For a “normal” person, it is too early to die at the age of 60.
For Diego Maradona, who in practice lived six lives in one, it was strong to round six decades.
The Argentine legend, as died of a cardiac arrest on Wednesday, was not only one of the best players of all time. He was a coach, commentator, ambassador and political supporter. For many, he was also a god.
You need a lot of books to tell about everything Maradona did. No player has reached such heavenly heights, as the World Cup title in 1986, or devilish downturns, as when he was near death in the 90s.
But through all the controversy, it has been easy to forget what it must have been like to be Diego Maradona.
It was probably never very easy.
From day one, Maradona was special. In 1928, Borocotò, the editor of Argentina’s premier football magazine, had The graphic, written a tribute to an imaginary street boy; a version of the country’s ideal football player.
The boy had long hair, a dirty face and a cloth ball at his legs.
Then, 32 years later, in a slum in Buenos Aires, this street boy was born.
Maradona had a talent that is impossible to explain with theory or logic. He became a national sensation, first with Argentinos and then Boca Juniors, which he took to a long-awaited league title in 1981.
The following year, Maradona became the world‘s most expensive player when he went to Barcelona.
But with all the fame came challenges that a street boy could not possibly be ready for.
One of them was the sporting pressure. In Boca, Maradona had to play friendly matches around the world because that was the only way the club could make money. He was expected to play every game, even though he was injured.
Often he had to take painkillers to complete.
He got a nation’s expectations on his shoulders. Before the World Cup in 1982, he was curved by his own because they thought he was in bad shape. In reality, he was exhausted. At one point, he fled to his parents’ home, in Corrientes, where he talked about expectations.
“People need to understand that Maradona is not a machine to make them happy,” Maradona said.
But the demands never disappeared. His agent, Jorge Cyterszpiller, set up his own company to get the kroner to roll in. Maradona entered into a number of sponsorship deals, while Cyterszpiller hired a camera team that followed him around everywhere.
This was at a time when players barely had agents. While such things are common now, Maradona was the first superstar to find out how tiring this was for the psyche.
He also had no one to tell him what to do with the money. In Barcelona he used them at wild parties and a growing clan of friends and acquaintances.
It was also there that he started using cocaine.
When he went to Naples in 1984, his lifestyle became even more intense. Off the field, cocaine and partying continued, occasionally under the auspices of the local mafia, which saw him as a valuable supporter.
At the same time, the whole city wanted Maradona to lead Napoli to their first ever league title.
The result was a routine where Maradona fastened, trained up for battle, and often took painkillers and other means to get through the 90 minutes.
It eroded both the body and the psyche. Yet he almost never complained.
And that was perhaps one of his best and worst qualities. For most of his life, he was persecuted by fans, journalists, whips, critics, agents, presidents and / or politicians.
Everyone wanted something from him.
Often – maybe for often – he gave them what they wanted.
In both Naples and Argentina, he was part of this sporting success. He transformed Napoli from a relegation-threatened team to league winners in 1987 and 1990. They have never won the league again since.
In 1986, he took a disgraced national team to the top of the World Cup in Mexico, with what is by far the largest individual achievement in an international football championship.
For a nation that had been through economic crises and a recent military dictatorship, it is difficult to overstate how much this title meant.
But Maradona was not loved for everything. When he got the whole of Italy against him by knocking the nation out of the World Cup in 1990 – in Naples – his life there collapsed. He was linked to cocaine smuggling, tax evasion and prostitution.
When he was taken into doping control and banned by FIFA for 15 months, in 1991, he was for the first time forced to live a life without football.
And that was never a good thing for Maradona.
Because he always needed football to stay on the right track. In 1991, he was arrested by the police for more cocaine use. He struggled with the weight. He was taken in a new doping test at the World Cup in 1994.
In 2000, three years after retiring, he collapsed on vacation in Uruguay. The diagnosis was a heart attack, caused by cocaine. In 2004, he collapsed again and was taken to hospital.
In both cases, there were rumors in Argentina that he was dead.
But he survived every time. And no matter how low he sank, he gathered enough strength to start new projects. One of these was when he coached Argentina’s national team at the 2010 World Cup.
If the football talent made Maradona special, the same can be said about the willpower.
For the past 10 years, Maradona has taken obscure coaching jobs in the Middle East and Mexican Second Division. When he left Mexico last year due to health problems, his body was battered after 40 years of cocaine, alcohol and injections.
The knees were broken. He struggled to walk. The head did not always seem sharp either. On one occasion he was asked a question by a TV reporter, and spent half a minute answering.
At the same time, it can be said that the health problems reflected the intensity of Maradona’s life. In addition to his career as a player and coach, he had time to make friends with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.
He had his own TV show. He was part of a dance program in Italy. He was a television commentator in Venezuela. He was vice president of Boca.
Everywhere he went, something happened. He was always praised, always asked for his opinions and feelings. Sometimes he made harsh and unforgivable statements. Other times he could charm and entertain.
He was also never afraid to criticize anyone, not even politicians and FIFA. Special not politicians and FIFA.
And no matter what happened, he was always himself.
One last birthday
Until the very end, it was the football Maradona lived for and loved. Last year, he fell head over heels for it again, when he took the job as coach of Gimnasia de La Plata, a bottom team in the Argentine top division.
Immediately there was a big uproar around the club. The fans gave him a throne to sit on and sang outside his hotel. The stands were suddenly packed.
Suddenly, Maradona’s health improved again.
Unfortunately, he was not more than 60 years old, but just the fact that he got that birthday – and all the tributes that flowed to him from all corners of the world – was beautiful.
And while Maradona will be remembered for his sporting triumphs, especially the World Cup title and league titles with Napoli, these make up only a fraction of all the memories he leaves behind.
No player has given football so much of itself.
One part of what he gave was talent. An even bigger part – and the reason why he remains so much loved in Argentina – was the passion for the sport itself.
It was the effervescent celebrations of victory, the gloomy sorrow of loss.
It was all the cheers, the songs, the dances and the tears.
This is how Maradona showed us how much football can mean.
Thanks for everything, Diego.