World Cup-winner Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60 at his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires following a heart attack. Matias Morla, Maradona’s longtime agent, confirmed the news to Efe news agency. Maradona’s spokesman, Sebastian Sanchi, said he died Wednesday of a heart attack two weeks after being released from a hospital in Buenos Aires following brain surgery.
To win the World Cup is the ultimate accolade for any player and occasionally, every four years, one rises above the rest; at Mexico ’86 that man would be Diego Maradona who almost single-handedly lead his side to the summit of world football.
The achievement was made all the greater following the agony of the World Cup of 1982 in which the then World Champions were eliminated in the second group stage while their star player was sent off for lashing out after some pretty brutal treatment at the hands of his Italian Markers. Diego Maradona lifted Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.
A statement from the Argentina Football Association read: “The Argentine Football Association, through its President Claudio Tapia, expresses its deepest pain at the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You’ll always be in our hearts.”
Argentina President Alberto Fernandez also confirmed three days of national mourning following the news. Fernandez posted a photograph of himself on Twitter hugging Maradona with the message: “You took us to the highest place in the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all. Thanks for existing, Diego. We are going to miss you the rest of our lives.”
The Argentine Professional Soccer League announced that the current First Division tournament will change its name to honor Maradona. In a statement, the league said: “To remember the unforgettable captain of the Argentine national team, the Copa de la Liga Profesional will be renamed to Copa Diego Armando Maradona”
One of the most famous moments in the history of the sport, the “Hand of God” goal, came when the diminutive Maradona punched the ball into England’s net during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals.
Ahead of his 60th birthday in October, Maradona told France Football magazine that it was his dream to “score another goal against the English, this time with the right hand.” Maradona also captivated fans around the world over a two-decade career with a bewitching style of play that was all his own.
Although his reputation was tarnished by his addictions and an ill-fated spell in charge of the national team, he remained idolised in football-mad Argentina as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”
The No. 10 he wore on his jersey became synonymous with him, as it also had with Pele, the Brazilian great with whom Maradona was regularly paired as the best of all time. Maradona had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma several weeks ago.
The retired Brazilian star mourned the death of Maradona in a brief statement provided to Reuters by a representative. “Certainly, one day we’ll kick a ball together in the sky above,” he said.
CONMEBOL, the South American Football Confederation on Wednesday announced that it would reschedule the Copa Libertadores match between Maradona’s former club in Argentina, Boca Juniors, and Internacional. The match will now be played on Dec. 2.
Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi was among hundreds of players to send messages remembering Maradona as well as condolences to his family. Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who died in January of this year, was once interviewed by a Spanish-language TV station, and told reporters that Maradona was his idol. “I love Maradona. When I was young in Italy, I used to always watch Maradona when he played for Napoli,” the NBA great, who spent seven years of his childhood in Italy, had said.
Pope Francis, who is from Argentina and a known supporter of San Lorenzo, also mourned Maradona’s passing. “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,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
Born in 1960, Maradona captained Argentina to World Cup 1986 glory as well as reaching the final in 1990. At the height of his club career, at Napoli from 1984 to 1991, he helped the side win its only two Italian league titles. There were also notable lows, such as when he was kicked out of the 1994 World Cup after being found guilty of doping.
Napoli said on Wednesday the death was a “devastating blow” for both the city and the club. “We are in mourning,” club spokesman Nicola Lombardo said. “We feel like a boxer who has been knocked out. We are in shock.”
“Everyone is waiting for words from us. But what words could be possible for pain as strong as that we are currently experiencing? Now is the time for tears. Later, it will be words,” the club posted on its Twitter account.
“It is a very sad day for the football world,” Serie A president Paolo Dal Pino said in a statement. “Today, a legend of our sport has left us. One who made us dream and excited fans across the planet. For the next set of fixtures, we will remember him with a special initiative.”
Bold, fast and utterly unpredictable, Maradona was a master of attack, juggling the ball easily from one foot to the other as he raced upfield. Dodging and weaving with his low center of gravity, he shrugged off countless rivals and often scored with a devastating left foot, his most powerful weapon. “Everything he was thinking in his head, he made it happen with his feet,” said Salvatore Bagni, who played with Maradona at Italian club Napoli.
A ballooning waistline slowed Maradona’s explosive speed later in his career and by 1991 he was snared in his first doping scandal when he admitted to a cocaine habit that haunted him until he retired in 1997, at 37.
Since ending his playing career in 1997, the ex-Napoli, Barcelona and Boca Juniors star battled a series of health issues. He was admitted to hospital in January 2019 with internal bleeding in the stomach. He also fell ill at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he was filmed passing out in an executive box at the Argentina-Nigeria game.
In 2004, he was hospitalised with severe heart and respiratory problems related to a long battle with drug addiction. He had undergone two gastric bypass operations to control his weight and received treatment for alcohol abuse. Maradona was again hospitalized in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed on excessive drinking and eating.
He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed Argentina coach, but after a quarterfinal exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted — ultimately picking up another coaching job with the United Arab Emirates club Al Wasl.
“To see him play was pure bliss, true stardom,” teammate Carlos Beltran said. Maradona played from 1976-81 for first division club Argentinos Juniors, then went to Boca Juniors for a year before heading to Barcelona for a world-record $8 million.
No other player, not even Pele in 1958, had dominated a World Cup the way Maradona did at Mexico ’86, scoring five and creating just as many for his team and the fact he did it in such style in an era of ultra-defensive tactics and heavy-handed defending made the achievement even more impressive. He has left a lasting legacy of billions of soccer fans around the world.