Maradona in the words of Eduardo Galeano | The Daily Star
12:37 PM, November 26, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:46 PM, November 26, 2020

Maradona in the words of Eduardo Galeano

As the world pays tribute to the great Diego Maradona, here we see how Eduardo Galeano, the eminent Uruguayan journalist, novelist and writer, described the legend Maradona in his famous book Football in Sun and Shadow. 

Here are the excerpts from Football in Sun and Shadow: Maradona


He played, he won; he peed, he lost. Ephedrine turned up in his urinalysis and Maradona was booted out of the 1994 World Cup. Ephedrine, though not considered a stimulant by professional sports in the United States or many other countries, is prohibited in international competitions.

There was stupefaction and scandal, a blast of moral condemnation that left the whole world deaf. But somehow a few voices of support for the fallen idol managed to squeak through, not only in his wounded and dumbfounded Argentina, but in places as far away as Bangladesh, where a sizable demonstration repudiating FIFA and demanding Maradona's return shook the streets. After all, to judge and condemn was easy. It was not so easy to forget that for many years Maradona had committed the sin of being the best, the crime of speaking out about things the powerful wanted kept quiet, and the felony of playing lefthanded, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary means not only "of or pertaining to the left hand" but also "sinister or questionable."

Diego Armando Maradona never used stimulants before matches to stretch the limits of his body. It is true that he was into cocaine, but only at sad parties where he wanted to forget or be forgotten because he was cornered by glory and could not live without the fame that would not allow him to live in peace. He played better than anyone else in spite of the cocaine, not because of it.

He was overwhelmed by the weight of his own personality. Ever since that day long ago when fans first chanted his name, his spinal column caused him grief. Maradona carried a burden named Maradona that bent his back out of shape. The body as metaphor: his legs ached, he couldn't sleep without pills. It did not take him long to realize it was impossible to live with the responsibility of being a god on the field, but from the beginning he knew that stopping was out of the question. "I need them to need me," he confessed after many years of living under the tyrannical halo of superhuman performance, swollen with cortisone and analgesics and praise, harassed by the demands of his devotees and by the hatred of those he offended.

The pleasure of demolishing idols is directly proportional to the need to erect them. In Spain, when Goicoechea hit him from behind — even though he didn't have the ball — and sidelined him for several months, some fanatics carried the author of this premeditated homicide on their shoulders. And all over the world plenty of people were ready to celebrate the fall of that arrogant interloper, that parvenu fugitive from hunger, that greaser who had the insolent audacity to swagger and boast.

Later on in Naples, Maradona was Santa Maradonna, and the patron saint San Gennaro became San Gennarmando. In the streets they sold pictures of this divinity in shorts illuminated by the halo of the Virgin or wrapped in the sacred mantle of the saint who bleeds every six months. And they even sold coffins for the clubs of northern Italy and tiny bottles filled with the tears of Silvio Berlusconi. Kids and dogs wore Maradona wigs. Somebody placed a ball under the foot of the statue of Dante, and in the famous fountain Triton wore the blue shirt of Napoli. It had been more than half a century since this city, condemned to suffer the furies of Vesuvius and eternal defeat on the soccer field, had last won a championship, and thanks to Maradona the dark south finally managed to humiliate the white north that scorned it. In the stadiums of Italy and all Europe, Napoli kept on winning, cup after cup, and each goal constituted a desecration of the established order and a revenge against history. In Milan they hated the man responsible for this affront by the uppity poor: they called him "ham with curls." And not only in Milan: at the 1990 World Cup most of the spectators punished Maradona with furious whistles every time he touched the ball, and celebrated Argentina's defeat by Germany as a victory for Italy.

When Maradona said he wanted to leave Napoli, some people tossed wax dolls stuck with pins through his window. Prisoner of the city that adored him, and of the Camorra, the Mafia that owns it, he was playing against his heart, against his feet. That's when the cocaine scandal erupted, and Maradona suddenly became Maracoca, a delinquent who had fooled people into thinking he was a hero.

Later on in Buenos Aires the media gave a further twist to the knife: live coverage of his arrest, as if it were a match, to the delight of those who love the spectacle of a king disrobed and carted off by the police.

"He's sick," they said. They said, "He's done for." The Messiah who came to redeem southern Italians from their eternal damnation was also the avenger of Argentina's defeat in the Falklands by means of one sneaky goal and another fabulous one that left the English spinning like tops for several years. But when he fell, the Golden Boy was nothing but a numb-nosed, whoring phony. Maradona had betrayed the children who adored him and brought dishonor on the sport. They gave him up for dead.

But the body sat up. Once he had served his cocaine sentence, Maradona became the fireman of the Argentine squad, which was burning up its last chances to reach the '94 World Cup. Thanks to Maradona, they made it. And at the Cup once again, as in the old days, Maradona was the best of the best until the ephedrine scandal hit.

The machinery of power had sworn to get him. He spoke truth to power and you pay a price for that, a price paid in cash with no discount. And Maradona himself gave them the excuse, with his suicidal tendency to serve himself up on a platter to his many enemies and that childish irresponsibility that makes him step in every trap laid in his path.

The same reporters who harass him with their microphones, reproach him for his arrogance and his tantrums, and accuse him of talking too much. They aren't wrong, but that's not why they can't forgive him: what they really do not like are the things he sometimes says. This hot-tempered little wiseacre has the habit of throwing uppercuts. In '86 and '94, in Mexico and the United States, he complained about the omnipotent dictatorship of television, which forced the players to work themselves to the bone at noon, roasting under the sun. And on a thousand and one other occasions, throughout the ups and downs of his career, Maradona said things that stirred up the hornet's nest. He wasn't the only disobedient player, but his was the voice that made the most offensive questions ring out loud and clear: Why aren't the international standards for labor rights applied to soccer? If it's standard practice for performers to know how much money their shows bring in, why can't the players have access to the books of the opulent multinational of soccer? Havelange, busy with other duties, kept his mouth shut, while Joseph Blatter, a FIFA bureaucrat who never once kicked a ball but goes about in a twenty-five-foot limousine driven by a black chauffeur, had but one comment: "The last star from Argentina was Di Stéfano."

When Maradona was finally thrown out of the '94 World Cup, soccer lost its most strident rebel. And also a fantastic player. Maradona is uncontrollable when he speaks, but much more so when he plays. No one can predict the devilish tricks this inventor of surprises will dream up for the simple joy of throwing the computers off track, tricks he never repeats. He's not quick, more like a short-legged bull, but he carries the ball sewn to his foot and he has eyes all over his body. His acrobatics light up the field. He can win a match with a thundering blast when his back is to the goal, or with an impossible pass from afar when he is corralled by thousands of enemy legs. And no one can stop him when he decides to dribble upfield.

In the frigid soccer of today's world, which detests defeat and forbids all fun, that man was one of the few who proved that fantasy too can be effective.

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