His promise to bring “big-time” football to India remained unfulfilled as Diego Maradona died on Wednesday at the age of 60 after cheating death more than once, leaving a cricket-mad nation devastated in an appropriate reflection of his immortal status.
Many will remember the way he swayed, slithered and slalomed during his epochal World Cup triumph in 1986 in Mexico. A lot many in the ‘City of Joy’ will recall how a little bulky version of Maradona huffed and puffed during a charity football game in Kolkata three years ago.
He played against Indian cricket great Sourav Ganguly, who reacted to his death by saying that he lost his hero.
Shock and disbelief gripped football-crazy Kerala as fans recalled the iconic footballer, who had visited the southern state for two days in October 2012 for a private event.
The Argentine legend, who was 57 when he came to Kolkata in 2017, had managed to dribble, show glimpses of his deft left foot and even crooned Spanish songs, as he sweated it out with a bunch of school children and bid them adieu with a promise to “bring football” to India.
In another tribute, the Goa government will install the life-size statue of late Argentine football legend Diego Maradona in the coastal belt of North district by early next year, a senior minister said.
Maradona’s statue is already under making with a Maharashtra-based artist working on the mould, Calangute MLA and state Ports Minister Michael Lobo told PTI.
In December 2017, he turned up in shorts in Kolkata, enjoyed every bit of the maddening attention even though the gruelling session literally drained him as he was seen drenched in sweat, pouring water on his head.
But he had no complaints and was eloquent in his three-minute Spanish speech.
“I’m here for football... It is a big step, that we take to uplift football in India,” he said about his three-day private trip which was co-sponsored by a local politician among others, nearly nine years after his first visit to the city.
“The country really has good players and a football school of boys. Football wants India and India wants football. Together with the people we will bring football. I have always been very well received in India. Thanks and kiss!” he had signed off, never to come back again.
He also obliged his many die-hard fans with photographs and did not mind sitting on the pitch for that perfect frame.
He then headed straight near the packed galleries and wowed his fans with shooting some footballs in the air. Cheered on by a delirious crowd, Maradona then hummed a couple of songs.
It was not for nothing that India reacted with shock, anger and sadness after his heart stopped beating on Wednesday.
For the football-mad fans in Kerala, 2012 was a god-send opportunity as they could catch a glimpse of their hero from close quarters in Kannur. Such was the craze for the 1986 World Cup winner that fans had started converging at the stadium three days prior to the event.
Charles Antony, who sings in 14 languages, recalled how the “soccer god” hugged and sang along with him a few Spanish songs.
“I have been a musician for 25 years. But I got an identity as a singer when I sang a Spanish song in front of Maradona in Kannur stadium,” he said.
Antony was lucky as he got another opportunity to meet Maradona, in Kolkata, and sing before him.
“I feel his love for music is as important as football in his life,” Antony said. “He was so humble and meeting him was an unforgettable experience.”
With PTI Inputs