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Diego Maradona: ‘The Whole World Plays Football’
The assertion by Johan Huizinga that play is older than culture and that it is distinct from ordinary life renders football as a practice beyond culture that is older than its history as a sport and that places its players -both professionals and amateurs- apart from their ordinary lives.
The essence and substance of football as a play is the key factor that makes Diego Maradona the most finished and finest incarnation of a football player, enabling him to transcend his own time and place of birth. For this reason, all people around the world who have ever seen -by any media form- Diego Maradona playing football endorse the joy of the game and make such joy their own, even for their ordinary lives.
Considering as a starting point for the public recognition of Diego Maradona as a football player beyond his own soil, his childhood dreams to play a World Cup and to win everything that its follows in the amateur division; the dimension of a dream as a purpose unifies both: the enjoyment of the game, and the sense of achievement in a single goal, from the very beginning of his worldwide journey.
Following Macedonio Fernández, the forerunner of the transcendental 20th-century Argentine literature, who wrote that there are dreams that call for the return of our souls to plenitude and that there is a certainty without shadows in our decision to dream about them; the determination in the words voiced by a young amateur Diego Maradona and his confidence for succeeding throughout his entire career, can be rooted in certainty without shadows of his purpose to materialize his own dreams for the plenitude of his soul and, extensively, for the plenitude of the collective soul of those sharing his journey: team-mates, rivals, spectators, fans, etc.
If the highest ideal of an athlete is to achieve world recognition, each football match offers an everyday opportunity to earn that recognition, proposing a unique interaction in which the players in the pitch represent a-world-at-play in a given place and time, while executing -in a real and profound sense- the practice of playing, in order to succeed by beating the rival.
This interaction in the pitch is also made up of the mood of the spectators in the stadium. The synthesis of a world-at-play is then enriched by the reactions of the spectators and grows from match to match to become a continuous celebration of the senses and the intelligence at the service of the game.
The worldwide recognition achieved by Diego Maradona comes from having managed to consummate match after match to put at risk his superlative strategic intelligence, his unparalleled technical and tactical skills, his all senses, and his brimming soul in the achievement of success; while enjoying his execution, and by embarking all in such joy.
How does he do it is the question many have wondered and will continue to wonder.
Since Diego Maradona passed away on November 25, 2020, countless articles and testimonies have been given as tributes, all of which have been prepared with deep care and respect for his career, adding a valuable contribution of data, analysis, and insight on his achievements in terms of quantitative and qualitative performance.
Recent articles also approached the mutual infatuation between Diego and the public: his supporters, fans, and general spectators, a non-trivial fact which has been the corollary of having Diego known how to make them participate in the party, asking them of being part of the play directly by recognizing many times that such fascination was reciprocal. This admiration even prompted the changing of the stadium in Naples from Stadio San Paolo to Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in his honor.
Some pundits approached the epic nature of the two goals he scored for Argentina against England at the World Cup in 1986; even citing that the divine mediation for wars and sports victories has been claimed since a long time ago, in particular within the classical epic narrative of Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.
The classical dimension conveyed by his personal commitment to football also defines Diego Maradona as a human being. Moreover, we can assert that this sacrifice in the full consciousness of enjoying spending vital energy for the search of the best expression of himself and for the excellence of the whole play, without any hint of pain, has made a unique atmosphere at stadiums where he played (from those placed in the neighborhoods besides “la Bombonera,” and “el Monumental,” in Buenos Aires; to “el Azteca” in Mexico, to the Camp Nou in Spain, the San Paolo in Italy, and all over the world) and turned the fact of watching Maradona playing football (“Ho visto a Maradona” as per Napolitan tiffosi, “I have seen Maradona”) into a memorable collective experience.
This should be highlighted as an extra value of Diego Maradona since the routine of physical training always threatens the emergence of spontaneous creative talent. Diego Maradona has constantly sought a kind of balance, finding the right economy of the gaming actions, a happy quality in the execution of the game, as a liberating expression of the joy of his soul, and by sharing it with their team-mates in the pitch and with the public in the stadium stands, while generating a dynamic which receives unstoppable feedback. That is why the mutual infatuation with the public, as per the reaction of the public is always new, something improvised, that was not planned beforehand and that gets along with the events at the pitch not theoretically, but practically.
There are also remarkable pieces addressing the social and political stances by Diego Maradona in pro of the neediest, on a worldwide basis. We can emphasize that the force of the influence gained by Diego Maradona in this field is deeply related to the ultimate meaning of football, which is a social and basically a popular game, by the noblest sense of how the word “popular” applies to a sport, which implies: art, discipline, strategy, tactics, and technique performed in a collective mode, and that it needs -by definition- to be confronted with the feeling and living of what is regarded “popular” by the people themselves.
In this aspect too, the personality of Diego Maradona must be considered a classic one, because the meaning as such, lies in his strong capacity to influence the individual and collective formation, as well as, the individual and the collective destiny, above the political and economic situation; and, especially, beyond social classes.
As the most finished and finest incarnation of a football player, Diego Maradona stands still and naked confronting his play and his humanity at the pitch with the public, also putting his method and his dreams into play, which have always been credible for the worldwide public.
Following Jorge Luis Borges who wrote that God allows men to dream things that are true, within a poem in the memory of the Argentine dead soldier at Malvinas/Falkland wars; Diego Maradona’s journey has taken the world collective soul of football from his childhood dreams to everywhere and every time, will never end.
Flavia Di Cino was team leader of study groups dealing with strategy and supply issues at the International Gas Union. She was professor at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires and head of planning teams at energy companies.