Diego Maradona, the Argentine who became one of the greatest football players with mischievous cunning and flamboyant control while leading a personal life fraught with drug and alcohol abuse and health problems, died on Wednesday in Tigre, Argentina, in Buenos Aires province. He was 60 years old.
His spokesman, Sebastián Sanchi, said the cause was a heart attack.
The news of death caused immediate excitement in Argentina and practically became the only topic of conversation. The government declared national mourning for three days.
“You have brought us to the top of the world,” said President Alberto Fernández of Maradona on Twitter. “You made us very happy. You were the greatest of them all. Brazilian soccer star Pelé tweeted: “I’ve lost a great friend and the world has lost a legend.”
Maradona was admitted to a clinic in La Plata, Argentina, on November 2, three days after his 60th birthday. Witnessed what his doctor Leopoldo Luque called depression, anemia and dehydration. The next day, Dr. Luque told reporters that Maradona had a subdural hematoma – a hemorrhage that builds up in the tissues surrounding the brain and can be caused by a head injury – and would be undergoing surgery.
The hematoma was most likely caused by an accident Maradona couldn’t remember, said Dr. Luque, according to The Associated Press.
Maradona wore the No. 10 playmaker’s jersey and led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup. In the quarter-finals against England, he scored one of the most controversial and one of the most famous goals of the game within four minutes.
In 2000, he and Pele from Brazil were selected by FIFA, the world governing body of football, the two greatest players in the sport. As Pele’s legend became international awe, Maradona’s ability to surprise and terrify developed a darker edge when he became addicted to cocaine during his playing time in the 1980s.
After his thick muscles had bloated into unhealthy corpulence, Maradona was hospitalized in Buenos Aires in April 2004 with a hospital that doctors described as a weakened heart and acute breathing problems. He then entered a psychiatric clinic there and went to Havana for further rehabilitation treatment in September.
His many health problems included gastric bypass surgery to contain his weight and treatment for alcohol abuse. While watching the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Maradona appeared to collapse and was treated by paramedics as Argentina secured a dramatic late win over Nigeria to advance to the second round of the tournament.
Speaking to an Argentinian TV station in 2014, Maradona said, “Do you know the player I could have been if I hadn’t been doing drugs?”
He continued, “I’m 53 and I’m doing 78 because my life wasn’t normal. I lived 80 with the life I went through.”
According to news, Maradona’s personal life was so complex that he was the father of eight children, including two daughters with his then-wife Claudia Villafañe – they later divorced – and three children conceived during his time in Cuba on treatment for his cocaine addiction. (Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.)
Diego Armando Maradona was born on October 30, 1960 in Lanus, Argentina, and grew up in Shantytown Villa Fiorito in Buenos Aires, where he played soccer on dusty streets with the ingenuity of a kid. At the age of 15 he had become a professional. He later played for the European club powers Napoli and Barcelona and coached Argentina at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In his autobiography, Maradona wrote that as a teenager he had become such a skilled player that opposing coaches would sometimes accuse him of being an adult dwarf.
At his feet the ball seemed to obey his command like a pet. He played with some kind of brilliant disguise, seemed drowsy for a long time before settling down in urgent moments with a mesmerizing dribble, amazing pass, or stabbing shot.
The fame and shame that accompanied his career and life was shown for the world on June 22, 1986 when Argentina faced England in a World Cup quarterfinal match at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The tensions between the two countries from the Falklands War four years ago lingered.
Six minutes into the second half of a goalless game, Maradona plunged into the English defense and slid a short pass at a teammate. The ball landed at the foot of England midfielder Steve Hodge, who dragged a pass back to his goalkeeper Peter Shilton to watch the predatory Maradona intervene. Despite being only 5 feet 5 inches tall, Maradona jumped high in the air and hit the ball into the net.
He did not use his head as it first appeared, but his left fist, a maneuver that no football player but the goalkeeper would allow. The Tunisian referee should have waved the goal off, but maybe not after not seeing the offense.
Maradona later gave conflicting reports about what had happened. At first he said he never touched the ball with his fist; then he said he accidentally did it; then he attributed the goal to divine intervention, the “hand of God”.
This made the British angry.
“Bold and shameless, Maradona was a sham and spoke about the ‘hand of God’,” wrote Brian Glanville in his book “The History of the World Cup.” “For England it was more like the hand of the devil.”
Four minutes later, Maradona scored again, ultimately giving Argentina a 2-1 win. He scored his second goal after dribbling 70 yards by five British players and one final feint past Shilton to hit the ball into an empty net. He skilfully changed direction like a slalom rider hitting from one gate to the other.
In his book “The easiest game,” Paul Gardner described the run as “10 seconds of pure, unimaginable football skill to score one of the biggest goals in the history of the World Cup.”
In the 1986 final, Maradona’s pass scored the winning goal in a 3-2 win for Argentina through the middle of the West German defense. “No player in the history of the World Cup had dominated Mexico-86 like Maradona,” wrote Gardner.
Maradona threatened to find his way through the 1990 World Cup – collecting a loose ball, playing around a defender and walking through a thicket of legs to score the only goal in a quarter-final win against Brazil. In the semi-final against Italy, the host team, Maradona scored the penalty that gave Argentina the lead in winning the shootout.
This was Maradona in his glory. The game was played in the noisy port city of Naples, where Maradona played professionally and took Napoli to two titles in the Italian league. He had boldly asked the fans there to cheer Argentina over Italy.
However, there was no magic left for the 1990 final against Germany. Maradona was injured after being repeatedly fouled and missing several prominent teammates who had been suspended for blatant fouls. Argentina lost 1-0 from a penalty.
The Italians at Rome’s Olympic Stadium booed Maradona when he touched the ball. After all, he had excluded Italy from the tournament. He then sourly accused that the sentence had been imposed in retaliation against Italy’s early exit.
His own career then began to implode.
In 1991, while playing for Naples, Maradona tested positive for cocaine and received a 15-month suspension. His behavior became unpredictable. In February 1994, he fired an air rifle at reporters in front of his summer home in Argentina.
Later that year, he was expelled from the US World Cup after testing positive for a cocktail containing stimulants during the tournament. Until then, he apparently needed an energy boost for his tired legs or desperate help with losing weight.
His reputation, however, was so great that Maradona later coached Argentina at the 2010 World Cup, where Germany was embarrassed 4-0 in the quarter-finals.
He has had a peripatetic career as a coach in Argentina, the United Arab Emirates and Mexico. In September he was hired as coach of the Argentine club Gimnasia y Esgrima in La Plata. On his 60th birthday, Maradona took part in his team’s game against Patronato but left the team prematurely, resulting in a 3-0 win, and raised questions about his health.
When he entered a hospital on November 2nd, Dr. Luque, Maradona was sad, had no appetite and had problems walking.