A fortnight has gone by since that fateful day when a football legend by name Diego Armando Maradona breathed his last. But he will never be a forgotten chapter in World football. The spirit of the great Argentine will ever remain as long as this sport exists and that explains why this squat and brilliant footballer was such a big property on which some of the most unbelievable tales of football had been weaved never ever to fade out in the sands of time.
Forget what happened to Maradona the man as he evolved in life though that was a blot that was to remain an unremovable stain. For a moment let us focus on Maradona the footballer for it is this that made him the sport's greatest delight right from the time he came to limelight as a precociously talented 15-year old.
From the streets of Argentina to the throne. That was Maradona's journey in football and how he rose! The world virtually came to know of his greatness, a consummate artist with the ball in the 1986 World cup in Mexico. Azteca Stadium was the arena where he lived a dream not only for himself but the entire Argentina as he guided his country to a world cup triumph in a style that fans would vouch, was something out of the world.
True there was Pele before him who did such wondrous acts on the football field for Brazil to be recognised as the world's best. That was one era but when Maradona came thereafter it was a story that had a few more dimensions added to lure the minds of fans the world over. Greatness in the sport lay in a person's ability to capture the imagination of every football lover and Maradona not only did that but in such stunning style that he firmly established as the best in the business. For long has this debate on who is the greatest _ Pele or Maradona _ gone on without getting an acceptable answer but this much can be said. If Pele, as a striker was a scorer out and out and his goal-tally is bigger, then Maradona, as a deep midfielder was effectively poetry in motion. But both produced rapturous end-scripts!
However there is that emotional bonding that Maradona had with the football community, surely because he belongs to that era which had had the benefit of seeing all his actions live, the worldover thanks to the leaps television reach had taken. All that added enrichment to his exploits at the Azteca stadium in Mexico in 1986. So much so that for a football fan stepping into the Azteca stadium is akin to a pilgrimage to football's sacred place for it was here that a legend was born! As one who had the privilege to do that, I can say it is an indescribable feeling, a sense of contentment that has to be experienced!
On a private visit to Mexico last year, Estadio Azteca was one prime spot in my agenda. As a sports correspondent of a leading English Daily back in the eighties and based in Kerala, I was already soaked in the kind of football excitement Kerala is famous for and the Mexico World Cup and Maradona had only spiced up my interest. So on that bright sunny day when I actually entered Azteca emotions gripped me as I felt the green green turf on which Maradona had done all his acts of greatness. The imposing structure, the feel of a whole packed stadium roaring in unison and the actual acts, when told by the guide, that “it was at this end that Maradona had scored his 'hand of God' goal and then the 'Goal of the century' minutes later” left me stunned, dazed or dizzy, I cannot say. Maybe now I can submit, for me being there at the spot that day was like paying homage to the great man.
Never would any ardent football lover ever have dreamt of a day without Maradona around. The spontaneous outpouring of grief world over was the indication of the man's success and how much he had made football such a delightful sport. That such a legend should thereafter fail to have control of his own life off football seemed a grave irony. That is where success or greatness sometimes can be like a crown that is not easy on the head. The world of sports has seen several such mishaps and attached misery. Flawless with the ball and a question mark without it, that had to be Maradona the man in essence. Who would have imagined that someone with magical feet and strong gait would one day end up being helped to walk or look out of shape.
For all the joy he had given the football fans all over the world, it was agony that Maradona had to suffer in the end. As Jorge Valdano, the man who scored in that epic 1986 final, put it very touchingly in the England daily The Guardian, “Today even the ball, the most inclusive, shared of toys, feels alone, inconsolably weeping for the loss of its owner, its master. All of those who love football, real football, cry with it. And those of us who knew him will cry even more for that Diego who, in recent times, had almost disappeared beneath the weight of his legend and his life of excess. Goodbye, great captain.” Can anything more be said!