Diego Maradona 1960 - 2020
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
29 November 2020
Diego Maradona, the revered Argentinian footballer died on November 25th the same day as his idol Fidel Castro. His death has provoked diverse reactions, from those who praise him in the same light as Fidel to those who condemn him for the same and also those feminists who rightly question his attitude towards women and his record on the same. It is not easy to pay homage to such a noble and yet contradictory and ignoble figure.
His prowess on the field, his skill with a football can only be disputed by the reactionaries, the xenophobes and also those who take issue with his political positions. He was the greatest, without equal and we will wait a long time to see his likes again. But that is not only because of his football prowess, as it is argued as to whether he or Pelé were the greatest, but we can be sure that when Pelé dies, the outpouring of grief will be a shallow affair compared to the genuine grief at the death of Diego Maradona.
He was, like Pelé from a poor background a rags to riches story. Unlike Pelé he never thanked the wealthy for what he got, nor did he seek to ingratiate himself with them. He never forgot where he came from. So much so, he sought battle with FIFA and the Argentinian Football Association, a move that few professionals would contemplate. He cared little for their status and power.
Despite his association with various leaders of the Pink Tide of Latin American leaders he had no problem in supporting the outbreak of protests in Brazil against the PT government, its wasteful expenditure on stadiums and the increases in transports costs for the poor. He even challenged Pelé, the establishment's favourite footballer on the issue.
Maradona was not silent during his years as a footballer. He famously told Napoliís supporters that they should not support Italy in a match against Argentina as Italy had abandoned them to their fate of poverty. How Naples reacted to his death shows they appreciated his comment and that he despite the controversy at the time, once again touched a nerve. This was the type of comment not expected from footballers. They were famed for their footballer wives, pretty and stupid, just like themselves, a case in point being David Beckham who has the same intellectual prowess and good looks as his wife Victoria, other footballers are unfortunate and have no good looks and are just stupid. Maradona was not thick. He could see reality and opine about it, something the money launderers who ran FIFA despised, from a man whose earnings, though excessive were transparent.
But he was a flawed and troubled individual, who developed a cocaine habit. He remarked when he was refused entry to Japan that he understood hypocrisy and stated "the Japanese won't let me in because I took drugs but they let Yanks in and they dropped two atomic bombs on them" showing up the hypocrisy of migratory and drug policies as well as diplomatic policy between countries.
He was also publicly abusive to his wife, refused for many years to acknowledge his paternity, a fact which has many Latin American feminists torn about how to acknowledge him, some opting for ignoring him and banishing him in death, others saying that "Diego Maradona's death pains us as his life also did many times" and painfully acknowledging his greatness on the field and also in his political positions. Some in The Guardian have compared him to the recently deceased Seán Connery who was also abusive to his first wife. They are not on a par, though Connery came from a poor working-class background, Maradona's poverty was absolute. Also, Connery dabbled a bit in politics in support of Scottish Independence, which was popular and easy to do from afar. Maradona took on positions that earned him the loathing of the great and good, not just in FIFA, but elsewhere. He supported Palestinian rights and met Palestinian leaders who told "In my heart I am Palestinian" which given Argentina's large Jewish population, was not as easy as it seems. He was also vocal in his support for Chávez and Maduro in Venezuela appearing by their side on many occasions and he obviously supported the Cuban revolution. There is a photo doing the rounds of Castro placing his cap on Maradona and given the difference in stature and age, it almost looks like a father son moment. Maradona admired Fidel and saw in him a father like figure. There is a video on the web where Fidel takes off his military jacket and belt and gives it to Maradona, who is visibly overcome with emotion and reacts almost childlike at the thought of being honoured in such a fashion by someone like Fidel. He showed no such proclivity to being honoured by the great and good. He is comparable in some aspects to that other Argentinian and his own idol, Che, who was a notorious sexist who reduced women to being objects of sexual gratification. He overcame his sexism but according to his biographer Jon Lee Anderson, he didn't do so completely until Bolivia where he fought alongside Tania. He died on the same day as Fidel Castro something which no doubt will cement the mythology surrounding Maradona. Though as with all myths there are many elements of truth.
In Argentina he will obviously be remembered for his footballing skills but also for his support for the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who took on the dictatorship and the "democracy" over the disappearances and the kidnapping of children who were given up in adoption to military officers.
Maradona is a hero with metaphorical feet of clay. Despite this he will be missed and mourned by many and his reputation is likely to outlast Pelé's the establishment footballer, just like Muhammed Ali's reputation would always outlast establishment boxers like Joe Frazier. Mourners were attacked by the police at his funeral in Buenos Aires, as fitting an end for a man who was an outsider to them.