Diego Maradona, the footballer who led Argentina to victory at the 1986 World Cup, has died at the age of 60, with the sport mourning an iconic player with few peers on the pitch but who struggled with addiction throughout his life.
The Argentine Football Association responded to the news on Wednesday by expressing “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona”, saying, “you will always be in our hearts”.
Maradona had struggled with his health this year and was hospitalised due to a brain clot in early November. Media reports suggest he died on Wednesday after a cardiac arrest.
He will be best remembered as a diminutive yet powerful player, who captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
During that tournament, in the quarter-final against England, he scored the opening goal with his arm in an incident he referred to as the “hand of god”. Later in the same match, he would weave through several flailing English defenders to score one of the greatest goals in the history of the competition.
Gary Lineker, the former England striker who played in that game, wrote on Twitter that Maradona was by “some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God.”
Argentina went into mourning as the sudden death of the national icon took the country by shock, even though his poor health and struggles with addiction had long been a subject of intense media attention.
Although Maradona embraced, and was embraced by, the political left around the region — he even died on the anniversary of the death of one of the people he most admired, the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — Argentines of all political stripes were distraught by the news.
Social media was flooded by messages of sorrow and commemoration by Argentines from all walks of life, including President Alberto Fernández, who declared three days of national mourning.
“You were the greatest of all. Thank you for having existed, Diego. We are going to miss you all of our lives,” tweeted Mr Fernández, posting a picture of himself in a smiling embrace with Maradona.
Maradona, who had been born into poverty in the Lanús district of Buenos Aires, also captained his country at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, but narrowly lost in the final against West Germany.
At club level, he led Italy’s Napoli to its first Serie A league title in 1987, a remarkable feat as the club faced heavyweight sides at the time, such as Juventus and AC Milan. He would go on to win Europe’s Uefa Cup and a second Italian league title with the club.
Maradona also played for Spain’s FC Barcelona, Argentina’s Boca Juniors among other clubs.
Off the pitch, well documented problems with cocaine addiction and a playboy lifestyle led to a deterioration in his private life which eventually engulfed his career. He was sent home from the 1994 World Cup after failing a drugs test, and continued to struggle with health issues and obesity long after retiring as a player in 1997.
He was unable to recreate his footballing genius as a coach, with several unsuccessful stints as a manager including leading Argentina to defeat against Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.
Pelé, the former Brazilian forward often cited alongside Maradona as the greatest ever footballer, wrote on Twitter: “I have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a legend . . . One day, I hope, we will play soccer together in the sky.”