved footballer one last time before his final departure from the mortal world?
Diego Maradonafilled the hearts of an entire generation with giddy, drunken happiness. His nonchalant dancing in the warm-ups, his celebrations during the 2018 World Cup and his way of living life; they all had one thing in common: they were authentic and iconic. Adored and idolised in every part of the world, the god of Naples made the #10 shirt- something truly special. While Diego’s box in La Bombonera illuminates, San Paolo cries, and the whole world weeps at his untimely passing; lest we forget that as long as football lives, Maradona’s legacy lives!
Pep Guardiola perfectly summed up what Maradona meant to football and everyone associated with the game: “I think there was a banner in Argentina a few years ago that said ‘it doesn’t matter what you have done with your life, it matters what you have done with our lives.” And what he did to generations including little kids in this country and all over the world; it was unparalleled to anything ever experienced by anyone and nothing in this universe can tangibly measure.
Thank you, Diego, for everything you’ve done for this game. It’s time to rest easy, the great footballer!
Ahnaf Ahmedis a World Bank consultant.