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Maradona Was Not a Saint, but Made Us Dream and Find Happiness He Could Not

He took drugs, he cheated on his wife, treated women badly, but just like every great artist, with his football he inspired and encouraged millions to be better

I know everything about Diego Armando Maradona, I know he was a drug addict, I know that he was photographed sitting in between the two bosses, his friends, of the Giuliano camorra family in the district of Forcella.

Maradona was no saint. He took drugs, he cheated on his wife and treated women badly. But Caravaggio was a drinker, a card shark and an assassin. Picasso beat his wives and women, verbally and emotionally, abused them and cheated on them. Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Mallarmé were drug addicts; Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker were heroin addicts; the Beatles used drugs, but nobody questions their art.

It’s fair to say that as one of the highest paid sports professionals, Maradona should have tried to behave as a role model for the kids who admired him but he wasn’t able to pull it off.

As Giovanni Nani wrote: “When he took the field, he was Divine.
Not only on account of the plays he made that became the history of a Sport.

Not only on account of the fact that in every game he was physically beaten by his adversaries, who took advantage of permissive rules.
Not only on account of the fact that even though his adversaries regularly fouled him, he never reacted violently, nor did he put on an act like so many contemporary players who roll on the field grimacing in apparent pain every time an opponent merely brushes against them.
Not only because he never cursed at a less gifted teammate who’d made a mistake. Not only because he was so good individually (he practically won a World Cup by himself) he allowed all of his teammates to feel that they played an important role on the team.
Not only because he was the best player and a charismatic Leader.
Not only because he could excel in any position. But because, just like every great artist, he inspired, involved and encouraged millions of people – and continues to do so – making them happy, by accomplishing in a Divine way what others did, and continue to do, in a normal manner, and sometimes even without any grace at all to the point that the same Sport appeared to be two completely different things.”

Antonio Moscatello has written: “You might ask why Naples became so attached to Maradona? Because it isn’t at all true that he was a great player but as a human being he couldn’t cut it. He was a wonderful man, tormented and suffering. Extremely generous, who’d retained the enthusiasm and innocence of a child in a world of cynical and often corrupt adults.”

A Murales of Maradona in Chinatown, Manhattan (Photo by Lucia Daiana Voiculescu)

To this regard it is sufficient to remember the friendly match he played in 1985, in Acerra, Caserta, to raise funds in order to allow a child to obtain necessary medical treatment. His teammate Pietro Puzone met a fan of Napoli FC, whose son was sick and in desperate need of expensive treatment and it seemed that the only way it might be possible to raise the money was to organize a friendly match, with the proceeds donated to the child’s family. Corrado Ferlaino, the businessman who was the owner of the Naples Football Club, opposed the match because he worried that a player might be injured.  It is believed that Diego replied to these concerns saying: “Fuck Lloyds of London. We have to play this match for the child.” Some say he may have personally paid the insurance premium so the team could play.

A short time later, on the Monday following an important match won by Napoli against Torino, after a rainstorm on a chilly day, in order to satisfy Maradona, the team played a match against the semi-professional local team, Acerra, on a muddy field that resembled a potato patch. An amateur video shows Diego and his teammates warming up in a parking lot next to the field. One can clearly hear him saying “Grazie,” “Thank you,” to the photographer shooting the ritual pictures before the match, who replies: “No, thank you, Diego!”

During the match, Diego Armando Maradona ran, kicked and fought for every ball, never pulling his leg back. Someone was surprised that he’d made such an effort and Diego told him: “You haven’t understood who Maradona is, I always play to win regardless of the opponent.”

For the multitude of fans who’ve arrived from the nearby towns to see Napoli and Maradona, there is standing room only on the hillocks around the pitch.  Diego doesn’t disappoint them, running, dribbling his opponents, and scoring a magnificent goal. As the crowd roars in approval, it seems almost as though he had transformed the muddy field into a pristine grass pitch, magically transporting one and all to the San Paolo stadium in Naples, to San Siro in Milan, Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, to Rio de Janeiro’s world-renowned Maracanà.

That afternoon, just as if he was an ordinary mortal, football’s God had descended from heaven to play on a muddy field in an unknown small town in the middle of nowhere.

The cover of the most important French Sport Magazine: “God is dead””

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has written a beautiful tribute to Diego Armando Maradona that ends with these words:

“Le Président de la République salue ce souverain incontesté du ballon rond que les Français ont tant aimé. A tous ceux qui ont économisé leur argent de poche pour compléter enfin l’album Panini Mexico 1986 avec sa vignette, à tous ceux qui ont tenté de négocier avec leur compagne pour baptiser leur fils Diego, à ses compatriotes argentins, aux Napolitains qui ont dessiné des fresques dignes de Diego Rivera à son effigie, à tous les amoureux de football, le Président de la République adresse ses condoléances émues. Diego se queda”.

“The President of the Republic bids farewell to this undisputed King of Football to whom the French people gave all their love. To all of those who saved their weekly pocket money to purchase his sticker in order to complete their Panini photo-album of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico or those of you who attempted to convince their female partners to baptize their son ‘Diego,’ to his Argentinian compatriots, to the Neapolitans who painted murals with his effigy that were equal in beauty to the works of Diego Rivera, to all football lovers, the President of the Republic sends his heartfelt condolences. Diego forever!”

Today, I don’t put Diego Armando Maradona on trial but I mourn his passing!

It is quite possible that Maradona was always profoundly dissatisfied and unhappy and that, during his entire life, he never found peace within himself. But he brought great happiness and joy to millions of people around the world.

“I would like the words ‘Gracias a la pelota’ to be inscribed on my tombstone,” said Maradona, 15 years ago, as he interviewed himself during an episode of the TV show ‘La Noche del 10,’ broadcast on ‘Canal Trece,’ in Argentina.

“What would I say to Maradona in the cemetery?” Diego asked himself. And he answered: “Thank you for having played football, because this sport gave me great happiness, it was almost as though I could touch the sky with my finger. And I would say ‘Thank you to the ball.’ Yes, I would like the words ‘Thank you to the ball,’ to be inscribed on my tombstone.”

I’m thankful to Maradona. He made me dream and now I’m moved and I miss him.

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