Why D10S was more than just a football player
Diego Armando Maradona was an icon in many ways.
Of course, he was a footballer. Possibly the greatest of all time. Immortalized through his goals, his dribbles, his left foot and the 1986 World Cup.
But Maradona was more than that.
For many people he embodied the tragedies, hopes and passions of a generation. Maradona went from rags to riches — the classic hero. Brought up in the favela’s of Buenos Aires and a product of the pain inflicted by the Videla regime, Maradona was a bird who just could not be caged. Whilst the ashes of Videla’s violence were still smouldering, he brought joy to a nation and continent when he led Argentina to World Cup victory in Mexico City 1986. But he didn’t stop there. His flame burnt aggressively and was never extinguished in spite of the many clutches that tried to smother it.
Who remembers the face of the young genius, only 21, in Spain during the World Cup finals of 1982? The Italians had figured out that the only way to stop Maradona was to literally kick him out of the game. Claudio Gentile became Diego’s shadow, fouling him 44 times, a feat that would certainly be rewarded with the red card today, but instead, Maradona got booked for protesting. Gentile, the brute, walked away unscathed, going on to win the World Cup, eliminating not just Argentina, the defending champions, but also the beautiful Brazilian team, with Falcao, Eder and Socrates. South America wept and Gentile would later famously state that “football is not for ballerinas”. How history would prove him wrong.
In 1982 however, Gentile was right. Everywhere you looked, darkness prevailed. The budding genius of the underdog was ruthlessly suppressed by by the business-like Italians — beauty eclipsed by darkness. This was the era of Thatcher, Reagan and economic crises. Had not the Peronist government, champion of Argentina’s poor, been overthrown by a fascist military dictatorship, under the auspices of Kissinger and the United States, ushering in an era of darkness, brutality and violence? Football was not for ballerinas and neither was politics about dreaming or idealism. Continent-wide hopes of social equality and true independence from (neo-) colonialism had been quashed by Pinochet in Chile, Videla in Argentina and a series of military dictators in Brazil. In the name of anti-communism, it was the Americans who oversaw these bloody transitions.
More than ever before, football became the outlet for the downtrodden, the victims, the human beings suffering in the favelas of Santiago, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.
Maradona embodied the longing for light, his talent and character personifying the struggle of his people. Argentina exploded with joy when Burruchaga netted his 85th-minute winner in the 1986 World Cup final, in a match that had so nearly been snatched by West-Germany, when they equalized in the 82nd minute after going 2–0 down, evoking the specter of yet another injustice visited upon the nation. Argentina, the continent, the world screamed for Maradona, impregnating the air of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City with the immense pressure of its cries.
Then HE arose.
With one of the most beautiful assists ever given, Maradona launched Jorge Burruchaga who beat the German goalkeeper Schumacher with the most subtle of touches. The pass was full of grace, elegance and poetry, capturing the gaze of millions as they followed the trajectory of the ball through the air and watched, like Maradona himself, as in slow-motion, the ball rolling towards the far corner of the German goal. Videla had fallen in 1983. Now Argentina was resurrected.
Whatever happened to Maradona after that was an eclectic mix of the genius who was claimed by everyone but belonged to no-one. As a true ‘man of the people’ anyone could come close to him. Where ever he went he was led by his instinct, not always able to snuff out manipulation or ill will. He expected from his new ‘friends’ the same he had given, but Maradona had become just too big a brand, struggling to reconcile his status as a superstar with his personality and convictions. After a visit to Pope John Paul II, he said: “I was in the Vatican and I saw all these golden ceilings and afterwards I heard the Pope say the Church was worried about the welfare of poor kids. Sell your ceiling then, amigo, do something!”
Plenty of commentators will call him eccentric. He certainly lived way beyond the confines of the straight-jacket which was fitted for him. In the last years of his life Maradona lived in a world which he no longer recognized. How different was his stardom to the dull, predictability of modern celebrity players who are media-trained and feature in commercials for big brands. They will never be called eccentric because they act as they are expected to, representing the agenda of an industry increasingly hollowed out by big finance, hijacked by corporate interests, whilst drifting ever further away from ordinary people who all embraced Diego Armando. But speaking out against corruption in FIFA and American imperialism makes you an eccentric, perhaps even a crazy. And you certainly cannot support Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez and the struggle for Palestinian liberation.
We will never silence the voice of Maradona. We see the determination to be the best in his goal against Belgium in 1986. We recognize it in the ‘hand of God’ — the little man, street-wise, beating Peter Shilton and getting away with it, only to absolutely smash it home with a dribble, which has been crowned the goal of the century. How sweet was the Argentinian revenge for the Falkland War? Maradona could not be contained.
His face will be forever represented in the murals, not just of Buenos Aires and Naples, but of Ramallah, Calcutta, Kinshasa and Jakarta as well.. Rather than a relic of the past, Maradona contains a promise of the future, of the struggle for liberation, both of the beautiful game of football as well as the societies which produced his greatness.