The people’s hero is gone

The people’s hero is gone

BUENOS AIRES • Argentinians lined up in the streets of the country’s capital yesterday to say goodbye to football legend and their greatest hero Diego Maradona, whose casket lay in state at the Casa Rosada presidential palace, draped in an Argentina flag and his iconic No. 10 shirt.

The 1986 World Cup winner, whose exploits on the pitch was marred by struggles with alcohol and drug addiction and obesity, died in his sleep following a heart attack at home on Wednesday.

He was 60.

According to John Broyad, the prosecutor general of the Argentinian town of San Isidro, everything indicated Maradona died of “natural causes”, although the results of toxicology tests will only be known later.

But the initial autopsy did not stop his lawyer, Matias Morla, from calling for a full investigation into the circumstances of Maradona’s death. Maradona had various health problems and weeks ago had undergone surgery for a blood clot in his head.

Morla tweeted: “It is inexplicable that for 12 hours my friend has had no attention or check-up from the personnel dedicated to these ends. The ambulance took more than half an hour to arrive, which was a criminal idiocy.”

Huge crowds are expected to pay their respects as part of three days of national mourning.

Thousands had already formed a snaking line through the streets near the central Plaza de Mayo after spending the previous night mourning and reminiscing.

Tens of thousands earlier took to the streets to mourn him, defying Covid-19 curbs on gatherings to leave flowers and messages at his childhood home and former club Boca Juniors. At 10pm on Wednesday, an hour chosen to match the number he wore, stadiums across Argentina turned on their floodlights to honour his memory.

Boca, the club he had supported as a child, turned off all the lights at their La Bombonera stadium, only leaving Maradona’s box lit up.

Some scuffles broke out as fans tried to get inside the palace to see the great, who starred for Napoli and Barcelona among others.

TILL WE MEET AGAIN

There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play together up in the sky.

PELE, Brazilian legend and joint best player of the 20th century

FROM ONE GREAT TO ANOTHER

The pope was informed about the death of Diego Maradona, he recalls the times he met him in these past years with affection, and he is remembering him in his prayers, as he did in the past days when he was informed about his condition.

MATTEO BRUNI, Vatican spokesman, on behalf of Pope Francis

SOMETHING’S MISSING

Today the world of sports in general and football in particular has a void. One of the greatest sportsmen in history, Diego Maradona, has left us. What he did in football will remain.

RAFAEL NADAL, world No. 2 tennis star

HARD TO DESCRIBE

A very sad day for all Argentinians and for football. He has left us but he isn’t going anywhere because Diego is eternal. I’ll remember the lovely moments I experienced with him and I send my condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace.

LIONEL MESSI, Argentina captain

SIMMERING ANGER

What I don’t like is that he never apologised. Never at any stage did he say he had cheated and that he would like to say sorry. Instead, he used his ‘Hand of God’ line. That wasn’t right. It seems he had greatness in him but sadly no sportsmanship. But I am saddened to hear of his passing at such a young age. He was undoubtedly the greatest player I ever faced.

PETER SHILTON, former England custodian, giving grudging credit to the man who bamboozled him in 1986

“Maradona for me is the greatest thing that happened to me in life. I love him as much as my father and it’s like my old man died,” tearful Boca fan Cristian Montelli said after seeing the wooden coffin.

Another fan Dario Lozano said: “Diego belongs to the people, Diego belongs to Argentina, Diego belongs to the country.”

Boca fan Mauro Gimenez added: “I think everyone today felt like something had died, your childhood died, your mother died, your father died, this is what it feels like. You can’t explain what Diego made you feel when he played. You had to have passion and then you would know what Diego was – happiness, sadness, rebellion.”

Teary-eyed fans, held back by a barrier, threw football jerseys, flowers and other items towards the casket as they tried to get near the body of Maradona, who had god-like status in Argentina despite his well-documented flaws.

“He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez said on Wednesday.

Major athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina skipper Lionel Messi, as well as world leaders, including Argentina-born Pope Francis, paid tribute, while Spanish daily AS’ front-page headline read, “D10S has died” – a play on dios, the Spanish word for God.

Raised in the Buenos Aires slum of Villa Fiorito, where he honed his game, he turned pro by 15, a sign of his prodigious talent. He had stints with Barcelona and Napoli and single-handedly dragged Argentina to their second World Cup triumph in 1986.

It was in Mexico where he displayed his divine talent along with a touch of the devil, scoring the infamous “Hand of God” goal and the “Goal of the Century”, dribbling past the England team en route to netting one of the most spectacular strikes in tournament history.

His off-field demons were never far away, however, with Maradona testing positive for cocaine while at Napoli, copping a 15-month ban in 1991, while he was also thrown out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States after testing positive for a cocktail of stimulants.

He had two daughters with his former wife and six more children illegitimately, and had a peripatetic coaching career but his stature in Argentina remains undimmed. He will be only the second non-president to receive a state funeral after Formula One legend Juan Manuel Fangio.

A spokesman said that Maradona was set to be buried yesterday on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in the Jardin de Paz cemetery, where his parents also rest.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES, XINHUA