I am not a soccer aficionado in the sense that some people, especially in West Bengal and Goa are devoted, but would not mind watching a good game of football on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Of course, World Cup is closely followed and I keep tab of all the results till the finals. Like most of the Indians, Brazil is my favourite team for that team created magic with short passes and dribbles, the way Indians play hockey, instead of power packed football played by European nations. But there was a time, when like many of us, I too had shifted my loyalties from Brazil to Argentina. This was when there was a diminutive magician, to whom the ball used to get attached like an iron filing to a magnet and whose dribbling was mesmerising, was spearheading an underdog Argentina. Who can forget 1986 World Cup, which was Maradona’s World Cup, whose single handed magic won the cup for the dark horses ! And his two goals in the quarter finals against England shall remain etched in the soccer history for time immemorial. His first one, now famously known as “ Hand of God” was a foul unnoticed as probably God destined to pin greatness on this master artist, though the second goal was a sheer artistry and wizardry, with the maestro dodging past a host of English defence players with his magical footwork to score what will remain a connoisseur’s delight forever! That Argentina eventually went on to win the cup that year was a real tribute to Maradona’s artistry!
He represented Argentina in 3 more world cups, but one can only come down from the peak. His magic was there but only in flashes. But he had it all – from being the most expensive player to be hired ( I read somewhere that his club Napoli took a bank loan to pay up Maradona, though how he transformed another dark horse, his club Napoli into a soccer powerhouse is the stuff legends are made of ) to being coveted the world over! However, he couldn’t manage all the success and money and got into drugs and the company of drug syndicates. His health started deteriorating and he put on lot of weight. Even his stint at a Rehab centre didn’t help much, and at the end, the legend died when he was barely 60, leaving millions of soccer fans in a pall of gloom!
Like another great, Pele, Maradona had also visited India and his visit to Kolkata remains unforgettable for the master donned his playing shoes and some of the magic he showed on the field made soccer crazy Kolkata crowd delirious! In fact, Maradona himself was surprised at the adulation he got and craze for soccer in India and he promised to return, which he fulfilled, but by that time the man was a frail image of his self!
There will be more expensive players in the days to come – probably more talented or high profile, but legends like Maradona are born once in a century. He was master of his craft, enigmatic, mysterious and above all a magician who took the game of soccer to a different level. Also, lord himself wrote the destiny of this favourite child of his for we may never see god “lending his hand” in scoring a soccer goal ever again!
RIP Diego Maradona!