Diego Maradona’s last words before he died were: ‘I feel sick.’
The Argentinian football legend, 60, suffered a heart attack at home on Wednesday just two weeks after he was released from hospital following surgery for a bleed on his brain.
Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, having knocked England out in the quarter final with the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and another – later voted ‘Goal of the Century.’
Renowned for his breathtaking playing ability, Maradona’s wild life off the pitch was equally notorious; running around with the mafia in Naples, serial womanising and a lethal dependency on alcohol and cocaine.
On Wednesday morning, Maradona had come down for breakfast looking pale and complained that he felt cold.
‘Me siento mal,’ he told his nephew before returning to bed in the Buenos Aires mansion.
Shortly before noon a nurse discovered Maradona and phoned for help but he was dead before paramedics could arrive.
Three days of mourning have been declared by the Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez.
‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’
Diego Maradona, Argentinian footballing legend and one of the greatest ever to play the game, has died at the age of 60 (pictured lifting the World Cup in 1986)
LAST PICTURE: Maradona’s death comes just three weeks after he underwent surgery on a blood clot in his brain (pictured), and less than a month after he turned 60
Maradona’s Hand of God was responsible for England’s elimination from the 1986 World Cup
Maradona is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.
He had his youngest son Diego Fernando with his long-term girlfriend Veronica Ojeda in 2013; while he only acknowledged Diego Junior, 34, and daughter Jana, 23, in the last five years, both born after short flings.
The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.
The last hours of the former Naples and Barcelona star’s short short life were played out in Argentinian media on Wednesday night as an autopsy expected to show he had died from a massive heart attack got underway.
Paramedics made an unsuccessful attempt to revive him after they arrived at the rented house in the gated residential estate of San Andres north of Buenos Aires he had moved to after leaving hospital following his operation on November 11.
Prosecution chief John Broyad, speaking outside San Andres as the retired footballer’s body was taken to a nearby morgue for an autopsy, said: ‘Diego Armando Maradona died around 12pm local time. The forensic police began their work at 4pm.
‘No signs of any criminality or violence have been detected. The autopsy is being carried out to determine beyond any doubt the cause of death but we can say at this stage that everything is pointing to natural causes.’
Maradona’s body is scheduled to be taken to the Argentinian’s president’s mansion, Casa Rosada, in the city of Olivos for a private viewing on Thursday morning.
It is believed that his wake will take place at the mansion, the seat of the country’s national government which houses the president’s office.
Maradona, who only turned 60 on October 30, spelled out while he was still alive the message he wanted engraved on his tombstone.
The soccer legend made the astonishing admission in a bizarre TV interview 15 years ago in which he revealed that ‘getting old with his grandchildren would mean a peaceful death’ for him.
Asked by interviewer Diego Maradona what he would say in the cemetery to the soccer legend, the interviewee said: ‘Thanks for having played football because it’s the sport that gave me most happiness and freedom and it’s like having touched the sky with my hand. Thanks to the ball.
‘Yes, I would put on the tombstone, “Thanks to the ball.”
A hearse from the coroner’s office carrying Maradona’s body was escorted by police to the medical examiner’s office as fans lined the surrounding streets to catch a glimpse of it on Wednesday afternoon.
Thousands of fans have poured onto the streets in Argentina today, many at the entrance to the football club in Buenos Aires that Maradona had managed since September last year, Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
They hung up a banner with the legend’s face painted across it and of his mother Dalma Salvadora Franco.
Maradona has a first dance with his wife Claudia at the Luna Park in Buenos Aires in November 1989. The pair were officially married in 1984 but Maradona wanted to treat his wife to a lavish ceremony after the elder of their two daughters asked to see their wedding photo
Maradona in St Tropez with his wife Claudia and another woman (left) and with Claudia (right) on the same beach in the summer of 1998
Diego Maradona kisses Claudia Villafane during their wedding at Luna Park Stadium on November 07, 1989 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Maradona partying after a fashion show in Uruguay in 1989
Maradona dances with his wife Claudia Villafane during a party at Conrad Hotel on January 9, 1999 in Punta del Este, Uruguay
Diego Maradona and Claudia Villafane stand in front of the altar during their wedding ceremony at Santisimo Sacramento Church in 1989
Argentinian football player Diego Maradona (C) is kissed by his daughters Giannina (L) and Dalma as he arrives to attend the screening of Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s documentary film ‘Maradona by Kusturica’ at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival in Cannes in 2008
Maradona at a party with his wife Claudia (left) and dancing on an Italian TV show in 2005 (right)
Maradona with his wife Claudia Villafane (right) and football agent Guillermo Coppola at his 35th birthday in Buenos Aires in 1996
Maradona dances during a party at Conrad Hotel on January 9, 1999, in Punta del Este, Uruguay
Maradona with his wife Claudia at Massimo Casanova’s birthday party in Milan, Italy, in August 2003
Maradona (right) kisses his wife, Claudia Villafane on the night of 22 January 2000 in the hotel Las Praderas in Havana
Maradona with wife Claudia and their daughters Ganina and Dalma in Seville, Spain, in 1992
A supporter struggled to hold back tears, describing the Argentine ‘an unforgettable figure. We thank him for everything he did.’
Argentine network TN reported that its website, along with newspaper Clarín and other media outlets, were temporarily down as fans flocked to the site as news about Maradona’s death broke.
Hand of God was ‘revenge for the Falklands’
Despite being known as one of the greatest ever to grace the pitch, Maradona’s legacy also includes a moment of infamy – when he handled the ball past England keeper Peter Shilton during the 1986 World Cup quarter final.
Speaking in a documentary released last year, Maradona remained unrepentant – calling the goal ‘symbolic revenge against the English’ for the Falklands War.
Speaking about the match, played four years after the war – which ended with British victory – Maradona said: ‘The hype made it seem liked we were going to play out another war.
‘I knew it was my hand. It wasn’t my plan but the action happened so fast that the linesman didn’t see me putting my hand in. The referee looked at me and he said: ‘Goal.’
‘It was a nice feeling like some sort of symbolic revenge against the English.’
In the Buenos Aires town of Villa Devoto where Maradona grew up, his former neighbours placed Argentine flags on their balconies as broadcast calls from his World Cup goals blared from a loud speakers.
A 60-year-old woman recalled the late star would escape from his childhood home in Villa Fiorito, where a bevy of fans gathered to exchange anecdotes.
‘This was a poor area when Maradona lived here. The streets were filled with rock,’ she said. ‘He never forgot about his roots.’
A man sitting in the stands at the stadium where Maradona debuted as a 15-year-old for Argentina Juniors on October 20, 1976 recalled being there on the day and said he was ‘a star’.
‘The truth is that football has died,’ he said. ‘The truth is he had the life that he had. No one can censor it. It was difficult being Diego, coming out from where he grew up.’
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lamented the death of Maradona, whom he considered a close friend, and shared several photos of the past meetings.
‘With much sadness the legend of football has left us, a brother and unconditional friend of Venezuela. Dear and irreverent ‘Pelusa’, you will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. I have no words at the moment to express what I feel. Farewell, America’s Pibe!’
Argentina’s former manager Cesar Luis Menotti said: ‘I’m devastated. I can’t believe it. I’m absolutely gutted. There’s no more I can say at this moment.
‘I thought at first the news of his death was fake news but obviously it’s what happened. It’s terrible and a tragic surprise because measures had been taken to make sure he was being looked after.’
UEFA have announced that Maradona will be honoured by minute’s silence before Wednesday night’s Champions League games.
The fifth of eight children, Maradona was born in Lanús, in the Argentinian province of Buenos Aires, on October 30, 1960 to a Roman Catholic family.
He was very close to his parents and siblings, demonstrated during a 1990 interview during which he produced stacks of phone bills which showed he had spent a minimum of 15,000 U.S. dollars a month calling his family.
They were poor, but close-knit, and he received his first football as a gift at the age of three, quickly falling in love with the game of football in Argentina, where the sport plays a key part in its culture.
By the age of 10, Maradona had joined Los Cebollitas – the youth team of Argentinos Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina – leading them to an incredible 136-game unbeaten streak.
He was even given the nickname ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (‘The Golden Boy’).
Maradona with his wife Claudia and daughters Dalma and Ganina
Maradona playing around with his shoes on his wedding night with Claudia in Buenos Aires in 1989
Maradona with his wife Claudia and one of their daughters
Argentinian national soccer team head coach Diego Maradona (C) greets schoolchildren during a visit to Kgotlelelang Primary School in Winterveldt, north of Pretoria, South Africa, 19 January 2010
Argentinian ex soccer star Diego Armando Maradona (L) talks to Cuban President Fidel Castro, before recording Maradona’s TV program ‘The 10’s Night’ in Havana 27 October 2005
Maradona dances with two scantily clad women during an appearance on a Mexican TV show in 2002
People wave to Argentinean football star Diego Maradona as he drives out of a hotel in southern Germany during the World Cup there in 2006
Maradona, left, greets Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, ahead of an inter-religious match for peace in September 2014
Maradona hugs Pope Francis in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican in 2014
Cuban President Fidel Castro poses with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, his wife Claudia Villafane and their two children, during a visit to the Revolution Palace
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (right) embraces former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona during a rally in Buenos Aires, December 2, 2010
Soccer legends Diego Maradona (left) and Pele rest on a hammock during a reception in Rio de Janeiro, May 14, 1995.
Argentina national soccer team’s head coach Diego Maradona is greeted by schoolchildren during his visit to Kgotlelelang School at Winterveldt on January 19, 2010, around 40km north west of Pretoria, South Africa
A mural of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in the Spanish Quarter of Naples after the announcement of his death, in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020
Maradona (right) embraces his father ‘Don Diego’ before the start of the Copa Libertadores 2012 first leg semifinal football match between Argentina’s Boca Juniors and Universidad de Chile at ‘La Bombonera’ stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Maradona (C) embraces his daughters Dalma Nerea (L) and Gianinna Dinora (R) during a tribute match held in his honour at Boca Juniors Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001
Maradona (centre) and his daughters Dalma (right) and Giannina ahead of a screening of the documentary ‘Maradona’ at the 61st edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, 20 May 2008
Maradona and his dance partner Angela Panico during the opening of tv show ‘Ballando con le stelle’ at the RAI Auditorium tv studio on September 17, 2005 in Rome (left) and alongside Turkish bellydancer Tanyeli in Istanbul (right)
Maradona sticks his tongue out at the cameras as he poses with his daughters and his wife at the screening of the documentary ‘Maradona’ at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008
He made his first professional debut for the club’s senior team shortly before his 16th birthday, before going on to play for Bocca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli, making 491 professional appearances and 91 for the national team.
But despite his highly successful playing career and 1984 marriage to his childhood sweetheart Claudia Villafane, by the mid-1980s, Maradona had become addicted to cocaine, having started to use the drug in Barcelona in 1983.
By the time he was playing for Napoli – in the southern Italian city of Naples – his addiction had become more severe and started to interfere with his ability to play the sport which had made him an icon.
During his time in Naples, Maradona was elevated to the status of a demi-god in the city after helping to win Napoli its first European competition – the UEFA Cup, and two league championships.
But he was having a particularly hard time dealing with his fame, unable to go anywhere in the city without being hounded by the media and playing for a club he wanted leave – all while in the depths of a cocaine addiction.
It was in the crime-ridden city that Maradona enlisted the services of the Camorra – a notorious mafia crew – who offered him protection.
Maradona with his wife and childhood sweetheart Claudia Villafane, whom he divorced in 2004 after multiple affairs
Maradona is removed by police from a Buenos Aires apartment, on April 26, 1991, after being arrested for the possession of a half-kilo of cocaine
Diego Maradona was given a suspended prison sentence for shooting journalists with an air rifle in 1994 (pictured) from behind a car outside his home in Buenos Aires
Diego Maradona (C) and his ex-wife Claudia Villafane (L) leave a court building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 23 April 2008, where he attended a conciliation audience with former manager Guillermo Coppola
Maradona with his wife Claudia at a party in Las Lenas, Argentinak, in 1989
Maradona with Claudia in Havana while he was recovering from his cocaine addiction in January, 2000
Maradona lounging on the back of a yacht in 1986
Maradona smoking a Cuban cigar and displaying his Che Guevara tattoo while lounding on the back of a yacht while visiting Havana in 2000
Maradona dances during a TV show with former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco, who is currently the wife of former Argentine President Carlos Menem, in Santiago, late on May 23, 2002
Maradona watches a match between Boca Juniors and River Plate at La Bombonera Stadium in Buenos Aires in 2001
Maradona shows his tattoo of Marxist guerrilla fighter Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara during a press conference in Rome, Italy, 12 January 2001
This served to indulge his habits of partying, taking hard drugs and enjoying the company of women other than his wife – reportedly having multiple affairs.
After a phone call with a prostitute was tapped by the police in January 1991, charges were brought against Maradona for cocaine possession and distribution, and in April the same year a blood test found traces of the drug, leading to a 15-months ban from football.
From Italy, he fled to Argentina, but was arrested there for cocaine possession as well, with pictures from the time showing a tearful Maradona being led away by police.
In 1994, eight years after his epic World Cup-winning performances in 1986, Maradona’s issues with drugs were laid bare to the world in a manic celebration against Greece during the World Cup group game in the United States.
After scoring a goal, the then 33-year-old wheeled away in celebration, screaming maniacally into a pitch-side camera.
Not long after the goal, Maradona was dismissed from international duties, and was sent home from the World Cup after testing positive for five variants of ephedrine – a performance enhancing drug banned by football’s governing body.
Maradona and his most recent girlfriend Rocio Oliva (left) posing with the viral steak chef Salt Bae
Former US boxing champion Mike Tyson (L) and former Argentinian football player Diego Maradona after arriving to attend the screening of US director Steven Soderbergh’s film ‘Che’ at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival on May 21, 2008 in Cannes
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talks to Argentinian retired striker Diego Maradona (L-R) ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup final draw at the State Kremlin Palace
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro greets former soccer player Diego Maradona in Caracas, Venezuela January 21, 2020
The World Cup top player Diego Maradona of Argentina (left) and the World Cup top scorer Gary Lineker of England (right) at the Adidas Golden Shoe Awards in Paris, circa September 1986
Police officers outside Maradona’s home on outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday
In 1998 – a year after he had retired from professional football – the icon received a prison sentence of two years and 10 months following an incident in which he shot an air rifle at reporters.
The incident had occurred in Feburary 1994, a resulted in four injuries after Maradona had become angry at journalists showing up at his Buenos Aires house. Footage from the incident showed him firing the weapon from behind a car.
Maradona also had the tendency to put on weight, suffering increasingly from obesity as he got older. At one point, he weighed 280 lbs (135 kg), and was obese at the end of his playing career.
For the rest of his life, he suffered from health issues, undergoing a gastric bypass in 2005, was readmitted to hospital in 2007 and treated for hepatitis and effects of alcohol abuse, and underwent surgery for a hernia in 2019.
In January, he had surgery to stem bleeding in his stomach and in July he underwent a knee operation.
Three weeks ago he was admitted to hospital for surgery on a blood clot in his brain, before being discharged to recover at home.
It was there that he died on Wednesday.
Maradona with his parents, mother Dalma Salvadora Franco and father Diego Maradona Senior in 1980
Maradona smokes a cigar before the start of the Argentine First Division soccer match between Boca Juniors and San Lorenzo de Almagro at La Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires February 19, 2006
Maradona and wife Claudia posing for photos after their lavish ceremony in Argentina in 1989
Maradona parties with his Chinese friends and associates at a dinner in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou during a business trip in December 2003
Maradona kisses his wife Claudia in an undated photo
A 20-year-old Maradona resting on his bed at home reading a magazine
Maradona at home by his swimming pool in the 1980s (left) and toasting with friends and business associates on a trip to China in 2003
Maradona wears a Union Jack t-shirt as he poses with British rock group Queen backstage in the 1980s
Maradona speaking to Hollywood actor Colin Farrell who flew to meet the legendary footballer in Argentina while filming in Paraguay in 2005
A young Maradona plays on the beach with his brothers in Argentina
Maradona boots a football while attending a red carpet event with his wife Claudia (left) and daughters Dalma and Ganina
A 20-year-old Maradona sits beside his trophy cabinet at his family home in Buenos Aires in 1980
His footballing career also included turns on the pitch for Barcelona, Sevilla, Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys and he was most recently manager of Gimnasia y Esgrima in La Plata, Argentina.
He also managed the Argentinian national team at the South Africa World Cup in 2010.
The Argentine news outlet Clarin broke the news on Wednesday afternoon UK time, describing the news of Maradona’s passing as having a ‘worldwide impact’.
The sad news was confirmed by Maradona’s lawyer. Soon, tributes were pouring in from all over the world of football.
Maradona left hospital on November 11 just eight days after being admitted for emergency brain surgery.
The iconic former Argentinian footballer was driven away from the private Olivos Clinic just before 6pm on November 11 as hundreds of fans of photographers tried to get a glimpse of him.
Maradona was hospitalised the previous week and had to have an emergency operation to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Police cars are seen outside the house where Diego Maradona was recovering from surgery, in Tigre, on the outskirt of Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Wednesday
An ambulance carrying Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona leaves the clinic where Maradona underwent brain surgery, in Olivos, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 11, 2020
People gather to mourn the death of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona outside San Paolo stadium in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020
People light flares as they gather under a mural depicting soccer legend Diego Maradona, in Naples, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020
A man hangs a Napoli scarf on a fence as people gather to mourn the death of Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona outside San Paolo stadium in Naples, Italy, November 25, 2020
A man stands by two candles, one with an image of the Virgin Mary and the other St. Padre Pio, as a mural depicting soccer legend Diego Maradona is seen in background, in Naples, Italy
People hang a poster of the late Argentine football star Diego Maradona outside the Argentina’s Boca Juniors La Bombonera stadium where people gather to mourn his death in Buenos Aires, on November 25, 2020
Argentine football star Diego Maradona fans sing slogans outside the entrance of Argentina’s Boca Juniors La Bombonera stadium where people gather to mourn his death in Buenos Aires, on November 25, 2020
TIGRE, ARGENTINA – NOVEMBER 25: Fans of Boca Juniors hold a banner as they gather outside the home of Diego Maradona at San Andres neighbourhood on November 25, 2020 in Tigre, Argentina
Argentine football star Diego Maradona fans sing slogans outside the entrance of Argentina’s Boca Juniors La Bombonera stadium where people gather to mourn his death in Buenos Aires, on November 25, 2020
Argentinian TV reporters travelling on motorbikes filmed the ambulance carrying him leaving before following the vehicle to transmit every inch of his journey.
His lawyer, Matias Morlahas said that the 60-year-old would continue to receive treatment for alcohol dependency.
Maradona had been admitted to hospital on several occasions since his retirement. He almost died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000 and underwent years of rehabilitation.
Maradona, who was well known for having a wild lifestyle during and after his playing days, had a gastric bypass operation to lose weight in 2005 and was once more hospitalised two years later for alcohol-induced hepatitis.
He also fell ill at the last World Cup in Russia, where he was filmed passing out in an executive box when Argentina took on and beat Nigeria in Group D.
Maradona had recently been in hospital for surgery after suffering a bleed on the brain
Maradona pictured at the 2018 World Cup, where he watched Argentina from executive boxes
MARADONA’S LONG HISTORY OF DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE
Maradona began taking cocaine in the mid-1980s – during the height of his playing days, going on to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol over the next two decades.
His drug use began in 1982 and reportedly grew worse in 1984 when he moved to Napoli and had connections with the Comorra.
In 2014, Maradona said of his drug use: ‘I gave my opponents a big advantage. Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn’t taken drugs?’
His first real punishment came in 1991 when he was banned for 15 months by Napoli after testing positive for cocaine. Later in the same year he was arrested in Buenos Aires for possessing half a kilo of cocaine, and was given a 14-month suspended sentence.
In 1994, Maradona was back in the fold with the Argentina national team, making headlines around the world for a now-famous screaming celebration into the camera lens after a goal against Greece. His tournament was to come to an early end, though, after he was expelled days later for testing positive for five variants of ephedrine, a banned substance. He was banned for 15 months, ending his international career.
In 1995, he moved to Boca Juniors but two years later he failed a drugs test for the third time in six years, putting an end to his playing career. Officially, a ‘prohibited substance’ is all that has been revealed about that test, but Boca president Mauricio Macri has said in interviews that cocaine was found in a urine sample.
In 1996, Maradona said publicly: ‘I was, am and always will be a drug addict.’
In 2000, the footballing legend suffered an overdose, and in 2004 he had a heart attack. A year later, he was forced to have gastric bypass surgery, and in 2007 he was back in hospital again, this time suffering hepatitis.
It is then understood he stopped taking drugs, telling a journalist in 2017 that he hadn’t taken drugs for 13 years and was feeling ‘great’.
He has been drinking alcohol since 2004, though, hitting the headlines at the 2018 World Cup for his bizarre antics at a number of Argentina games. A video emerged of him drinking tequila on a plane, and he claimed he ‘drank all the wine’ ahead of their win over Nigeria.
OBITUARY: A genius on the pitch and a flawed idol off it – Diego Maradona rose from the poverty of the Buenos Aires slums to become one of the greatest ever despite controversy following him wherever he went
By Jeff Powell for MailOnline
To many, Diego Maradona is best remembered for the Hand of God goal that knocked England out of Mexico 86 and his later descent into drugs.
But Jeff Powell, who was the first British journalist to recognise his genius, believes the little Argentine should be celebrated as the greatest player (bar one) to have graced the game.
Diego Maradona, one of the all-time ultimate legends of football, has died at the age of 60
Two nights after Argentina’s tumultuous winning of the 1978 World Cup, the streets of Buenos Aires still thronged with millions of celebrants as Cesar Luis Menotti held court in the bar of a downtown hotel.
That most languid of football managers was savouring the moment of glory with his heroes.
As Menotti clinked glasses with Passarella and Ardiles, Kempes and Luque, a slight figure sat in a dim corner, too small to be noticed and too young to drink.
Diego Armando Maradona was occupying only a vague corner of Menotti’s mind.
The boy slipped away early into the night and not until dawn was breaking did Menotti have reason to discuss the future of that almost anonymous teenager.
Mario Kempes, the goal-scoring hero in the World Cup and its extraordinary final against Holland, had just informed his manager that he was unlikely to be released by his Spanish club for FIFA’s anniversary showpiece fixture, to which Argentina were committed a couple of months later.
As the players dispersed, in the reluctant way that triumphant gladiators do, I asked Menotti how he could possibly replace the great Kempes for such a prestigious occasion.
‘Did you notice that boy in the bar earlier?’ he asked. ‘He will be wearing the No 10 shirt the next time we take the field.
Maradona was one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time, even though in England he has been vilified for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against Bobby Robson’s side in Mexico in 1986
Maradona became a symbol of hope for his country as he rose from the Buenos Aires slums to play for Boca Juniors (above) and then achieved World Cup glory with Argentina
‘Let me give you one piece of advice. Be there.’ Maradona had been disappointed to be considered too young at 17 to be part of the home glory of 1978. But the advent of the unlikely looking genius who was to become the most potent challenger to Pele’s mantle of Greatest Footballer Of All Time would not be delayed much longer.
As advised, I travelled to Switzerland that autumn and watched in some awe as Maradona unfurled his phenomenal talent in Argentina’s reprise of their World Cup Final against Holland.
Such was my enthusiasm for the new wonder boy of the world game that several of my most distinguished sportswriting colleagues chided me gently for going over the top. But they had not been there.
When Argentina toured on from Switzerland, first to Hampden Park, then to Wembley, so the rest of Fleet Street saw Maradona’s brilliance for themselves – and were astonished.
Not for nothing will the whole world of football now fall into mourning.
The facile tendency in England to vilify Maradona as nothing more than the culprit in the handball goal that defeated Bobby Robson’s brigade in the World Cup quarter-finals of Mexico 86 does no justice to one of the most gifted sportsmen of all time.
As Menotti described him on that long, hot night so many years earlier: ‘You will see that this boy, Diego, is a footballer made in heaven.’
His rise went far beyond his homeland – Maradona’s ability places him among the greatest to ever play the game, alongside Brazil icon Pele. Here, the legendary attackers are pictured together in Paris in 2016 ahead of the European Championship that year
Argentina’s love affair with their flawed phenomenon is all the stronger because he was born in the barrios.
Maradona, as he rose from the poverty of the Buenos Aires slums to play for the team which represented every poor boy’s dream, Boca Juniors, and then to illuminate Argentina’s World Cup exploits, became a symbol of hope for a people.
That he is a rascal, an incorrigible mischief-maker, a troubled human being and, ultimately, a waster of his own talent, only serves to make him all the more appealing to his fellow countrymen.
They like their genius to come wrapped in controversy and bubbling with volatility in South America.
That was one reason why Pele was so reluctant to embrace the natural successor to his throne. The other was that Maradona represented the most threatening challenge to the legendary Brazilian’s unique place in the pantheon of the game.
The unlikely body in which those mercurial gifts were to be found – short, squat, bowlegged and no-necked – made Maradona’s status in Pele’s beautiful game all the more difficult to acknowledge.
Yet it was that low centre of gravity which blessed Diego Armando with a remarkable dexterity on the turn and acceleration with the ball. It was that capacity to produce magical skills at electrifying pace especially in the deadly zone around goal – which still sets Maradona apart from even the sublime likes of Zidane, Ronaldo, Cruyff, Platini and all the rest of Pele’s apostles.
It was Maradona himself who described that goal against England in 1986 as ‘The Hand of God’
The most vivid demonstration of those talents came, as we should remember, against England in Mexico.
Robson and his players of the day remember it only too well.
No, not the cross nudged in with his hand but the other goal, the one he scored with a dazzling pirouette away from a posse of England players, an unstoppable run from the halfway line and a typically impudent finish. That stands, still, as the greatest World Cup goal of all time.
But what of the Hand of God?
Does that not diminish Maradona’s reputation as much as his misspent life?
Not, if pressed to the truth, in the estimation of Lineker, Robson and Co.
Whisper it gently when Peter Shilton is in earshot but, for the most part, the England team faulted their goalkeeper for not thumping his way through the head and body of the short Maradona to clear the ball. A calm study of the photograph of that incident now reveals Maradona with his eyes closed and his arm raised as if to protect himself from the expected impact of Shilton’s advance from his line.
Subsequently, he became the victim of his own, clever little phrase to describe that momentous happening.
Maradona and Argentina deserved to win that World Cup. Four years later, he was the captain and hero of the team which lost that trophy and I do mean hero.
Argentina staggered into the Final – which Germany reached by virtue of their expert penalty shootout against England – under the self-inflicted handicap of several suspensions as a consequence of their cynical football.
But Maradona was still trying to work his magic even though he had virtually been crippled by opponents desperate to subdue him. He showed me his ankles two days before the Final – a forlorn affair in Argentina’s case – and they were as black, blue and swollen as his self-abused body is now.
By the time he got to the United States in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers.
Mistaken though he had been in his means of trying to cling to the failing glories, he was a lost soul from that moment on.
The addictions, the scandals, the physical assaults on intrusive representatives of the media and the retreat to such absurd havens as Havana all spoke of his desperation.
Argentina still loved him but he no longer loved himself.
By the time Maradona (centre) got to the USA World Cup in 1994, he was sustaining himself on drugs and, after one magical but manic moment, was caught and shamed by the testers
Maradona saw himself for what he is, the little fat boy who never grew up.
In the eyes of his nation, he was Peter Pan, an enchanting child, albeit in a grotesque, misshapen form.
Now, after bringing so many so much pleasure, he is due a full measure of our sympathy.
Think of him not as the Hand of God. Think of him as the second greatest footballer ever to grace the game. Perhaps the greatest.
Think of him not as a drugged fiend. Think of him as a broken doll in a toy hospital A Pinocchio awaiting the gift of life.
That blessing which the hand of God had delivered several times before. Until the Almighty decided the time had come to ring peace to this tortured soul.
Maradona’s ‘family XI’ battle for his millions: Footballer’s five known children ‘are likely to feud with his six rumoured offspring’ for a share of his will
By GERARD COUZENS FOR MAILONLINE
Diego Maradona‘s death could spark a family feud over his estate as he leaves behind five children he recognised as his and six others he has been linked to.
Before he died one of his daughters joked he could make up a starting eleven with his kids after a 23-year-old Argentinian was named as the latest woman fighting to prove she was his daughter.
Maradona had recognised two sons and three daughters by four different women – including his ex-wife Claudia Villafane and former long-term partner Veronica Ojeda – as his own.
Giannina Maradona, one of the former footballer’s two daughters by Villafane, joked last year after the names of three children said to be his in Cuba were made public: ‘Just three more needed for the team of 11. You can do it!!!’
In October last year a 23-year-old brunette called Magali Gil emerged as the latest possible member of Maradona’s brood.
In October last year a 23-year-old brunette called Magali Gil (pictured) emerged as the latest possible member of Maradona’s brood
Popular Argentinian TV programme Intrusos said she had a young daughter which would have made the former Naples and Barcelona star a grandfather if he was confirmed as her father.
She is understood to have launched legal proceedings in April last year to try to prove her blood link.
Who are Maradona’s recognised children and who are the rumoured offspring?
- Diego Junior, 34
- Jana, 23
- Dalma, 32
- Gianinna, 30
- Diego Fernando, seven
- ‘The Cuban trio’ – Joana, Lu and Javielito
- Magali Gil, 23
- Santiago Lara, 19
Journalist Adrian Pallares told Intrusos: ‘Her mother didn’t raise her but her adoptive family, who gave her all their love.
‘The time came when she discovered she didn’t belong to that family and that her father could be Diego Armando Maradona.’
In February the she broke her silence in Argentina to confirm the situation had not moved forward and begged the football legend to agree to a DNA test.
She had already confirmed on Italian TV she had been adopted as a youngster and her birth mum contacted her at the start of 2019 to tell her who her real father was.
Magali told Argentinian journalist Tomas Dente, speaking at the start of the year for the first time in her home nation: ‘Sadly we still haven’t been able to fix a date for the DNA test.
‘I’d like to think that the predisposition Diego’s lawyer Matias Morla spoke about last December when we met is still there so this can be resolved as quickly as possible and in the best way possible.
‘I’m anxious and worried at what’s happening because this is something which is key for me, my identity and my past.
‘I’m trying to stay calm and understand that we’re talking about Diego Maradona who I know has got a packed diary.
‘I’d just like to urge him to realise there’s a person who’s waiting and needs him to be able to resolve my identify and put an end to this search.’
The Magali bombshell first emerged a month after Santiago Lara, who comes from the same Argentinian city of La Plata where Maradona managed Gimnasia y Esgrima, made a renewed TV appeal for the football legend to recognise him as his son.
The Magali bombshell first emerged a month after Santiago Lara (pictured), who comes from the same Argentinian city of La Plata where Maradona managed Gimnasia y Esgrima, made a renewed TV appeal for the football legend to recognise him as his son
The teenager, whose waitress mother Natalia Garat died aged 23 from lung cancer in 2006 and was raised by her ex-boyfriend Marcelo Lara, spoke for the first time in 2016 of his fight to find out who his real father is.
He said at the time: ‘I’ve been told my real father is supposedly Diego Maradona. My dad is always going to be Marcelo Lara but what I’ve been told is that my real father is supposedly Diego Maradona.
‘I think I look like him, the face, the curls, everything. I look at Marcelo and I know we’re not alike. It’s not easy to wake up in the morning with that feeling.’
‘I found out after I went past a newspaper stand near my house aged 13 and saw a magazine front cover with Maradona’s face on it and mine pixellated underneath.
‘I was left in a state of shock because I didn’t know what I was doing in the magazine. I went running home and asked Marcelo what was going on and he explained everything.
‘He told me my mum was well-known on the modelling circuit when she was younger and he told me he had the feeling I wasn’t his son.
‘He told me a DNA test was asked for but was never forthcoming.’
Maradona’s lawyer Matias Morla said months before the footballer’s death he would assume his responsibilities as Santiago’s father if the blood link was confirmed.
Maradona’s lawyer Matias Morla (pictured today) said months before the footballer’s death he would assume his responsibilities as Santiago’s father if the blood link was confirmed
Morla has previously been quoted as saying ‘Everyone knows that in Argentina there’s Santiago and another person that people are talking about’, although other media in the South American country have speculated the 11th child that would make up Diego’s football team is a fourth Cuban.
The Cuban trio whose names have already been made public are Joana, Lu and Javielito, born after Maradona moved to the Caribbean island in February 2000 to fight drink and drug addictions.
Mr Morla, who admitted in October 2018 the ex-footballer had been ‘naughty’ in Cuba and confessed: ‘There’s going to be a lot of Maradonas, a lot, even if some people don’t like it’, has confirmed the trio met him during the funeral of Fidel Castro.
Over recent years Maradona had recognised his grown-up son Diego Junior, born from an extra-marital affair with Italian model Cristina Sinagra, and 23-year-old Jana who met her dad for the first time nearly six years ago following a court fight by her mum Valeria Sabalain.
Maradona also had two daughters by his ex-wife, 32-year-old Dalma and 30-year-old Gianinna, and a seven-year-old son called Diego Fernando by former girlfriend Veronica Ojeda.
Several Spanish-language memes went viral after Maradona’s lawyer revealed the three Cuban children.
One said: ‘If you were born between 1980 and 2019 and you have extraordinary footballing skills, contact us. You could be a son of Diego Maradona.’
Maradona also had two daughters by his ex-wife, 32-year-old Dalma and 30-year-old Gianinna, and a seven-year-old son called Diego Fernando by former girlfriend Veronica Ojeda
Another, showing hundreds of people queuing outside an unidentified building, has a message alongside it which says: ‘The day of the declaration of Maradona’s heirs.’
It was not immediately clear tonight who the former Barcelona and Naples star had included in his will.
In November last year Diego threatened to leave nothing to his children after being forced to deny he was dying.
In a video filmed from what appeared to be his home in Argentina Maradona, who has battled drink and drug addictions as well as weight problems, said: ‘I want to tell you that I’m not dying at all, that I sleep peacefully because I’m working.’
Responding to new fears about his health his daughter Giannini had sparked by appearing to ask fans to ‘pray for him’ and claiming he was being sedated with pills like a ‘caged lion’, he added: ‘I don’t know what she meant to say or what she had interpreted.
‘What I do know is that as you get older, people worry more about what you’re going to leave than what you’re doing.
‘I tell you all that I’m not going to leave anything, that I am going to donate it. I’m not going to give away everything I earned by running during my life, I’m going to donate it.’
Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford and Barcelona lead the tributes to ‘legendary’ Diego Maradona as the world of football mourns the passing of Argentine hero
By JAMES DUTTON FOR MAILONLINE
Tributes from the world of football have flooded in for Diego Maradona after he died at the age of 60.
The football legend had a heart attack at his home just two weeks after leaving hospital, having undergone surgery on a blot clot in his brain.
Maradona, regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, helped Argentina win the World Cup in 1986, the pinnacle of an illustrious career that saw him widely adored for spells at Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli at club level.
His former clubs and the Argentina national team’s Twitter account were among the first to pay tribute to him.
Barcelona, where he enjoyed two seasons between 1982 and 1984, tweeted: ‘Thank you for everything, Diego’.
The AFA, tweeted: ‘The Argentine Football Association, through its president Claudio Tapia, expresses its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You will always be in our hearts.’
Boca Juniors, where Maradona began and ended his career in Argentina, tweeted: ‘Eternal thank you. Eternal Diego.’
Napoli, where Maradona spent seven years between 1984 and 1991 and won the club’s only two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990, wrote: ‘Always in our hearts. Ciao Diego’.
They then tweeted again, saying: ‘The world awaits our words but there are no words to describe the pain we’re going through. Now is the time to grieve’.
Another football legend, the great Brazilian Pele, wrote: ‘What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.’
With the sport in mourning, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford led the tributes as news of the passing first broke with just one word, ‘Legendary’, alongside a picture of the former Napoli and Barcelona icon in his heyday.
Cristiano Ronaldo posted an old picture of himself with Maradona on his Instagram account and wrote: ‘Today I say goodbye to a friend and the world says goodbye to an eternal genius.
‘One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.’
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand posted a series of pictures of him with Maradona over the years, and wrote a heartfelt message saying: ‘My 1st football hero. Few people have impact over generations like this man did. The greatest, the best, the artist, the man…charismatic, a leader…A WINNER!
‘One of the main reasons why I went out on my estate to kick a ball, pretending to be Diego. RIP Diego Armando Maradona.’
Gary Lineker, who was on the receiving end of Maradona’s famous Hand of God and his incredible solo goal in Argentina’s quarter-final victory over England in Mexico in 1986, tweeted: ‘Reports from Argentina that Diego Armando Maradona has died.
‘By some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego’.
The England national team’s Twitter account, on the wrong end of Maradona’s magic and infamous handball 34 years ago, wrote: ‘Unforgettable. Farewell, Diego. A legend of our game.’
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher tweeted: ‘I’ll never forget watching Diego Maradona as an 8 yr old at the World Cup in Mexico. Never seen anything like it on that stage since. Sad news #Maradona’.
Former England and Liverpool striker Michael Owen added: ‘Quite simply – a player like no other. Rest In Peace Diego Maradona.’
England captain Harry Kane tweeted a picture of when he met Maradona in the Tottenham dressing room in 2017, and wrote: ‘Privileged to have met him. Very sad news. RIP Diego Maradona.’
His manager, Jose Mourinho, took to his Instagram account to share a picture of him on the bench with Maradona, and wrote: ‘Don Diego. F**k friend I miss you’.
Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo wrote: ‘The god of football goes away… thanks for everything Diego.’
Stan Collymore tweeted: ‘The football Gods shone brightly on this one. What an incredible, incredible footballer.’
Everton striker Richarlison tweeted a picture of Maradona in a Brazil shirt, with just a sad face emoji to accompany it.
THE VIEW FROM NAPLES: Maradona is a god in this city. People are walking around the streets like zombies, weeping at the news that Diego is dead
By ALVISE CAGNAZZO IN NAPLES FOR MAILONLINE
For a moment, Naples closed its eyes full of tears on Wednesday afternoon. The city lost its patron saint for the second time.
Diego Maradona is considered by all in Naples to be the greatest symbol of the city. As news filtered out about the Argentinian legend’s death, church bells began to ring throughout the streets.
The climate is surreal, especially in the centre of the historic city. Local citizens are crying and hugging each other, all while wearing masks on their faces. Cars are parked in the middle of the street with men smoking cigarettes.
Everything is still and everyone’s in mourning.
After Maradona’s death after a cardiac arrest was confirmed, the Argentinian Government announced that there would be three days of national mourning.
But for Naples this is day zero, it is year zero, it is the worst day in the life of the city in the last 20 years. It has lost its favourite son – one of the greatest men who have ever played the game.
Walking through the streets of the city is like being the protagonist of a tragic and moving film: the bars offer coffee to those on the street, the city is still for a different reason other than lockdown.
The city of Naples has gone into mourning after Diego Maradona passed away on Wednesday
The citizens of Naples have headed out to the streets in silence to pay respects to Maradona
Naples has gone into standstill after Maradona’s death was announced on Wednesday
Naples has chosen to stop for Diego Armando Maradona, Napoli has chosen to cry for the most beautiful child they have ever had: a black-haired angel full of curls, a man capable of drawing colorful pictures with a ball on the pitch.
All the fans are convinced that Maradona would have liked to die here in Naples, in his royal city, in the city where the brightest star in football was born.
Maradona has a mural painted on a building in the San Giovanni a Teduccio quarter of Naples. Over the next few hours, the people of Napoli will continue bringing flowers and letters under the eyes of Maradona.
The footballer inspired many Naples residents across several generations in his playing days
Fans are heading to Maradona’s mural in San Giovanni a Teduccio that was funded by the club
Maradona has another mural near Piazza del Plebiscito where fans are flocking to in mourning
The mural was funded by former Napoli captain Marek Hamsik when he was at the club, showing the impact of Maradona on not only the club’s supporters, but the countless generations of players who have followed the Argentinian in the blue of Napoli.
Another memorial site destined to fill up is the large image of Maradona, this time in the Napoli blue. Just a short walk away from Piazza del Plebiscito, the mural is dedicated to when the club’s infamous number 10 led Napoli to two Scudetto victories in 1987 and 1990
Angelo Pisani, one of Maradona’s lawyers who helped him through many issues in Italian football, was emotional when speaking about the player’s death on Wednesday evening.
Maradona had a major impact on the city of Naples after arriving from Barcelona in 1984
Pisani told Sportsmail: ‘It’s the worst moment not only for me and for all of Napoli but it is the worst time for every person in love with football. Maradona was the light of this city and was the most important symbol of world football.
‘Today I am sad, this 2020 has torn the most important man in the history of world football from his life.
‘I was in contact with Maradona and my satisfaction is to have brought him back to Naples as a free man.’
To some, Maradona is a legend. But for the city of Naples, he is a God.