Growing up in a Buenos Aires slum, the precocious chico, Diego Maradona, befriended his most loyal friend very early — a football, or whatever he could fashion into one. An orange, a crumpled newspaper or anything spherical that accompanied him to school in keepy-uppies — juggling without letting the ball touch the ground. First, a damaged fence and then umpteen defenders and goalkeepers bore testament to how inseparable the boy and ball could be, until the last moment when he let go for a goal, and it was all too late. He never lost his hypnotic hold over the ball — once aiming it accurately to flick Ruud Gullit’s dreadlocks en route the top corner.
Diego Maradona died on Wednesday aged 60. In his TV show The Night of the Ten, he’d mused that his gravestone be inscribed “thanks to the ball”. But like his Peter Pan glee when tossed a ball, he never lost the rawness, spontaneity and individual brilliance of the street-footballer. Through a life that fell apart with the onset of addiction, ageing and obesity, the ball when at his left foot didn’t seem to lose shape or go astray. He urged his legions to believe that no matter what happened in his life outside the ball orbit, his partner in a tango, the football, would remain honourable and unstained.
Blessed with an exquisite left foot and a low centre of gravity, the 5-foot-5 tall legend humiliated his opponents by twisting and turning, dribbling and dodging. The selfless love for the ball never diminished even as a fan at a game. In his passing away, the ball lost its better half — the divine foot.