We're Live Bangla Saturday, December 04, 2021

Maradona flew and fell. It is why we loved him

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Diego Maradona in action during a charity football match called "Derby of the Heart" in Rome, on May 12, 2008.PHOTO: REUTERS

As a young man in Kolkata in the late 1980s, my friends and I managed to get our hands on a videotape of Hero, the official film of the 1986 World Cup. Diego Maradona's complexity as a man was yet to fully emerge and we were novice writers bewitched by this booted man. We watched him so often that we wore out the videotape. But memory of magic is always beyond erasure.

If we didn't have time for the whole film, we pressed forward wind till we came to the goal. That goal. The one which is an 11-second hymn to skill and a roughly 60m run into immortality. The goal that comes four minutes after the Hand of God and is the Left Foot of Genius. Sometimes you wish the ball could tell the full story of every spin, nudge, idea and caress.

The goal was scored on June 22, 1986 after 55 minutes in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in front of over 100,000 fans. Pastors have preached on that ground, a Beatle (Paul McCartney) has played there, but Maradona had his own faithful.

The goal was mockery and madness, it was a nose thumbed at England after the opening goal (an improbable second after the immorality of the first), it was power, speed, chutzpah. It was a goal that changed us for we did not know that this could be done. Maradona was an original.

How many times have you seen the goal? In the last year? In your life? Do you watch it just for fun or to introduce a child to it or to consider the IQ of his toes? The invisible corridor on the field he runs down made me think of him hurtling down the tight lanes of his childhood, holding the ball close.

Is there anything in sport, any act of skill, any McEnroe volley, Comaneci routine, Louganis dive, Jordan basket that you revisit so often on YouTube? Has any single sporting act so ferociously embedded itself in your memory? The goal has a grip on us.

Once in a while we all bring up Getafe and Lionel Messi as a comparison and that is just us being silly. It is a fake contest. Messi is divine but Getafe are not England and the Spanish league is not the World Cup. Great goals are about places and occasions and rivals and bitter histories which is what gives them their weight. One English tabloid had carried a suitably subtle headline before the match: "It's War Senor".

The goal matters for Maradona is dead at 60 and football weeps. You, too? We are shaken and grateful, unsurprised at his early death and yet moved. Few stories in sport were so full of pain and yet streaked with such unforgettable perfection.

Maradona often got it wrong except when his feet met the ball and then for 90 minutes he was our transporter to a foreign field. He had the low centre of gravity of a gymnast and the acceleration of something wild, hungry and four-legged. Elsewhere life trapped him or he tripped himself, but here he was free and in flow.

Every now and then - and again on Thursday - people forward a clip of him, just 2min 20sec long, warming up for a game, his laces undone. He's playing with the ball, dancing really as the band Opus sings Live Is Life, and this is the best part of Maradona, the joyous, casual, expressive kid.

Small things about him will stay forever. The photograph of a posse of six Belgians confronting him in 1982. His dribble past a tribe of Brazilians and then a threaded pass to Claudio Caniggia in 1990. In between he kicked a Brazilian in 1982 and was sent off. Maradona had never met the half-measure.

Why did we fall for him?

Skill, of course, but also because he seemed so human a champion, not remote but real. He battled life - poverty, weight, addiction, pressure - and yet also rose above it. He was not anyone's version of a role model, nor some suited brand, just fallible and fabulous all at once. He flew and fell.

His story has many unseemly chapters and he did not age well, like an old uncle who makes you wince. But this is precisely why that goal is important. Because it's his great gift to us, a moment for us to carry, to treasure, to pass on. And to remind us forever of the promise of this man.

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Diego Maradona celebrates after scoring his second goal in Argentina's 2-0 win against England in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico City on June 22, 1986. PHOTO: REUTERS