As football fans the world over mourn football legend Diego Maradona, who died of a heart attack at age 60, Argentina has declared three days of mourning for football legend.
President Alberto Fernandez said in a tweet: “We will miss you all our lives.”
“You took us to the highest point of the world, and made us immensely happy.
“You were the greatest of all.
Thank you for having been with us, Diego.”
The former midfielder and national team coach had recently battled health problems and underwent successful surgery earlier this month for a blood clot on his brain.
He suffered a heart attack at his home on the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday, Argentinian media and acquaintances of the former player said.
He famously captained Argentina to victory at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, winning the Golden Ball as best player of the tournament.
The tournament also featured his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarter-finals.
Equally remembered is the ‘Goal of the Century’, which he scored four minutes later, by slaloming past the English defence.
Local authorities in Buenos Aires confirmed Maradona had died of natural causes. Footage showed his body being carried into a morgue for an autopsy.
Fans in Buenos Aires, Naples and all around the world gathered to shed tears and remember a man who was a hero to so many.
“I am touched. I can’t understand it, I can’t see the reality. Diego will never die, today is the birth of the Maradona myth,” Dante López, a physician who went to the Argentinos Juniors stadium which carries the beloved player’s name, said.
Fans put candles and flowers along the wall around the field.
Mariano Jeijer sat with his wife and their baby in a small car near the Boca Juniors stadium. He said he didn’t want to be sad at home.
“Diego is a symbol of being Argentinian. He is someone that made us very happy,” Mr Jeijer said.
Mr Jejier said his devotion to Maradona stemmed from the two goals he scored against England in Argentina’s 2-1 victory in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup.
“The happiest moment was the first goal against the English. I was 12. I screamed as if I was crazy. I don’t even remember the second,” he said.
The reaction has been similar in Naples, where he spent the best years of his career winning multiple honours with Napoli.
Upon hearing the news, Naples Mayor Luigi De Magistris immediately proposed that the city’s San Paolo Stadium be renamed in honour of Maradona, and ordered the stadium’s lights be turned on all night even though there was no game being played.
“Maradona is Napoli. The passion for him here is known to everyone,” Mr De Magistris said.
“Maradona united Neapolitans all over the world — as well as fans of other squads.
“Today all Neapolitans embrace his family, with the awareness that this embrace will never end. Because it was real love. A great love.”
A career like no other
At club level, he broke on to the scene with Argentinos Juniors and then joined the club he idolised as a boy, Boca Juniors, before moving to Europe and joining Spanish giants Barcelona in 1982 on what was then a record transfer fee.
The time in Barcelona did not work out, and he then moved to Italy in 1984, joining Serie A side Napoli.
He was idolised there and led the previously struggling club to their first ever Italian league title in 1987, before ending his playing career back in Argentina with Boca.
After his playing retirement he held several managerial roles, none more interesting than a brief and controversy-packed spell as Argentine national coach from 2008 to 2010, before coaching in the Middle East and Mexico.
Although his reputation was tarnished by drug problems, off-field indiscretions and the ill-fated spell in charge of the national team, he remained idolised in football-mad Argentina as the ‘Pibe de Oro’ or ‘Golden Boy’.
Hospitalised and reportedly near death in 2000 and again in 2004 for heart problems blamed on cocaine, Maradona later said he overcame the drug problem.
Cocaine, he once said famously, had proven to be his “toughest rival”.
Tributes flow around the world
Brazilian football legend Pele, rated alongside Maradona as one of the greatest ever to play the game, was among those to mourn the Argentine.
“Certainly, one day we’ll kick a ball together in the sky above,” he said in a brief statement.
Leo Messi, widely considered to be Argentina’s greatest footballer since Maradona, posted a picture tribute of the two.
“A very sad day for all Argentinians and for football,” Messi wrote on Instagram.
“You have left us but you are not gone because Diego is eternal.
“I have all the beautiful moments lived with him and want to send my thoughts to all his friends and family.”
In a measure of Maradona’s standing, UEFA was quick to respond to the news by announcing that a minute’s silence will be held in memory of the Argentine great at all of this week’s European matches.
Meanwhile, the Copa Libertadores game between Maradona’s former club Boca Juniors and Brazil’s Internacional was postponed on Wednesday following the news that Boca’s favourite son had passed away.
While Maradona was revered around the world as perhaps the greatest soccer player ever, in Naples he was more than that.
Maradona was treated as a deity for the way he led Napoli to its only two Serie A titles – in 1987 and 1990 – and raised the spirits of the southern Italian city, which remains far removed both geographically and socio-economically from the country’s soccer capitals of Milan and Turin.
“Maradona wasn’t just a player. He represented the spirit of Napoli for years,” said former Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino, who owned the club when Maradona played there.
Upon hearing the news, Naples mayor Luigi De Magistris immediately proposed the city’s San Paolo Stadium be renamed for Maradona – and ordered the stadium’s lights be turned on all night even though there was no game being played there.
“Maradona is Napoli. The passion for him here is known to everyone,” De Magistris said. “Maradona united Neapolitans all over the world – as well as fans of other squads.
“Today all Neapolitans embrace his family, with the awareness that this embrace will never end,” the mayor added.
“Because it was real love. A great love.”