Argentina’s football great Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60, the Argentinian Football Association said on Wednesday.
The forward, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, underwent surgery for a bleed in the brain earlier this month. Doctors had said it was a success. Media reports said he suffered a heart attack on Wednesday and could not be revived.
He is widely regarded by football fans as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. The Argentinian government has declared three days of national mourning.
“The Argentinian Football Association, through its president Claudio Tapia, expresses its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona,” it said in a statement.
“You will always be in our hearts.”
Maradona also coached Argentina from 2008-2010. His playing career included success at Spain’s Barcelona and Napoli in Italy.
“Forever. Ciao Diego,” Napoli wrote on Twitter.
Barcelona tweeted: “Thank you for everything, Diego.”
The Argentina team at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico was good, but Maradona made it great. He almost single-handedly inspired their second World Cup triumph.
Although England fans will remember his “Hand of God” handball goal in the quarter-finals, his second goal that day is remembered as one of the greatest ever as he ran through almost the whole England team at will before scoring.
“Unforgettable. Farewell, Diego. A legend of our game,” the English Football Association tweeted.
In club football, his spell at Napoli led to Italian domestic titles in 1987 and 1990 – still the only top-flight championships the big Naples club have ever won.
Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris tweeted: “Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius. In 2017 he became our honorary citizen. Diego, Neapolitan and Argentinian, you gave us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also paid tribute.
“The entire world is mourning for the loss of #Maradona, who wrote unforgettable pages in the history of football with his unparalleled talent. Farewell eternal champion,” Conte tweeted.
Il Mattino, Naples’ local newspaper, wrote on its homepage: “Maradona has died, goodbye to the king of Naples.”
More than 70,000 fans welcomed him at the San Paolo stadium upon his arrival at Napoli. He was worshipped like a saint. Once a nurse is said to have stolen a sample of his blood and taken it to a church.
Naples’ football stadium should be renamed to honour Maradona, Mayor Luigi de Magistris said hours after the player’s death.
Tributes flowed in from the pope, leaders and football players around the world.
Pope Francis, a fellow Argentinian and keen football fan, said he recalled with affection his encounters with Maradona in recent years, and remembered him in prayer, his spokesman said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called Maradona “the wonderful artist of football who brought light and joy to millions around the world.” He called him a soccer legend “whose story we will tell over and over” and thanked him for the unforgettable moments.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino called the day “an unbelievably sad day. Our Diego left us. Our hearts – of all of us who loved him for how he was, and for what he represented – have stopped beating for a moment. Rest in peace, dear Diego. We love you.”
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said Maradona would “go down in history as someone who set football alight and thrilled fans young and old with his brilliance and skill.” He said he had instructed UEFA to hold a minute’s silence in memory of Maradona at this week’s matches.
Argentinian player Lionel Messi wrote on Facebook that it was a “very sad day for all Argentinians and football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal. I cherish all the nice moments I experienced with him and want to send condolences to all his family and friends.”
Alongside his shining talent, Maradona also had personal problems. He was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup after a positive drug test. His battle with cocaine was well known, as was his weight gain as he grew older.
He was admitted to hospital in La Plata, Argentina, earlier this month suffering from anaemia and mild dehydration. A bleed in the brain was then discovered. He was released from hospital only to die a few days later.
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