MARADONA – THE NAME, THE MAN, HIS LEGACY, HIS NIGERIAN CONNECTION 

Argentine Soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona Franco died yesterday in his Buenos Aires home, throwing the world into mourning, and tributes have been pouring in from all corners of the globe.

Three days of national mourning is underway in Argentina for this legend and one of the greatest players of all time of our time who only on 30th October clocked 60. Declaring three days of national mourning, Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, said: “You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of them all. Thank you for having existed, Diego. We’re going to miss you all our lives.”

Only Pele of Brazil and Johan Cruyff can probably be mentioned in the same breath as Maradona as the Greatest Of All Time, although controversies exist about current players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But of those who have won the famous No. 10 jersey, Pele and Maradona have stood shoulder to shoulder, although brushes with drug and alcohol use as well as a failed coaching career seemed to have tainted the Argentine’s record.

The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager suffered a heart attack in his Buenos Aires home. He had successful surgery on a brain blood clot earlier this month and also had issues with dependency on alcohol.

Maradona was captain when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals. But he also in that World Cup scored what is regarded as one of the greatest solo goals of all time. His style of play and goal-scoring prowess turned him almost into a deity in the eyes of many fans.

Maradona was not a stranger to Nigeria and Nigerians on the football pitch and he was credited with two victories against the Super Eagles at two World Cups. In the 1994 World Cup in the USA, Maradona captained his country to defeat Nigeria in the group stage Massachusetts.

Then, in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Maradona was coach of Argentina as they defeated Nigeria in Johannesburg.

His nimbleness and agility with the ball on the field prompted Nigerians and even foreigners to liken him with the same attributes of for Nigerian Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on the political terrain. But it was Babangida that was to assume the name Maradona!

In 2006, The Guardian of the UK, in a report, described former Nigerian President, aka IBB, as “a shrewd political player whose past political dribbling of opponents earned him the sobriquet ‘Maradona’.”

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation during IBB’s presidency, Chief Olu Falae was to further explain the reason for this nickname given to his former boss, as comparism with the dribbling dexterity and mesmerizing moves of the Argentine soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona who passed on yesterday aged 60.

In a magazine interview some years ago, Chief Falae said, “I enjoyed working with him. He is perhaps one of the best listeners I have ever worked with; you could speak with him for two hours, and he would not interrupt. He understands issues very quickly. He’s so polite and he would thank you for everything. He would remember your wife and children’s birthday. The only problem I had with him was that he never liked to say no to anybody, he tended to say yes to everybody. That’s why he is called Maradona. Apart from that, he’s one of the nicest persons to work for.”

Saying ‘yes’ to everybody did not mean IBB would do what the person expected. Just like Diego Maradona would feint to the right side of a defender and go left, leaving the hapless opponent sprawling, it was the same way IBB played all the politicians of his time and indeed all Nigerians, because just when you thought he was going to do something, he did the opposite. In that way, IBB was Maradonic in his leadership style.

Both Maradona and IBB were both masters of the nutmeg.

But Diego Armando Maradona was an original – with many flaws of course – but he was like a god to his countrymen and women, and many soccer-loving people the world over have been thrown into mourning by his demise.

Maradona played for Barcelona and Napoli during his club career, winning two Serie A titles with the Italian side. He started his career with Argentinos Juniors, also playing for Sevilla, and Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland.

He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, representing them in four World Cups. Maradona led his country to the 1990 final in Italy, where they were beaten by West Germany, before captaining them again in the United States in 1994. He retired from professional football in 1997, on his 37th birthday.

Maradona was coach of the Argentine national team, the Albiceleste from 2008 to 2010 and managed teams in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico.

Maradona and Pele

80-year-old Brazil legend Pele in his tribute to Maradona yesterday tweeted: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.”

Other former and current top soccer players have also paid tribute to the legendary ball player include former England striker Gary Lineker, ex-Tottenham and Argentina midfielder Ossie Ardiles, Juventus forward and Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona and Argentina captain Lionel Messi, Paris St-Germain and Brazil forward Neymar,England captain Harry Kane and forward Marcus Rashford, as well as his former club, Napoli.

 

IMAGE CREDIT: eurosport.com, bbc.com

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