Diego Maradona, the soccer genius who led Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986, is dead, according to his agent, who confirmed the news to ESPN. He was 60 years old.
Maradona grew up in a poor town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, and despite his diminutive frame — he stood just 5’5 — he quickly became a giant of world soccer. A gifted attacker, one of the great dribblers of all time, Maradona dazzled for both club (he played with Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, and Sevilla, among others) and country.
Perhaps no one other than Messi — whose size, nationality, and playing style earned instant and persistent comparisons to Maradona — could exhibit the combination of skill, speed, vision, and flair on the pitch that Maradona had.
He’s also a story of what could have been. Maradona was a legendary partier, a man known as much for his excesses off the field as his genius on it. Yet for all his largesse, he always remained connected to the people, especially the people of Argentina, to whom he was a hero.
I was born in 1986, and the first summer of my existence was spent on my father’s lap, watching Maradona lead Argentina to a World Cup title in Mexico City. I have no recollection of his hand-of-god goal, of course, nor his other goal against England, which is quite simply the greatest goal ever scored.
I was an infant. Yet as I grew older, my dad made sure I watched those goals, over and over, wanting to make sure they existed in my consciousness beyond some reptilian imprint. He wanted me to see, and remember, genius.
“Genius” is the word I keep returning to in this piece, and with good reason. Maradona grew up playing in the streets, and never lost his sense of wonder while playing. While other greats were tactical masterminds, or clinical finishers, or hard-nosed defenders, Maradona’s game was defined by a different word: Joy.
The man played with joy. He managed with emotion. The game was never, to him it seemed, about tactical prowess or organization or systems. It was a game of passion, of creativity. He viewed soccer as art, and was perhaps the greatest artist to ever live. Europa league results
Later in his life, he became a bit of a walking cliché, as his excesses took a toll on his body and, perhaps, his mind. Yet the man never stopped caring, he never stopped loving the game, he never stopped flipping double middle fingers when Argentina scored big goals.
The man played as he lived — beautifully, richly, excessively. We may never see another like him. May he rest in peace.