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Diego Maradona (1960-2020): Some Bittersweet Reflections

Argentina's national football team coach and former football star Diego Armando Maradona (C) greets the young artist who painted and presented him with a portrait of revolutionary Che Guevara, as Maradona's girlfriend Veronica (R) looks on during the laying of the foundation stone for the Indian Football School at Maheshtala, on the outskirts of Kolkata on December 6, 2008

Argentina's national football team coach and former football star Diego Armando Maradona (C) greets the young artist who painted and presented him with a portrait of revolutionary Che Guevara, as Maradona's girlfriend Veronica (R) looks on during the laying of the foundation stone for the Indian Football School at Maheshtala, on the outskirts of Kolkata on December 6, 2008.  On November 25, 2020, at the age of 60, Maradona died of a heart attack at his home in Tigre, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina. (Photo/DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP via Getty Images)

Maradona was more than just an extraordinary footballer. He was also a complicated social icon. That further distinguishes him from other footballers, though Pele also has some of that… and it is great to see young footballers like Marcus Rashford taking up that mantle.

He was both rewarded by and terribly exploited by the system. The system treated him like a “racehorse”. They wanted him to play at all cost and pumped him with drugs. They did not care about the physical and psychological costs to him. That contributed to his addiction. Maybe he would have gotten there on his own owing to personality reasons, but the addictive pain-killers they fed him sure gave him a healthy shove in that direction.

He came from great poverty, from a shantytown. He never hid that and insisted on keeping the connection. I’m told he had tattoos of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. He also had a relationship with the Pope (Francisco, not Benedict XVI or John Paul II). That politics speaks well of him, even if it was not carried through with the consistency of an intellectual or political activist.

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As for the “Hand of God” goal, it obviously sits badly with England supporters. But in a way it fits with Maradona’s personality and social icon standing – a sort of roguish Robin Hood’s goal. I’ve come to accept it and even enjoy it.

Did you know that in Argentina, before inflation made them irrelevant, they used to call the 10 (diez) peso note a “Diego”? That is how much people loved him.

Thomas Palley

Thomas Palley

Dr. Thomas Palley is an economist living in Washington DC. He holds a B.A. degree from Oxford University, and a M.A. degree in International Relations and Ph.D. in Economics, both from Yale University. His writings have been published in numerous academic journals, and written for The Atlantic Monthly, American Prospect and Nation magazines. He is the author of several books including: "From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: The Destruction of Shared Prosperity and the Role of Economics" (2013).

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