Football

Diego Maradona Has Passed Away At The Age Of 60.

FOOTBALL legend Diego Maradona, who is widely regarded as one of the game’s greatest ever players, has died of a heart attack aged 60.

The Argentinian football legend died at home, his lawyer said, just three weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain.

Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, having knocked England out of the tournament in a match which saw him score the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal and another – widely considered to be one of the greatest goals of all time.

Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time on the pitch, his life off the pitch was equally notorious – amid battles with drug and alcohol addiction.

‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the Argentine leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’

The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.

Nine ambulances were sent to his house at around midday on Wednesday in the exclusive gated residential neighbourhood of San Andres north of Buenos Aires where Maradona went to live after leaving hospital.

Local reports said one of the nurses caring for him had raised the alarm after discovering he had suffered a suspected heart attack.

None of the paramedics who rushed to the house were able to do anything to save him

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.’

There is no suggestion there is anything suspicious about Maradona’s death, but state prosecutors are on their way to the house where the soccer legend died as part of a routine investigation.

A team of psychologists are also understood to be on their way to the property.

During Maradona’s time with Italian side Napoli he won the Serie A title in 1987 and 1990, along with an Italian Cup in 1987 and a Uefa Cup in 1991.

But it was also during these years that his addiction to cocaine took hold. In 1991, the year he left the club, he was given a 15-month suspension for drug violations.

In 1994 he was thrown out of the World Cup in America after failing a drugs test, before retiring from football in 1997.

In 1999 and 2000 he was taken to hospital suffering heart problems, the second time requiring a respirator to breathe.

In 2004, he was again treated in hospital for severe heart and respiratory problems linked to his drug abuse.

He has undergone two gastric bypass operations to control his weight and received treatment for alcohol abuse.

In January, he had surgery to stem bleeding in his stomach and in July he underwent a knee operation.

Three week 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.

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.

Argentinian TV reporters travelling on motorbikes filmed the ambulance carrying him leaving before following the vehicle to transmit every inch of his journey.

Argentina’s president Alberto Fernandez decreed three days of mourning following Maradona’s death.

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

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.

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.

‘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.’

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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 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.

Pisani Says: ‘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.

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