AFP/ Buenos Aires
The world yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Diego Maradona, regarded as one of the best footballers of all time.
Fans, players, coaches, clubs and loved ones paid homage to the man revered for his talent and adored for his legacy, despite – or partly because of – his human flaws.
From Villa Fiorito, the Buenos Aires slum where he grew up, to Italy’s Naples, where he spent several years of his stellar career, and India, tributes abounded.
On football pitches in Argentina, players arranged themselves in a “10” formation to honour the famous jersey number of the man nicknamed the “Pibe de Oro” or Golden Kid, as fans chanted “Marado, Marado!”
Outside his humble childhood home, bouquets of flowers and messages piled up – one reading: “You gave us heaven.”
“Maradona was the voice of the Argentine people. We will miss him and love him all our lives,” said fan Jose Maria Fernandez, through tears.
In Kolkota, India, a statue of Maradona was decorated with flowers, while in the southern Kerala state, fans gathered at a hotel where the footballer stayed in 2012, which has become something of a shrine.
“We have put a photo of him at the hotel for fans to come and pay respects. There will be flower offerings and lighting of candles. We are all Maradona fans and we miss him a lot,” Ravindran Veleimbra, owner of the Hotel Blue Nile in Kannur, told AFP.
In Naples, where Maradona is almost as much of an icon as in Buenos Aires, the president of football club Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, visited a memorial to the player.
A statue of the athlete will be unveiled later in the presence of his son Diego Maradona Junior outside the Napoli stadium – renamed in his honour following his death. De Laurentiis said statues of Maradona would also be placed inside the stadium.
“Players will be able to touch the hands and feet of football’s great god before the start of every match,” he said. The club urged fans to arrive early for a match tomorrow against Lazio to attend a commemoration. Maradona died of a heart attack last November aged 60, weeks after undergoing brain surgery for a blood clot.
The former Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli star had long battled cocaine and alcohol addictions and was suffering from liver, kidney and cardiovascular disorders when he died.
His death shocked fans around the world and tens of thousands lined up to file past his coffin, draped in the Argentine flag, at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires during three days of national mourning.
“It’s been a year since the world has been more horrible,” Dalma Maradona, the star striker’s eldest daughter, wrote on Twitter Thursday. He may be dead, but in Argentina, Maradona is everywhere – from ubiquitous murals to television series about his life and even a “church” bearing his name.
In a country where football is a religion, he is a god.
Maradona’s two goals in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, which saw Argentina triumph over England just four years after the Falklands War, made him an instant hero.
He is perhaps remembered as much for his “Hand of God” goal – which illegally came off his hand in what he ascribed to supernatural intervention – as for his second in the same match against England, which would later become known as the “Goal of the Century.”
His rags-to-riches story, stellar sporting achievements, complicated life and dramatic death entrenched his place in the Argentine psyche. In the cities, Maradona’s name is memorialised in countless graffiti: “Diego lives,” “10 Eternal” and “D10S” – a play on words with the Spanish word for god, “Dios,” and the star’s jersey number. Murals in Buenos Aires depict him with angel wings, as a patron saint complete with halo and sceptre, or kissing the World Cup.
Maradona’s name continues to make headlines as well, with Argentines closely following an investigation into his death opened after two of his five children filed a complaint against neurosurgeon Leopoldo Luque, whom they blame for their father’s deteriorating condition after surgery.
A panel of 20 medical experts convened by Argentina’s public prosecutor concluded in April Maradona’s treatment was rife with “deficiencies and irregularities” and said his medical team had left his survival “to fate.”
The probe has been competing for headline space with the court case over an inheritance dispute involving two of Maradona’s daughters.
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