Diego Maradona, the legendary Argentine footballer, was a strange blend of the divine and the profane — his skills with a football were magical, but his indifference to his own wellbeing, his abuse of his squat, strong body, was baffling. His death at 60 is shocking, but it’s not surprising. Maradona, uniquely for a sportsperson with almost paranormal athletic ability, seemed determined to race to his own end. It was as if his genius at football — amazing skills, amazing nous — had left him with very little thought for his health. His genius was intuitive and can’t be explained by reason; the way he lived his life was also marked by an absence of reason. More than a layman, a sportsperson knows the value of good health and is pained by the absence of it — but Maradona seemed determined to party his way to his own funeral.
Maradona can perhaps be understood as the product of the time and place of his origin: A poor boy from the shanties of Buenos Aires, for whom football was an escape from poverty, who came of age in the 1970s, when it was not strange for sportspersons to live like rockstars, in an unending cycle of playing, partying and playing. And could he play! A teenaged genius, he couldn’t get into the national team which went on to win the 1978 World Cup because the coach thought that at 18, he was too young. His time came eight years later when he powered Argentina to their second World Cup crown. Four years later, at 30, he was slower but still clever enough to manoeuvre his team to the final.
In the 1994 World Cup, he tested positive for dope and thus began a spiralling descent. He became a parody of himself, fat and unfit, a regular resident of hospitals from which, almost by miracle, he continued to come out alive. Maradona lived life on his own terms and never became part of the ‘system’. Sadly, his rebellion was without a cause. But such is the nature of genius sometimes, and thus we mourn the loss of a colossus.