There aren’t many individuals in history that can say they inspired a generation. Even fewer who can say they inspired multiple.
Late on Wednesday afternoon news started to trickle in that perhaps the greatest footballer in the history of the sport, Diego Armando Maradona, had passed away.
For some, an inconceivable notion that an immortal “god” would finally be humanised in such a painful and tragic way. For others, an inevitable realisation they had nervously and reluctantly awaited for a long time.
But for everyone, a harsh and stark reminder of how precious life is, even for those who transcend the very meaning of the word.
For me, on the pitch he encapsulated everything it meant to love football. The South American flair, the aggression, the desire to win at all costs, and most importantly, he knew the importance of having fun whilst doing it.
The smile was almost as synonymous as the mesmerising football skill. If you ask anyone who came into contact with Maradona, they talk about the kind of person he was, the passion he had, the fun-loving character, and the selfless generosity.
On a night where stadiums all around the world were lit up in the blue and white of the Argentinian flag, the number 10 emblazoned across the front of the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Seville. In Buenos Aires, one single light visible at the centre of the famous Bombonera, the light from Maradona’s personal box where he’d cheer, laugh, cry, and shout inaudible obscenities to anyone and everyone, in a way that only he could.
“Maradona. It’s one of those names that anyone who loves football will know and appreciate, and that appreciation is not solely down to Peter Shilton’s tears” laughed PureFitbaw Founder Gavin Miller.
“On a serious note, an incredible player who would not have made it in Scotland against the big lumps from Easterhouse who would have kicked lumps out of him, and old school coaches/da’s who would have played the ball long.”
“On an actually serious note, what an incredible player. The name Maradona is synonymous with attacking and exciting football” Gavin added.
“Being born in 1988, I was too young to fully understand just how good he was in the moment, but retrospectively you can see his ability to make the spectacular seem normal, and that sort of talent should never be overlooked or under-appreciated.”
“Thank you for the inspiration you provided to football and the moments you gave us. Rest in Peace Diego.”
His PureFitbaw co-host Owen Brown also spoke on his memories of the Argentine: “I love Maradona because it feels to me that he is both very unique and otherworldly in terms of his incredible football talent, the fact he played before a time I got to watch him in full matches and before social media so we’ve not been saturated in content about him playing, and played at a time when the sport was quite different to how it is now.”
“He also felt human and relatable” Owen continued. “In terms of his clear desire to make those that met him feel joy, his concerns politically and socially for the wellbeing of people across the world and his fallibility and flaws, and obviously now his mortality despite it all.”
“The way that people from all corners of the globe, from Argentina to Naples to Scotland have such admiration for him shows you what a beautiful game football really is for the way in which it can impact the emotions of masses of people in such a significant, life-changing way.”
“And finally,” Owen concluded, “I just love the fact that he is still, even now in the grave, living rent-free in the heads of so many angry wee Tory English losers”.
Love him, or as only a very tiny minority of the world do, hate him – you have to respect him.
If you look at the very DNA of football in this current landscape, you’ll see the imprint of Diego Maradona. The outpouring of emotional messages and tributes from everyone who’s anyone in sport is a testament to that.
The very best players of this new generation all have a little Maradona in them in some form or another. From Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Ramos, to Neymar and Thomas Müller and everyone in between, there’s an evident influence of the Argentinian’s legacy if you look closely enough.
But for some, you need only spectate from a distance.
Carlos Tevez, Sergio Agüero, Juan Román Riquelme – the list goes on of South American footballers who had the way paved for them by Maradona’s legacy. None more than heir-elect Lionel Messi, who last night shared a short and simple message on his former mentor and friend.
“A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us, but he does not leave, because Diego is eternal. I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take this opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”
In Argentina, three days of national mourning will ensue, an act that’s reserved only for a select few in the country’s history, as announced by the President during his announcement last night. “A nation weeps. A hero is dead. A flawed hero, but our hero: El Diego”
It’s hard to accurately quantify the true importance of this unique individual, who certainly wasn’t without his flaws and controversy. But, for now, it’s a time of celebration and appreciation that each and every one of us had the chance to exist at the same time as a living god.
Descansa en paz, Diego.