An Ode to Maradona, a Flawed Genius Yet an Eternal Deity

The entire footballing community is in a state of shock and mourning following the death of Argentine and world football legend Diego Armando Maradona. The iconic forward has left us with people from all walks of life continuing pouring tributes.

Deservedly considered one of the greatest players to have ever graced the beautiful game, Maradona passed away on Wednesday after suffering a heart attack in his home in Tigre.

In a career that was symbolized by many peaks and troughs, there was never a dull moment. Maradona was a true great of the game in more ways than one.

He enjoyed a great career back home with Boca Juniors and then moved to Barcelona. The move to the Camp Nou was considered as a very logical one. The best player of that time, moving to a team playing the type of football that would suit the left-footed forward was a no-brainer.

Maradona won a couple of titles with the Blaugrana but for one reason or another, he never felt at home there.

As a person, Maradona was always the type who would talk about bringing joy to the people around him. No wonder that despite his much-documented issues, he always oozed passion and love for the game while on the field.

If I die, I want to be born again and I want to be a footballer. And I want to be Diego Armando Maradona again. I am a player who has given joy to the people and that is enough for me and I have plenty.”

This is what the legend had to say about himself. Despite all the troubles he had to deal with throughout his career and after retirement, Maradona was happy with who he was.

But it was at Napoli where his Legend would truly begin.

Always an enthusiastic supporter of the working class in mind and spirit, Maradona decided to leave the glamorous side of things in Catalonia to sign for Napoli at a time when the city was going through a rather forgettable period.

Back in 1984, Napoli was far away from being considered the top destination for a global football star such as Maradona. The city of Naples was a place few tourists would consider a destination of choice.

The club itself was in shambles if you think about it. Napoli had never ruled Italian football and were far behind the likes of Milan and Juventus. However, a city that had no mayor, no money, had a poor infrastructure and many areas with little sanitation to speak of, somehow managed to sign arguably the best player in the world.

In order to understand Napoli, you have to understand Maradona….two different things but sharing a common heartbeat and a soul. There was something unearthly about this marriage. Within the brightness, there was always a hint of malevolence.

Maradona was the poster boy of Argentine football. He was destined to enjoy a more glamorous life, living in the best cities of Europe and enjoying the high life.

But he chose Naples, which was a different thing.

Fans from the cities in the Italian North would arrive at the Stadio San Paolo and maliciously joke about the city’s sanitation problems and the fact that it stands on a fault line, under the shadow of a volcano that already brought it to its knees a few times in the past.

A true representative of the South, Napoli needed someone like Maradona to stand up to the elitist North. The Argentine legend was the true personification of the rebellious pride and hunger of the city of Naples.

It was no mean feat but once he wrestled the first Scudetto from the grips of the most hated and eternally dominant sides in Italy, Maradona became not only a champion of the city of Naples and Napoli but also the champion of the South.

Two Italian titles and some truly great memories. This was the legendary forward’s legacy. In 1990, Maradona would guide Napoli to their second and to date last Scudetto. Their arch-rivals from those days Milan did manage to beat them during the 1989-90 campaign but even coach Arrigo Sacchi admitted how difficult it was to tame the Argentine.

We could dominate playing great football as a team, but then he needed just one touch to completely change the game.”

With the Argentina jersey, Maradona was lo less special and less iconic. When he faced England during the 1986 World Cup, he gave us two moments of absolute genius and madness at the same time.

The backdrop of the game was quite political in nature. Argentina had lost the Falkland War only a few years earlier. The entire English audience was now looking to see the national team win another “war.”

However, it was the day when Maradona humbled and enraged the “enemy” in a manner only he could, first scoring one goal with his hand and then dribbling seven English players before slotting the ball home to score what has been defined as “The Goal of The Century.”

Argentina ended up winning the World Cup at a time when the nation’s morale was at an all-time low. Maradona was the driving force behind that triumph.

And while the dark underbelly of Naples finally bested him, one can never forget Maradona for what he gave to the city. At a time when crime was on the rise and nothing was going right, watching him play at the weekend was what helped the Neapolitans keep their sanity in check.

One episode will suffice: In 1984, Maradona had just arrived in town when he was asked by a teammate to join a charity game to raise money to cure a sick kid. The club did not want to participate in the game and Maradona’s insurance also tried to deter him from joining to prevent possible injuries.

Undeterred, Maradona played the game as if it was a Scudetto decider.

Such little gestures as this show that despite fighting his personal demons all throughout his life, Maradona had a big heart. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Buenos Aires, he knew the harsh realities of life. Therefore, he saw the people from the poorer areas in Naples as his own folks, and they saw him as one of them.

We could talk about how he lost his way and was ruined by his addiction to cocaine and other vices. But do these things really define what Maradona stood for?

As the world and the city of Naples mourns the loss of an icon and a mad genius, we can never forget what Maradona meant to football and how relatable he was for all those people for whom life is a daily struggle and how important it is to still look forward to something every week.

Diego Armando Maradona was exactly that hope for millions of people and now that he’s gone, he left a void that will probably never be filled.