Diego Maradona's body arrived at the presidential palace in Argentina today as a grieving country prepares to pay its last respects to the flawed football genius who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.
View pictures in App save up to 80% data. As a crowd of weeping fans gathered outside, Maradona's coffin was lifted out of an ambulance and brought into the palace where it will lie in state in a three-day spectacle of national mourning.
Others gathered outside the Buenos Aires stadium where Maradona began his career and which has since been renamed in his honour, setting up a makeshift shrine to celebrate Argentina's legendary number 10.
His death has also been keenly felt in Europe, especially in Naples where he steered an unfashionable side to two Italian league titles and where fans let off flares in tribute outside the stadium last night.
In Britain, where he is best remembered for his 'Hand of God' goal against England in 1986 - an act of brazen cheating followed only minutes later by one of the greatest goals in football history - a minute's silence took place ahead of Liverpool's Champions League match on Wednesday night.
Regarded by some as the greatest player of all time, Maradona combined awesome footballing ability with a flair for showmanship and a turbulent personal life marked by drug and alcohol problems. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
An autopsy report leaked to Argentine media said he died in his sleep after suffering heart failure, only two weeks after leaving hospital following surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
Admirers also gathered at the door of the morgue where Maradona's body was taken after he was found dead on Wednesday.
Medics also detected dilated cardiomyopathy, a medical condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
Diego Maradona's coffin is lifted out of an ambulance and taken into the Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires in the early hours of this morning after the football legend died on Wednesday at the age of 60. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
A fan wearing an Argentina number 10 shirt in tribute to Maradona cries at a gathering outside the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium in Buenos Aires where the football legend began his career as a young player.
His nephew Johnny Esposito was the last person to see him alive, according to the report, before doctors with an appointment to see him went to his estate on Wednesday and found him unresponsive. View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
As much as I appreciate Messi and Ronaldo, and as crucial as I think they are to their teams, they never displayed that near-mythical type of influence Maradona showed with Argentina and Napoli.
Let’s start with his well-known, much talked-about legendary performance at the 1986 World Cup.
View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
In that tournament, Maradona almost single-handedly led a non-candidate, average Argentina team to the most prestigious trophy in World Football. Throughout the tournament, Maradona scored 5 and assisted 5, an outstanding total of 10 goal contributions. What’s more impressive than the total is where these goals came. Maradona scored all 4 goals Argentina scored in the quarter and semi-final of the tournament. He also assisted the decisive winner in the final against Germany.
As great as his totals were, they would’ve been at least doubled had he been playing with a team that’s actually strong. If you think Higuain’s miss in the final against Germany was bad, go watch the countless easy chances Maradona created only for his 1986 teammates to miss them, and he still managed to contributed in 10 goals in the way I described above.
There is a reason Maradona’s performance at the 1986 World Cup is widely considered the best World Cup performance ever.
As extraordinary as Maradona’s World Cup performance was, what he did with Napoli was, in my opinion, even more impressive, much more.
When Maradona arrived at Napoli, breaking the transfer fee record for the 2nd time in his career by the way, the Italian team had only 2 titles, both of which were domestic cups. No league titles, no European trophies. Furthermore, in the season right before Maradona’s arrival, Napoli finished 1 point away from relegation.
Not only that but, they were playing in the undisputed league in the world. At the time, Serie A featured attacking players like “The White Pele” Zeco and Platini, who won 3 Ballon d’Ors in a row, and defenders like Maldini and Baresi, and teams like Sacchi’ AC Milan, the last team to retain the European Cup/Champions League until Real Madrid did it last season, and the list goes on. Serie A was without a question the toughest, most star-studded league in the world at the time.
View pictures in App save up to 80% data.
Not only did Maradona dare to take the challenge of playing in that team in that league but, he led Napoli to achieve the unthinkable and beat all the Italian giants for the title, which was their first ever. It didn’t stop there. It wasn’t a one-time thing like, say, Leicester City’s PL title was, no. Napoli went to finish second in the next two seasons before winning the title again the season after, finishing 2 points above AC Milan who won their 2nd consecutive European Cup that season.
I can’t even put into words how incredible it is to lead a side like Napoli to finish in the top 2 for 4 consecutive seasons in such a tough league with such top-class, and even legendary competition, and to actually win the title twice in that period. “Maradonic” is the only word good enough to describe it.
After Maradona’s departure, things went back to normal. Since the Argentinian legend left the side, Napoli only won 3 titles in 26 years, taking their total to 5 titles in 84 years without Maradona and 5 titles in 7 years with Maradona, with all the league and European titles coming during Maradona’s time. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous !
All of that is why I said that the influence Maradona showed with Argentina and, especially, at Napoli is near-mythical and the reason I put him a level above any other player in history.