The Sunday News
…the football god is eternal
It has been 12,576 days since Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal – not that those working for England’s newspapers are counting. A theme of resentment permeated several front pages on Thursday, hours after the Argentine football great’s death aged 60 (on Wednesday).
As Argentina’s president Alberto Fernández declared three days of national mourning, editions across Europe, Argentina and the world portrayed Maradona as both a hero and a villain, one who both took his country to 1986 World Cup glory in Mexico and snatched it away from another.
If L’Équipe’s “God is dead” headline equates to a hero’s farewell, then the Daily Star revealed itself to be in the “villain” camp by running a photo of the World Cup quarter-final moment Maradona rose above England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and used his fist to punch the ball into an empty net alongside the headline “Where was VAR when we needed it most?”
The Star’s sub-heading “Maradona in the hands of God” – echoing Gary Lineker’s earlier Twitter tribute to mixed reviews – was also popular with other UK papers including the Daily Mirror, which also lamented Maradona was “in the hands of God” and offered a mixed ovation to “a hero, a villain, a cheat and a genius”.
The Mirror’s back page was emblazoned with the words of Lionel Messi: “He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.”
The Sun ran the same headline followed by “England’s World Cup nemesis and one of the all-time greats”. Inside, Mark Irwin wrote “few people in history have ever divided public opinion as much as the man who won a World Cup almost single-handedly while blatantly cheating on and off the pitch. Yet for those of us fortunate enough to witness Maradona in his prime, none of his flaws can detract from his genius.”
The Metro too followed suit though only dedicated two-thirds of a front page also carved out for Meghan Markle’s miscarriage heartbreak.
Both the Daily Telegraph and the Times pictured Maradona at his most glorious hour, on the shoulders of Argentina teammates lifting the 1986 World Cup trophy next to front-page reports of Covid’s heavy economic fallout.
The Independent’s wider view of that shot frames the words “Maradona, football’s flawed genius”.
The Guardian broke the pattern with a close-up of Maradona’s face, eyes to the sky, alongside Pele’s tribute: “I lost a great friend and the world has lost a legend.” The Daily Mail, potentially due to edition timing issues, did not mention Maradona at all on its front page, however Shilton had his say inside and appears unwilling to forgive Maradona for that handball goal.
“What I don’t like is that he never apologised,” he wrote. “Never at any stage did he say he had cheated and that he would like to say sorry. Instead, he used his ‘Hand of God’ line. That wasn’t right. It seems he had greatness in him but sadly no sportsmanship.”
French newspaper L’Équipe opted for the former via the front-page headline “God is dead” next to a photo of Maradona in the Argentina jersey at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
Libération took a simplistic approach. A relatively small one-word headline, “Heavenly”, sat beneath the feet of a young Maradona from behind, that shock of dark hair and No 10 shirt entering the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.
In Italy, too, the news temporarily pushed developments in the coronavirus pandemic and world events out of the spotlight.
Italy’s biggest sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport ran a banner headline reading “For Number 10 Maradona, football cries more than everyone”. The newspaper also quoted Pelé as saying, “I will play football with Maradona in heaven.” Lionel Messi, another Argentinian who is considered one of the greatest active players, was quoted as saying, “Maradona isn’t gone. He is eternal.”
Corriere Della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, said: “Goodbye Diego: you ARE football.” The Roman daily Il Messaggero called Maradona “A king of football with a Neapolitan heart”.
Spain’s Marca ran the same close-up shot chosen by the Guardian next to the words: “If I die, I want to be reborn and I want to be a footballer… and I want to be Diego Armando Maradona again.”
Also paying tribute were Argentina’s biggest newspapers La Nación and Clarín.
Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi paid tribute to Maradona, saying he was “eternal”.
“A very sad day for all Argentines and football,” said Messi. “He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.
“I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I send my condolences to all his family and friends.”
In a statement on social media, the Argentine Football Association expressed “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend”, adding: “You will always be in our hearts.”
Declaring three days of national mourning, Alberto Fernandez, the president of Argentina, said: “You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of them all.
“Thank you for having existed, Diego. We’re going to miss you all our lives.”
Maradona played for Barcelona and Napoli during his club career, winning two Serie A titles with the Italian side. He started his career with Argentinos Juniors, also playing for Sevilla, and Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland.
He scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, representing them in four World Cups.
Maradona led his country to the 1990 final in Italy, where they were beaten by West Germany, before captaining them again in the United States in 1994, but was sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine.
During the second half of his career, Maradona struggled with cocaine addiction and was banned for 15 months after testing positive for the drug in 1991.
He retired from professional football in 1997, on his 37th birthday, during his second stint at Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
Having briefly managed two sides in Argentina during his playing career, Maradona was appointed head coach of the national team in 2008 and left after the 2010 World Cup, where his side were beaten by Germany in the quarter-finals.
He subsequently managed teams in the United Arab Emirates and Mexico and was in charge of Gimnasia y Esgrima in Argentina’s top flight at the time of his death.
World pays tribute
Brazil legend Pele led tributes to Maradona, writing on Twitter: “What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.”
Former England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who was part of the England team beaten by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, said Maradona was “by some distance, the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time”.
Ex-Tottenham and Argentina midfielder Ossie Ardiles said: “Thank dear Dieguito for your friendship, for your football, sublime, without comparison. Simply, the best football player in the history of football. So many enjoyable moments together. Impossible to say which one was the best. RIP my dear friend.”
Juventus and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo said: “Today I bid farewell to a friend and the world bids farewell to an eternal genius. One of the best of all time. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten.”-Online sources.