'A TRUE LEGEND'

Sports

'A TRUE LEGEND'

Locals pay tribute to late Argentine football icon Diego Maradona

BY PAUL A REID
Observer writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 26, 2020

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The late legendary Argentine football player and coach Diego Armando Maradona, who passed yesterday, has been described by Reggae Boyz head coach Theodore Whitmore as a different kind of player.

Yesterday's death of the 1986 World Cup winner at age 60, after suffering a cardiac arrest just two weeks after undergoing an operation for a blood clot on the brain, rocked the football world, and has left Jamaicans hailing him as a flawed individual but a brilliant player.

Whitmore expressed his sadness at the news of the passing of Maradona, hailing him as “one of football's genius”, adding, “Despite his off-the-field troubles I can admit he was one of the greatest that's ever been on a football field. He was a different kind of player and made football look simple.”

Whitmore, also known for his silky skills at the top of his prime as a player, continued, “His name will always be in the history books of football. I had the chance of coaching against him and meeting him at the 2017 Ballon D'Or in Zurich.” The Jamaican head coach extended condolences to Maradona's family, many friends of football, and said he is “a true legend who will be missed”.

Former national player Paul “Tegat” Davis, who now guides Mount Pleasant Football Academy in the National Premier League, said he was impacted by three players - Brazilian ace Pele, Dutch maestro Johan Cruyff, and Maradona. He said one of the greatest moments of his long career was “when I got the chance to see him play while I was in Israel to confirm the greatness of this individual who people have put in the class of Pele, to compare them as the greatest players ever”.

Davis said he along with the entire football fraternity and the world “will miss him and if we can ignore the talk of his drug addiction because before any of that he showed his real class and had a great impact on the game”.

The former national striker spoke about his deftness and leadership abilities. “I always looked for his cleverness with the football, how he thought out the game and when the team was in problems he knew he was the go-to person who took on the load, that self-confidence and belief that he had.”

There was another side of Maradona that Davis also highlighted: “His smile and cheeky play”, as well as being the ultimate showman. “When Argentina had a game he would come out on to the field before the other players and put on a show for the fans, juggling and doing magic things with the football. I really, really, will miss him and only God knows best, and me and my family loved him.”

Davis, a goal poacher himself, admitted that not all his goals at the club level might have been legitimate, confiding that, like Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, some of his goals could perhaps be said to fall in the same category.

“The 'Hand of God' goal that he got slaughtered for, I know for sure and I know that as a player I scored goals like that,” Davis remarked, referencing a game that he played for Seba United against fierce St James rivals Wadadah FC where he got the better of goalkeeper Stennet Samms with a ball that came off his hand. “A few other goalkeepers and teams can attest, but it's part of the game,” Davis said.

Andrew Price, who has coached at the national level and who is now the head coach at Humble Lion in the National Premier League, mourned the man he said was “definitely the most gifted football player of this generation and arguably the best player in the world”, saying the news came “as a complete shock to me”.

Price said Maradona “really left an indelible mark on the entire football landscape and charted his career from when he came on the scene as a teenager, playing for Argentina at age 16, and if not for (coach) Cesar Menotti who wanted to protect him, would have possibly played in 1978 but had many World Cups left”.

Price recalled that despite “igniting the 1982 World Cup” he would leave early “but would rebound from that very well. In 1986 which I would crown as the coming of age of the best player of our era, where he took the World Cup in Mexico by storm by playing an excellent tournament, scoring some exquisite goals and showing exceptional dribbling skills. Never before a player has ever taken a World Cup and owned it in the manner in which Maradona did, not since Pele in 1958, and he went on to Napoli and taking them on the map to win two Serie A titles, so he left an indelible mark on the football landscape.”

Price described the late player's career as “chequered,” adding, “but no one in the world is perfect and he will go down in history as one of, if not the greatest footballer who has ever graced a football field”.

Veteran coach Patrick “Jackie” Walters said there was no denying Maradona's “tremendous impact on the game; it was unbelievable what he could do with the ball, a really fantastic player. The news of his death was sad and he could have achieved far more”.

Donovan Duckie, who has coached a number of National Premier League and schoolboy teams, said Maradona was “a man who is regarded as one of the greatest players in the world, who will be sadly missed by all. His achievements and contributions in world football will not go unnoticed. He has impacted and inspired many world-class players and even as a coach he made a tremendous impact”.

Despite admitting he has long supported rivals Brazil in international football, former national Under-20 coach Andrew Edwards, who is now the technical director of the Turks and Caicos Football Association, said the “little magician” changed the way he looked at the game.

“Diego Armando Maradona. The first World Cup for me was 1986. I watched on television and saw the little magician winning the World Cup, literally carrying the Argentine team almost entirely on his own with the support of a few teammates.”

Four years later, by now a firm fan of the Argentine player, Edwards said he thought they “were robbed in the World Cup final against Germany”, and admitted “I cried. That might be the first time I cried for football, which is ironic as I always supported Brazil from about 1984. But I fell in love with the little magician; the artistry [with] which he played the game was above and beyond everyone else in his era.”

Edwards recalled a video of the player warming up for training while playing for Napoli. “You can see the joy and happiness on his face. Beyond that I also recall that he had trying times in other areas of his life and left the 1994 World Cup in disgrace, then went into coaching and of course most of that did not end well.”

He said the last photo he saw of Maradona before yesterday's news made him sad. “I saw the great man literally sitting in a bubble, wearing a mask and face shield and that told me he was afraid and coronavirus had taken a toll on him, and it made me sad.”

Despite this Edwards said, “He is a legend and in spite of what everyone would say about his scoring with his hand against England in the World Cup, there is a church in Argentina named after the incident and I am one of those persons who revered his impact on the game and how it caused me to enjoy and appreciate the game.''

Meanwhile, Jamaica Football Federation President Michael Ricketts yesterday e-mailed a letter of condolence to Argentine Football Association President Claudio Tapia and the people of the South American country on the loss of the football great.

Ricketts said Maradona was an extraordinary player and an inspiration to individuals in every corner of the world, including Jamaica. “We watched him with awe throughout his glorious career and remember him in a good way. His performances for Argentina, especially those at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, are etched indelibly in our subconscious. Many of my countrymen became supporters of your team because of his incredible exploits,” he added.


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