I was reading a thread today about Argentina and this English fella shared a nice anecdote about having a drink with some Argentinians in some pub. The Argentinian lived in Napoli for a while, when Maradona was still playing there (1986-1990 I think), and his father ran a sausage counter across the football grounds. Of course, he accompanied this with stories of being on his father’s shoulders, watching Maradona dazzle the world — and it was a smaller world then. Yes, Diego won the World Cup almost single-handedly (left hand, to be precise) in ’86, but it was still a smaller world, meaning the best footballer in the history of the world wasn’t as widely known as he is now.
I’m writing about this because it was a very well-told anecdote. I could imagine the sausage counter, the festivities when Napoli won their two Scudettos and placed second twice, the father and son in their coats witnessing Maradona run past the unlockable Italian defenses in the rain, knowing that they were the luckiest father and son pair in the world (there are several circuses in the world, but only one Maradona in his prime, he is gone forever).
Now, here we are in the 2010 World Cup and I find myself cheering for Maradona and his albicelestes. This team includes two of his children: Lionel Messi who has replicated both his best and his most infamous goal, and Kun Aguero who is the father of his grandchild, the husband of his daughter Giannina. This makes me feel like the football community is close-knit in Argentina, River and Boca aside, as if Diego were Don Vito, and the footballers his children (his alleged relations with the mafia in Napoli certainly does not help his case). Moreover, there is Martin Palermo, the 36 year old who has played only 14 competitive games for Argentina, and was not hugely successful in Europe. Maradona took him into his team despite the old age for his good performances in the domestic league. And Palermo scored in the Argies’ 2-0 win against Greece, making him the oldest Argentinian to score in the World Cup — the previous holder of this feat? Diego Armando Maradona. I am one of the believers that there is a script in this World Cup, that Maradona will lead his team to a final against Brazil, in the process making one of the best World Cups for Argentina since ’86/’90.
More than these though, I like Maradona so much because of his failings as a human being. Think of the child and his father watching his games in Napoli — of the other fathers and sons in that crowd, the smiles on their faces whenever Diego would skin a man and (keyword) “create” a goal. Now think of the cocaine addiction, the brawl in Barcelona in front of the queen of Spain. I think it is always a more beautiful story with an imperfect character, but the moral is that (in this case) severe imperfection does not mean one is incapable of winning smiles, and in Maradona’s case, winning trophies.
What’s lovable about him is the passion he has for the game, for pleasing everyone. Do not mind the seemingly Spanish-speaker generalization, but this is why Don Quixote is so lovable. The difference is that Maradona’s dreams were/are palpable, with his ability to glue the ball to his left foot and run past two to three defenders on a regular basis. He was superhuman, and at the same time, crazy. And crazy is what we want. Perhaps not what we like, but we want it; we want to talk about it, or complain about it, or laugh at it. Diego is the single best story in the history of sport — his godlike skill, his personality, his “failings” on the pitch (hand of god) and his flaws as a human.
Here we have a man who believes in romance in football. His English team is Liverpool because of their all-heart come-from-behind performance in Istanbul. And as I’ve mentioned, the inclusion of Martin Palermo in his squad despite the man’s age. It is no surprise that he brings out the romantic in all of us. It is no surprise that grown men remember watching him on the shoulders of their fathers in a relatively small Italian city, you know, that type of manly romance that hides in each of us.
It is crazy because tactically, I don’t know much about Football, but I believe that Argentina will win because history has a tendency of tying itself together. Then I can imagine the celebrations of Maradona, who loses his mind and jumps and hugs his entire team after winning less important matches. I can imagine the new father and son pairs, wide smiles at Diego’s celebrations, looking at each other knowing that at that moment, they have become the luckiest in the world.
As for me, I am already at a time in my life where I will get heckled for sitting on the shoulders of anyone. But how can you ever say no to an imperfect man who keeps trying to make the world happier, closer to perfection than he will ever be? That said, despite Argentina’s strength, who is the real underdog here?
So here, I stake all my emotions on Football (it’s really not a lot) on Argentina. And I know the players know that sometimes, it is not the tactical genius of a coach that is important (Diego isn’t really the best at this), but the man one is playing for. I know the players will prove it on the pitch. So c’mon, albicelestes, win another one.