Almost three years ago to this day, amidst much fanfare, Argentine football legend Diego Maradona had arrived in Kolkata.
Sporting a blue T-shirt and a cap, the then 57-year-old Maradona, had landed at the airport before heading straight to a hotel in New Town, Rajarhat. A specially-decorated suite with the walls adorning his special on-field moments and his favourite menu awaited the football icon at a five-star hotel in Kolkata.
‘I am not the god of football’
For someone who was always scrutinized for his audacity and arrogance, Maradona surprised everyone with a humble speech when he addressed a group of reporters and said, “Kolkata is a very special place and I have good memories from my trip there many years ago, the fans were fantastic.”
“I am not the god of football but a simple footballer,” he had added, leaving the media fraternity bewildered.
Maradona gives Diego vs Dada a miss
Maradona’s three-day visit to India was scheduled to be quite an eventful one which also included a charity football match against former India captain Sourav Ganguly at Barasat, West Bengal. Accompanied by partner Rocio Oliva, the former Napoli star, sporting white shorts, spent some time on the field with a group of school children. However, the unusually warm weather in Barasat drained him out which meant that the South American star became tired and left soon after exchanging pleasantries with Ganguly.
Ganguly, who had watched Maradona’s 1986 World Cup triumph, had told PTI, “It would have been great to have played with him but he could not play. Age has caught up with him but he’s too good a player.”
India cricketer Manoj Tiwary also took part in the match.
Maradona’s magic in Mohun Bagan
In December 2008, when Maradona made his first trip to Kolkata, he had enjoyed god-like status. “This is the second biggest reception of my life after Napoli,” he had famously said on a tv channel as the city of joy celebrated like he was one of their own. The 15,000 strong crowds which gathered to receive him made it hard to differentiate whether it was Naples or the Netaji Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata.
Back then accompanied by his girlfriend Veronica Estefani, the soccer legend was in a better physical shape and seemed in a cheerful mood as he made his way to the Mohun Bagan ground and enthralled the captivated audience by juggling the ball with his left foot, balancing it on his forehead, rolling it over before kicking it towards the frenzied crowd.
From thereon he had also paid a visit to former Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, where the two shared pleasantries. Maradona was reportedly impressed when Basu showed him a few pictures of him with Fidel Castro (taken in 1973 when the former Cuban president paid a visit to Kolkata.)
With the help of an interpreter, Maradona is said to have told Basu, “You have seen Fidel Castro closely whom I regard in high esteem.”
“So in that respect, I consider you close to me, ” PTI quoted the 1986 World Cup winner as saying.
His last words
During his visit to Kolkata in 2017, Maradona had also unveiled a 12-feet statue of him which depicted him holding the 1986 World Cup trophy but it hardly bore any resemblance to the then 25-year-old captain of Argentina.
But before leaving the country his parting words were, “Football wants India and India wants football.”
“Together with the people, we will bring football. I have always been very well received in India. Thanks and kiss!” he had said before bidding adieu.
Maradona died on Wednesday, after suffering a heart attack at his home in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, sources close to him confirmed.