Obituary

Maradona, Soccer’s Brilliant, Troubled Superstar, Dead at 60

The Argentine legend is remembered both for his on-field prowess and his off-field political activism, especially in Latin America.

Argentinian soccer star Diego Armando Maradona talks to then-Cuban President Fidel Castro in October 2005.
Argentinian soccer star Diego Armando Maradona talks to then-Cuban President Fidel Castro in October 2005. ISMAEL FRANCISCO GONZALEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Diego Armando Maradona, the soccer star who led Argentina to its second World Cup title in 1986, died Wednesday at age 60 from a heart attack. Considered by many one of the greatest players of all time, Maradona lived a life marked by on-field glory, off-field scandals, and political activism.

A poor boy from the slums of Buenos Aires, Maradona left his footprint on some of the world’s most well-regarded soccer teams, such as Barcelona, Napoli, and his personal favorite Boca Juniors, but he never forgot his humble upbringing. The player who in the 1990s supported the pro-market populist Carlos Menem and the neoliberal reforms he aspired to implement as president of Argentina saw his politics increasingly shift to the left over time.

The Argentine star died on the same date as the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a personal friend and one of his political models. Castro, who had been friends with Maradona at least since the late 1980s, invited the player to receive treatment in Cuba after Maradona almost died of a cocaine overdose in 2000.

Maradona later dedicated his biography to Castro and the Cuban people, and he had tattoos of the comandante, whom he described as a “God,” and his Argentine confidant Che Guevara. “Diego is [a] great friend and very noble too,” Castro once said. “There’s also no question he’s a wonderful athlete and has maintained a friendship with Cuba to no material gain of his own.”

“Forever Diego, we love you very much,” former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner wrote on Twitter on the news of his death. Sharing a picture of himself with Maradona and Brazil’s then-foreign affairs minister, former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recognized the political role the soccer legend played in Latin America.

“Diego Armando Maradona was a soccer giant, from Argentina and from the world, a unique talent and personality,” Lula wrote. “His geniality and passion in the field, his intensity in life and his commitment to Latin American sovereignty marked our time. … I can only thank you for your solidarity with popular causes.”

But Maradona’s legacy wasn’t just felt later in life due to his political activism. He nearly single-handedly helped Argentina recover its confidence in the mid-1980s after a failed war against the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands. His legendary performance against England in the 1986 World Cup was both a personal triumph and a big win for an Argentina that sorely needed one.

Augusta Saraiva is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @gutavsaraiva

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