Diego Maradona: Exit of a legend

The global soccer family was plunged into a mourning mood on Wednesday as the news of the sudden death of Diego Armando Maradona hit the airwaves. The iconic footballer dribbled his way to his final resting place at the age of 60. He died of cardiac arrest.

Born on October 30, 1960 in Buenos Aires, the stocky and diminutive football star began his career at a tender age of 15 and was instantly recognised for his pace, high techniques and dribbling skills, all packed into his left leg.

At 17, he was overlooked for a space in the 1978 World Cup Finals on account of his small size, despite his noticeable potential. He, however, broke into the national squad at the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain and gave a good account of himself as a potential one-man powerhouse. In 1986, he led Argentina to win the World Cup in Mexico during which he scored his infamous Hand of God in the 2 – 1 defeat of England in the quarter-finals.

His playing career saw him playing for home-based clubs like Argentinos Junior, Boca Juniors, Newell’s Old Boys before breaking away to feature in foreign league clubs, among which were FC Barcelona and the Italian giants, Napoli, where he won laurels for the clubs. He made 58 appearances for FC Barcelona between 1982 and 1984, helping the outfit to lift the La Liga title in 1983.

He was idolised in Napoli where he won two Italian Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 as well as the 1989 UEFA Cup. Maradona also helped the club to win the 1987 Italian Cup, scoring a total of 115 goals in 259 appearances for the team.

However, the football legend had drug and alcohol addiction issues along with a poor diet. The habit marred his football career and had negative impacts on his performance. For instance, in 1991, Maradona was handed a 15-month ban from the game as he tested positive for cocaine. He was also thrown out of the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals in the US after he tested positive for a banned stimulant, ephedrine. He failed another test in 1997 as he tested positive for a prohibited substance while playing for Boca Juniors at that time. Between 2000 and 2004, Maradona had heart problems due to cocaine addiction and he was hospitalised. In 2007, he was treated for alcoholism and was also in and out of the hospital with “acute toxic hepatitis” related to excessive drinking and eating. Following his retirement in 1997, Maradona put on weight and suffered from obesity. He had a stomach surgery in 2005.

His coaching career was a disaster. He managed Argentina’s Textil Mandiyu, Racing Club, Deportivo Riestra and Gimnasia La Plata, Mexico’s Dorados de Sinaloa and UAE Clubs Al-Wasl and Al-Fujairah, winning no trophies.

Argentina’s national team hired the legend in 2008 for the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa but he failed in this tournament. The global attention was focused on the team to lift the trophy as it boasted of five world best attackers at the time, namely Lionel Messi, Gonzales Higuain, Carlos Tervez, Diego Milito and Angel Di Maria. The fearsome goal-machines had raked in more than 100 goals for their various clubs during the 2009/2010 football seasons across various leagues in Europe ahead of the global soccer showpiece in South Africa. However, under Maradona’s watch, the Argentines could not make it beyond the quarter-finals. They were eliminated by Germany in a shocking 4 – 0 drubbing.

In his honour, the government of Argentina declared three days of mourning. The President, Alberto Fernandez, said he was “incredibly sad.

“… I can’t believe it. I’m distraught. It’s the worst news an Argentina fan could receive. We loved him. I’m trying to talk to his family. We’ll see. There is so much sadness.”

 Clubs and football figures across the world have been paying tributes to the fallen legend. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) had this to say: “Maradona was, is, and will forever be a hero of our football. An emblem that knew how to bring the colors of the Argentine flag to every corner of the planet, Diego forever marked an era with his indescribable and unsurpassed talent. The soccer planet will remember you forever”.

FIFA boss, Gianni Infantino, said on FIFA.com, “I always said it and I can just repeat it now, more convinced than ever: What Diego has done for football, for making all of us fall in love with this beautiful game, is unique”.

UEFA President, Aleksander Ceferin, in his condolence message, said, “I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Diego Maradona, one of the world’s football greatest and most iconic figures. He achieved greatness as a wonderful player with a genius and charisma of his own.”

The Napoli FC said, “The world awaits our words, but there are no words to describe the pain we’re going through. Now is the time to grieve.”

FC Barcelona was quoted as saying: “FC Barcelona expresses its deepest condolences regarding the death of Diego Armando Maradona, a player for our club (1982-84) and an icon of world football. Rest in peace, Diego.”

Blueprint Weekend joins millions of football followers in mourning the legend. May God grant his soul eternal rest and his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss, Amen.

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