Don’t cry for Diego, Argentina

WRECKORDER - FGS Gujilde (The Freeman) - December 3, 2020 - 12:00am

We don’t talk about soccer without the name Diego Maradona, the greatest soccer player ever, apart from Pelé. Just as we don’t talk about basketball without Michael Jordan and heir-apparent LeBron James, gymnastics without Nadia Comaneci and her perfect 10. Or swimming without Michael Phelps and his personal triumph over learning disability early in life, cycling without Lance Armstrong with his doping, or golf without Tiger Woods but his indiscretions forgiven.

Or boxing without Muhammad Ali and his greatness in and outside the ring. On the flipside, no pun intended, there is Mike Tyson whose antics in and outside the ring are now trumped-up in the oval office, once billed the oral office. And tennis without the Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic trivalry. In that fluid order. Or the Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams intergenerational legacy of raising the level of women’s tennis. In that chronological order. Of course, there is Lionel Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo too, among other greats. But Diego Maradona belonged to a league of his own, adjacent to Pelé.

But not all champions are loved. Pete Sampras won more slams than his great rival, but Andre Agassi won more fans. You don’t train to develop charisma. It cannot be taught. It’s somewhere innate you don’t even know you have it. And people are suddenly drawn to you beyond explanation.

It’s not even about the appearance. Look at the cult leaders, but that is another story altogether. Diego Maradona is a beast unleashed. Looking every inch a rascal, he didn’t fit anywhere near that boy-next-door frame, with nary a semblance to the styled David Beckham. Maradona was raw and brute with temper to boot. But he was loved. He brought so much smile, warmth and pride to Argentina, despite his personal troubles and troubled lifestyle, from weight issues to substance abuse and financial woes.

Somewhat like Jennifer Capriati. But she bettered her old young self in redemption. Unlike our own Rolando Navarette. Why athletes of fame and fortune snap and self-destruct deserves scrutiny by psychologists to solve the enigma of human folly. But none of it eclipsed his career milestones best punctuated when he led Argentina to win the 1986 World Cup.

It was not the final match the world best remembers him by, but the quarterfinal against England where he scored two iconic goals within four minutes of each other. One deemed greatest ever and the other divine, albeit controversial. I don’t know which one is better, but either way Argentina never felt that good.

Maradona was short and quick. Take a cue Filipino, you can be Diego, not LeBron. He mastered the ball, especially with his left but not necessarily red foot. Athleticism. But he also brought a different, unexpected dimension to the game. Artistry.

But no matter the greatness, good things never last. What irony, he played with heart but succumbed when it failed. Fate. But long before he was taken, soccer history took him to immortality. The body had to die beyond resurrection. Mortality. Only memory brings it back. Legacy. The legend is now gone after 60 years, and the tears in Buenos Aires will not be gone in 60 seconds. Stop crying, Argentina. The world is.

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