Argentine football legend Diego Maradona dies at 60
Diego Maradona, widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time before drug and alcohol addiction marred his career, died in his native Argentina after suffering a heart attack, his lawyer said Wednesday. He was 60.
Beloved in his homeland after leading Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup and adored in Italy after taking Napoli to two Serie A titles, Maradona was a uniquely gifted player and charismatic figure.
In his prime, he was hailed as “El Dios” – The God – but Maradona had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural haematoma several weeks ago.
He suffered a heart attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday, acquaintances of the former player said. His death was confirmed by his lawyer.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning and said the body of the footballing legend would lie in state at the Casa Rosada presidential palace during this period so the public could pay homage to their beloved Maradona.
Rising to stardom from a grimy Buenos Aires slum to lead Argentina to World Cup victory, Maradona was a rags-to-riches story in his football-mad homeland and gained the iconic status of fellow Argentines Che Guevara and Evita Peron.
One of the most gifted footbal players in history, Maradona's pinnacle of glory came when he captained Argentina to win the World Cup in 1986 before plunging to misery when he was kicked out the 1994 World Cup for doping.
Years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism truncated a stellar career and altered his appearance from the lithe athlete who could slalom effortlessly through teams to a bloated addict who nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000.
But he reinvented himself in a stunning comeback in 2008 as coach of the Argentina team, persuading managers that with sheer charisma he could inspire the team to victory, despite a lack of coaching experience.
A magician with the ball, Maradona was worshipped as 'El Dios' – The God – partly a play on words on his number 10 shirt, 'El Diez.'
He was largely responsible for Argentina's World Cup victory in 1986 in Mexico, scoring two famous goals in one game against England in the quarter-finals.
The first was a notorious goal scored with his fist, and the second, where he dribbled past half the England team, is often called the goal of the century.
"It was partly by the hand of God and partly with the head of Maradona," he said of his opener in the 2-1 win.
Childhood in a shanty town
Born on October 30, 1960 in the Buenos Aires working class suburb of Lanus, the fifth of eight children of a factory worker, Maradona grew up in the Villa Fiorito shanty town.
His mother Dalma, known to his fans as "Dona Tota," saw a star reflected on the floor in the church where her son was baptized and imagined a bright future as an accountant.
But Maradona's love affair with football was apparent from the start. Given his first football as an infant, he slept with it under his arm.
Discovered in street kickabouts by the scout for first division club Argentinos Juniors, the prodigy made his league debut at 15.
At 17 he just missed inclusion in Argentina's 1978 World Cup-winning squad at home. In the 1982 tournament in Spain, a sending-off against Brazil was a fitting prologue to two unhappy seasons at Barcelona, marred by hepatitis and injury.
World Cup glory followed by drug abuse
But then came liberation, and triumph. In 1984, he moved to Napoli for a then world-record $7.5 million contract. Maradona helped underdogs Napoli to the Italian title twice – creating a whole new set of adoring fans in the process.
And, after the 1986 World Cup triumph in Mexico, he also coaxed a mediocre Argentine team to a second successive World Cup final in Rome in 1990.
But by 1991, drugs and alcohol began taking over his life.
That year Maradona was handed a 15-month suspension from football worldwide for doping and was called to trial in Naples over alleged links with a vice ring.
He was banned again for 15 months after testing positive for drugs at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
The compact, 5-foot 4-inch (1.65m) player with dark curly hair and a pugnacious set to his jaw surrounded himself with an entourage of yes-men and became known for his sharp-tongued confrontations with reporters and critics.
Through the years he reflected publicly on his greatness and on his weaknesses, publishing books of photos and quotes about himself and hosting a television show.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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