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The humbling loss of Diego Maradona

Existing in somewhat of a lockdown purgatory, my spare time continues to pendulum between Netflix binging and exploring the big wide world once again. This week I delved back in to the life of the royal family, eighties Britain and life under the iron fist of the Iron Lady, in the new series of ‘The Crown.’

Episode five explores Margaret Thatcher’s, and the country’s, response to the Falklands conflict. As the nineties appeared on the horizon the Falklands served as a military backdrop to the football animosity a young English boy like myself was sub-consciously conditioned to believe in.

War time, football rivals, with no respect for rule, tradition, honour, Argentina our foes. Most of this resentment and false hate was lumped on the shoulders of Diego Armando Maradona and his hand go god, and most of the world took part in shovelling it on.

With broad shoulders Maradona, carried that undue burden, the weight of his own problems, and the weight of a nation, for a lifetime.

My re-education of the boy from Buenos Aires began last year, when I watched ‘Rebel. Hero. Huster. God’, the documentary-film by Asif Kapadia, who brought us ‘Amy’ and ‘Senna’, biopics of enigmatic, misunderstood, under-appreciated characters.

A poster for the film sits on my office wall, with dark eyes staring out beyond chiseled cheeks, a depiction that reinforces my own misjudgment of a footballing God.

As the film rolled, I felt an immediate guilt at buying in to the image of Maradona I’d been mis-sold; that anyone who insults the English can no longer be considered whole, their talents, achievements, influence and most importantly their individuality to be ignored.

Maradona was made a pariah virtually everywhere he went. Not the last Argentine to take umbrage with the Camp Nou board, his time at Barcelona was short lived, before finding his spiritual home in Naples.

Parochialism though, isn’t a two way street. As Maradona brought success to southern Italy, Argentine blood still ran through his veins. They say Barcelona isn’t quite Spanish or Liverpool English, so perhaps Naples not quite Italian; the outcast city suffering the condescension of its neighbours.

Some of Shakespeare’s great works are set in Italy. The semi-final between Argentina and hosts Italy would be a catalyst in Maradona’s tragedy. Maradona appealed to the Napolitano’s to support his Argentina when the two sides met at Stadio San Paolo. Outcast as Naples may have been, it was still Italy. La Albiceleste defeated the Azzuri on penalties and gave the Federcalcio enough motivation to make him the Machiavelli of football, conspiring to ban the Argentine for failing a drug test.

Off the field Maradona was a prodigy exploited, and this exploitation in part contributed to his demise. Naples, Italy’s poorest city, rife with organised crime. Gangs lured Maradona in to their trap through sex, drugs, rock and roll; all tools he leant on to escape.

They say there is Diego and there is Maradona. the latter’s passing is a loss to football, the former’s, a lesson.

The outpouring of tribute and emotion for arguably the best player ever is by no means unjustified, but football needs to reflect on how it cares for its youngsters. Diego Maradona was a mere fifteen when he made is debut for Boca Juniors, twenty when we moved to Spain for a then World Record fee.

Assuming his talent would be met with the same ability to negotiate stardom and the masses who sought to exploit him was a gross over-estimation.

Maradona leaves us, with joy, inspiration, and our own sorrow. May he rest in peace, now in God’s hands.

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