Argentina’s Diego Maradona, one of the world’s greatest footballers ever, was buried on Thursday in the middle of a global exhaustion of grief from the streets of Buenos Aires to Naples, Italy.
Maradona’s death at the age of 60 on Wednesday, after a heart attack, has given rise to both grief and celebration of a true sports star, who was a genius on the football field but lived a life that was troubled by addiction.
On a day of high emotion, the World Cup winner was taken by trolley late Thursday to Bella Vista Cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires – where his parents are also buried – for a small private ceremony by his family and close friends.
Thousands of Argentines stood in the way as the procession embarked on an hour-long journey from the presidential palace in central Buenos Aires, where Maradona had lain in the state during the day.
In the past, there were clashes between the police and the fans and a feverish atmosphere that was more akin to an uneven football match than a vigil, with fans climbing up the palace gates to get as close to the hero as possible.
In Italy, crowds tied hundreds of blue and white scarves to the railings outside his former club Napoli, while in France, the sports magazine L’Equipe front page exclaimed: “God is dead”.
In Argentina, three days of national mourning were required for the player who led the country to the 1986 World Cup win and is revered with cult-like status. Tens of thousands took to the streets, not all wearing masks, despite fears of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some left flowers and messages in his childhood home.
“Maradona for me is the biggest thing that happened to me in my life. I love him as much as my father and it’s like my old husband died,” said Cristian Montelli, 22, a supporter of the star’s former club Boca Juniors with tears in his eyes. eyes after he had filed past the coffin.
“If I die young, hopefully I can play ball and watch a Boca game with him,” added Montelli, who had a tattoo of Maradona’s face on his leg.
During the day, Maradona’s body lay in state in a closed coffin at the Presidential Palace Casa Rosada in central Plaza de Mayo. It was covered with the blue and white national flag and an Argentine football jersey with number 10 that had been part of his nickname “D10S” – a game of “dios”, the Spanish word for God.
As of dawn on Thursday, thousands of fans had formed a snaking line that was estimated to be over a mile (1.6 km) long through the streets of Buenos Aires near the square, after a night of mourning and reminders.
Fans who entered the palace – many missed – threw football shirts, flowers and other objects at the coffin.
“He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” said President Alberto Fernandez. He visited the coffin on Thursday.
When authorities began blocking access to Central Square on Thursday afternoon, clashes broke out with police using rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse the troubled crowds.
Tensions were eased after Maradona’s body was transferred to the cemetery, surrounded by a huge procession of police and others on motorcycles and cars.
In Naples, fans displayed flowers, children’s pictures, candles and even a bottle of wine in a fast-growing, makeshift shrine.
“Diego belongs to the people”
Great athletes and world leaders, including the Argentine-born Pope Francis, have paid tribute to their own.
“Diego belongs to the people, Diego belongs to Argentina, Diego belongs to the country,” said Dario Lozano, waiting in line to see the coffin.
Loved in his home country after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986 and loved in Italy for taking Napoli to two Serie A titles, Maradona was a uniquely talented player who rose from the tough streets of Buenos Aires to reach the top of his sport.
The 1986 World Cup included a quarter-final match against England where Maradona scored two of the tournament’s most famous goals ever – an illegal “Hand of God” goal and one that followed an incredible swing, dribbling.
Maradona also struggled with various health problems over the years as a result of his addiction. Earlier this month, he was hospitalized for symptoms including anemia and dehydration and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma – a blood clot in his brain.
On Thursday, Maradona’s lawyer, Matías Morla, said he would ask for a full investigation into the circumstances of the death and criticized what he said was a slow response from the rescue service.
In Italy, Massimo Vignati, owner of a Maradona museum in Naples, said the player had become almost like a family.
“My mother was Maradona’s Neapolitan mother. He was our twelfth brother,” he told Reuters, surrounding my player’s memorabilia. “We have to remember him with his smile as always. He made his last dribble and left us suddenly.”
( Jowharwith REUTERS)