For the lovers of the “beautiful game”, the passing of Diego Maradona cannot leave one indifferent. It is not however for his footballing skills alone that we celebrate him – his game was without equals -, but for his capacity to express the passion of a game that was still lived by many as a sport of the people, and not quite yet the total commodity-spectacle of today.
It was Maradona’s defiance, his rebelliousness, his lack of decorum, his playing for “underdogs”, along with his football, that is mourned with his death. And however contradictory his life’s deeds were – and whose are not, though in his case, magnified by fame and fortune -, it is Maradona the football artist-rebel who will be remembered.
Are words are not to be taken as idolatry, but as respect for a tradition of football rebels that has too often been passed over in silence. And ours is not a time for “gods”, new or old, but perhaps for “Homers”. Each may tell his own story, each may imagine their own Maradona, but with him, we remember an older meaning of sport.
We share Eduardo Galeano’s words on Maradona …
No consecrated footballer had ever denounced so unashamedly the masters of the business of football. It was the most famous and most popular sportsman of all time who broke spears in defense of the players who were not famous or popular. This generous and solidary idol had been able to score, in just five minutes, the two most contradictory goals in the entire history of football. His devotees revered him for both: not only was the artist’s goal, embroidered by the devilishness of his legs, worthy of admiration, but also, and perhaps more, the thief’s goal, which his hand stole. Diego Armando Maradona was worshiped not only for his prodigious juggling but also because he was a dirty, sinful god, the most human of gods. Anyone could recognise in him a walking synthesis of human weaknesses, or at least masculine: womaniser, greedy, drunkard, cheater, liar, boastful, irresponsible. But the gods do not retire, human though they are. He was never able to return to the anonymous multitude from where he came. Fame, which had saved him from misery, made him a prisoner.
Eduardo Galeano, El fútbol a sol y sombra
Two recent essays narrate a “popular” history of football: The People’s Game: The History of Football Revisited by James Walvin and Une histoire populaire du football by Mickaël Correia. Any such history includes Maradona’s first football side, the Argentinos Juniors, founded by anarchists and socialists.