Diego Maradona, Argentine soccer great, dies at 60

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Diego Maradona, Argentina’s footballing celebrity who was one of the greatest players ever who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, has passed away. He was 60.

The Argentina president’s office will issue three days of national mourning over Maradona’s death on Wednesday, and Argentina’s Football Association has expressed grief on Twitter.

Maradona died two weeks after she was released from a hospital in Buenos Aires after brain surgery.

Famous for the ‘Hand of God’ goal, in which he hit the ball into England’s net during the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup, Maradona enchanted fans over a career spanning two decades with an enchanting playing style that was all his own.

Although his reputation was tarnished by his addictions and a fateful spell at the head of the national team, he continued to be revered in football-mad Argentina as the ‘Pibe de Oro’ or ‘Golden Boy’.

The number 10 he wore on his jersey became synonymous with him, as did Pele, the Brazilian great with whom Maradona was regularly paired as the greatest of all time.

Brave, swift and utterly unpredictable, Maradona was a master of attack, easily juggling the ball from one foot to the other as it ran onto the field. Evasive and swaying with his low center of gravity, he overtook countless rivals and often scored with a devastating left foot, his most powerful weapon.

“Everything he thought in his head, he made true with his feet,” said Salvatore Bagni, who played with Maradona at the Italian club Napoli.

A rising waistline slowed Maradona’s explosive speed later in his career, and in 1991 he became entangled in his first doping scandal when he admitted to having a cocaine habit that haunted him until he retired in 1997, at the age of 37.

He was hospitalized near death in 2000 and again in ’04 for heart problems attributed to cocaine. He later said he had overcome the drug problem. Cocaine, he once famously said, had proven to be his “toughest rival.”

But more health problems followed, despite a 2005 gastric bypass that significantly reduced his weight. Maradona was hospitalized in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed for excessive drinking and eating.

He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed coach of Argentina, but after a quarter-final exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted – eventually getting another coaching job at the club Al Wasl from the United Arab Emirates. .

Maradona was the fifth of eight children to grow up in a poor, rough neighborhood in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, where he played a type of football that brought many Argentines to international stardom.

None of them came close to Maradona’s fame. In 2001 FIFA named Maradona one of the two greatest in the history of the sport, alongside Pele.

“Maradona inspires us,” said then Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, explaining his country’s fascination with Maradona at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. “He is our idol, and an idol to the people.”

Maradona garnered titles at home and abroad and played for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors in the early 1980s before switching to Spanish and Italian clubs. His crowning achievement came at the 1986 World Cup, in which he captained Argentina in the 3-2 win over West Germany in the final and was decisive in a 2-1 win over England in a tough quarter-final.

Over the protests of England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the referee left a goal from Maradona in which, as he admitted years later, he deliberately hit the ball with his hand in “a bit of mischief”.

But Maradona’s impact would not be limited to fraud. Four minutes later, he hurled spectacularly past four opponents from midfield to beat Shilton for what FIFA later called the biggest goal in World Cup history.

Many Argentines saw the match as revenge for their country’s loss to Great Britain in the 1982 war for the Falkland Islands, which Argentines still refer to as ‘Las Malvinas’.

“It was our way of restoring ‘Las Malvinas,'” Maradona wrote in his 2000 autobiography “I am Diego.”

“It was more than trying to win a match. We said the game had nothing to do with the war. But we knew that Argentines had died there, that they killed them like birds. And this was our revenge. It was something bigger than us: we were defending our flag. ”

It also justified Maradona, who in what he later called “the greatest tragedy” of his career, was cut from the 1978 World Cup squad – which Argentina won at home – because he was only 17.

Maradona said he got a soccer ball shortly after he could run.

“I was 3 years old and I slept with that ball all night,” he said.

At the age of 10, Maradona achieved fame by performing during halftime of professional matches and wowing audiences by holding the ball in the air for minutes with his feet, chest and head. He also made his playing debut with the youth team of Argentinos Juniors, leading a squad of mostly 14-year-olds through 136 unbeaten games.

“To see him play was pure luck, real fame,” said teammate Carlos Beltran.

Maradona played for first-division Argentinos Juniors from 1976-81, then went to Boca Juniors for a year before moving to Barcelona for a $ 8 million world record.

In 1984 Barcelona sold it to Napoli, in Italy. He almost made his fortune on his own, taking it to the 1987 Italian Championship for his first title in 60 years.

A year after losing the 1990 World Cup final against West Germany, Maradona moved to Spanish club Sevilla, but his career was on the decline. He played five games with Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys in 1994 before returning to Boca from 1995-97 – his last club and closest to his heart.

Drug problems overshadowed his last playing years.

Maradona failed a doping test in 1991 and was banned for 15 months because he acknowledged his long-term cocaine addiction. He failed another stimulant drug test and was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

When she retired, Maradona attended Boca competitions as a raucous one-man cheering section and participated in global charity, sports and exhibition events. But the already stocky attacker gained weight quickly and was clearly short of breath as he sniffed through friendlies.

In 2000, in what doctors said was a brush of death, he was admitted to the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este with a heart that doctors said was pumping at less than half its capacity. Blood and urine samples showed traces of cocaine.

After another emergency hospitalization in 2004, Maradona received help for substance abuse and traveled to Cuba in September of that year for treatment at the Havana Mental Health Center. There he was visited by his friend, Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In Cuba, Maradona started playing golf and smoking cigars. He frequently praised Castro and Argentina-born revolutionary “Che” Guevara, who fought with Castro in the Cuban revolution – even with a Guevara tattoo on his right arm.

Maradona said he was drug-free there and started a new chapter.

In 2005, he underwent a gastric bypass in Colombia, losing nearly 50 kilograms (over 100 pounds) before appearing as the host of a wildly popular Argentinean TV talk show. On ’10’s Night’, Maradona walked around a ball with Pele, interviewed boxer Mike Tyson and Hollywood celebrities and recorded a lengthy conversation with Castro in Cuba.

When she retired, Maradona also became more outspoken. He regularly cut to former coaches, players – including Pele – and the Pope. He joined a left-wing protest train outside the Top of the Americas in 2005 alongside Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to denounce the presence of then President George W. Bush.

His outsider status made it all the more surprising when he was chosen as Argentina’s coach after Alfio Basile’s resignation.

He won his first three games, but his tactics, selection and attention to detail were all questioned after a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia in qualifying for the World Cup was its worst ever defeat.

Victor Hugo Morales, Argentina’s most popular football broadcaster, said Maradona will eventually be remembered for an exciting playing style that has never been copied.

“He has been one of the great artists of my time. As great masters of music and painting, he has defied our intellect and enriched the human mind, ”said Morales. “No one has thrilled me more and left me in such awe as Diego.”