Argentina football legend Diego Maradona dies at 60

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ESPN: Argentina legend Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60 following a heart attack. Matias Morla, Maradona’s longtime agent, confirmed the news to EFE on Wednesday.

A statement from the Argentina Football Association read: “The Argentine Football Association, through its President Claudio Tapia, expresses its deepest pain at the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You’ll always be in our hearts.”

Argentina President Alberto Fernandez also confirmed three days of national mourning following the news. Retired Brazilian soccer star Pele mourned the death of Maradona in a brief statement provided to Reuters by a representative.

“Certainly, one day we’ll kick a ball together in the sky above,” he said.

Maradona had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural haematoma several weeks ago. He suffered a heart attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday, Argentinian media and acquaintances of the former player said.

He was born into a poor family in a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and rose to captain the national team to the 1986 World Cup title and to the 1990 final. In 2000, FIFA chose Maradona and Pele as the greatest players in history.

At the height of his club career, at Napoli from 1984 to 1991, he helped the club win their only two Italian league titles and became a symbol for Italy’s poor in the south against the might of the rich industrial north centred in Milan and Turin.

Maradona had played for Barcelona between 1982 and 1984 but fell out with the club’s board and moved on to the Italian league.

After his retirement, Maradona fought drug addiction, alcohol abuse and obesity. In an improbable comeback he was named national coach in 2008, where he had mixed results and failed to translate his playing skills into coaching expertise. Before becoming coach of his home country in 2008, he coached Argentine first-division clubs Deportivo Mandiyu in 1994 and Racing Club in 1995.

Born in 1960, Maradona began his playing career in the domestic league aged 15 and won his first international cap a year later, scoring his first senior international goal in a friendly against Scotland in 1979.

He used to be known as “El Peluza,” literally “lint” in Spanish and a word used to describe poor street kids. Then he was more often called “El Pibe de Oro” — The Golden Boy — and his legendary rise from poverty to lead Argentina to glory at the World Cup still resonates in a country where the national ego is wrapped up in the performance of football on the global stage.

Some Argentine journalists likened him to the classic “picaro” character of 16th century Spanish literature, the rascal who lives by his wits and seeks every advantage.

In a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England in the 1986 World Cup, Maradona scored one goal after using his outstretched left fist to knock the ball past England keeper Peter Shilton. The referee didn’t spot the hand ball, and the goal stood.

It is arguably the most infamous goal in World Cup history. Later in the game, Maradona scored one of the football’s best ever goals, weaving by five English players through a myriad of feints, dribbles and sheer body strength and then beating Shilton.

That goal was voted the greatest of the 20th century, and Argentina held on to beat England 2-1 as they went on to win the tournament.

Asked about scoring with his hand, Maradona cleverly attributed the goal to “La Mano de Dios” (The Hand of God). In 2004, Maradona finally acknowledged that he touched the ball with his hand.

“Scoring a goal with my hand was like robbing from a thief,” La Nacion sports editor Daniel Arcucci quoted Maradona as saying.

His worst playing moment came in the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He was expelled after the second group game against Nigeria, testing positive for what FIFA called a “cocktail” of performance-enhancing drugs including ephedrine.

He was banned for 15 months, but still went home a hero. Maradona had a long list of other on- and-off-the field controversy and provocative incidents.

Among other things: Maradona had tax problems in Italy, where his debts total 10s of millions of dollars accrued from his stint at Napoli. He was suspended for 15 months in April 1991 for testing positive for cocaine while playing for Napoli.

In 1994, Maradona fired an air gun at reporters and was given a two-year suspended sentence. In 2014, he slapped a journalist in the face and called him an “idiot” outside a theatre in Buenos Aires.

In 2009, he was banned by FIFA and fined more than $24,000 after an outburst at the end of a decisive World Cup qualifier in Uruguay.

In 2011, Maradona was forced to apologise after kicking the hand of a fan of Al Dubai soccer club Al Wasl and he once charged into the stands to confront Al Shabab fans who were taunting his partner and the wives of several players.

He had running feuds with several top South American soccer stars, including Pele and Juan Roman Riquelme. His tumultuous personal life was often a target for local media in Argentina.

To the end, Maradona was a survivor who triumphed over near death on a respirator in 2006 after suffering a heart attack attributed to a cocaine overdose.

He said he was clean after that, had a gastric bypass to lose weight, and in 2008 his Argentine talk-show, “La Noche del 10” (The Night of the No. 10), soared to unexpected popularity.

Maradona was a man who reacted spontaneously, rarely thinking things through to measure what might be the effect his actions or remarks, as was the case with his foul-mouthed tirade that got him banned in 2009.

In a subsequent news conference at which he expressed sincere remorse for his 2009 ban, Maradona said, tellingly: “I am black or white, there is no grey in my life.”

He is survived by his longtime partner, Veronica Ojeda, two daughters, two sons, several grandchildren, and his former wife, Claudia Villafane.

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