Argentina mourns Diego Maradona’s death, the man who embodied a nation’s passion

The day was always going to come and yet when news broke on Wednesday of Diego Maradona’s death it was met with complete disbelief across Argentina. That quickly spread to all areas of the globe where arguably football’s greatest every player had left his indelible mark.

For many Diego Armando Maradona is the player that won the 1986 World Cup, ‘La Mano de Dios‘ and the greatest World Cup goal of all-time, to others maybe the saviour of Napoli, Boca Juniors and Argentina’s maniacal supporter or simply the footballing wild man who couldn’t be tamed. Yet for Argentina Maradona is much more than this.

There is a religion in his honour, his face adorns many a city wall across Buenos Aires and president Alberto Fernández has already declared three days of national mourning. And it is for this reason that whether or not the person grew up idolizing Maradona in the Albiceleste of Argentina, whether they have only heard the tales and watched videos of his talent or even if his outspokenness and at times uncouth behaviour rubbed others up the wrong way, there is a sense of personal loss.

Maradona wore his nationality like a badge of honour and when the president says: “Maradona is Argentina, I highly doubt that the world will ever see another Maradona.” He is absolutely right.

From the poverty of Villa Fiorito in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, almost the entirety of Maradona’s life has been played out under a microscope. From the child prodigy that had Argentinos Juniors’ coaches questioning the age of an eight-year-old marvel to the kid that would entertain crowds in La Paternal with his bag of tricks at half time, Diego was destined for greatness.

And yet there are many that probably have similar beginnings and fail to meet expectations. Maradona not only met them but surpassed them, all the while never losing that love for the ball and a style that was straight off the dust-covered potreros where he honed his craft.

This only further endeared Maradona to his faithful. He was the archetypal Argentine player in appearance, technique and temperament: Scruffy haired, diminutive, giving that low centre of gravity, with wonderful close control, a sense of mischief that would entertain and a fire in the belly that would prevail against any opponent.

This fuelled Maradona. Every time someone said it wasn’t possible, every time a coach thought he wasn’t suited, every time a defender tried to break his leg, Maradona only became more focused on proving everyone wrong.

From a sixteen-year-old’s prolific rise at Argentinos Juniors to a league title with Boca Juniors before a big money move to Barcelona and the subsequent paradigm shifting transfer to Napoli, Maradona was a star. Yet nothing could prepare him or thee world for the 1986 World Cup.

Four years earlier Argentina had failed but with that still burning inside Maradona, the talismanic number ten led the Albiceleste to glory in a way that no other individual has ever done at a World Cup. A furious ball of energy and untouchable skill, no one could stop Diego and while lifting the famous trophy aloft at the Azteca Stadium was the iconic moment befitting of the world’s greatest player, it proved to be a weight too much to bear.

Drug addiction had already begun to creep into Maradona’s life and although the highs of two Scudettos with Napoli followed, the mercurial number 10s lifestyle was running away from him.

Yet despite the flagrant disregard for drug testing, his prosthetic penis to avoid detection and subsequent bans, Maradona’s popularity didn’t wane. Even when battling back from inactivity and weight issues to play at the 1994 World Cup only for it to end walking off the pitch hand in hand with a medical assistant before another failed doping test, many Argentines shared Maradona’s feeling of victimisation.

These contradictions made Maradona who he was – the good and the bad.

The operation to remove a blood clot on the brain at the start of the month was a warning sign and yet the cardiac arrest suffered on Wednesday still shock the footballing world. No one was ready to lose Maradona yet. The immediate crowds that have gathered outside the morgue, at the Argentinos Juniors’ stadium that bears his name, at Buenos Aires’ iconic obelisco or on the streets of Naples, the emotions are raw.

Maradona might be dead but he will live on forever