The adulation for Maradona, who died of a heart attack at 60, transcended borders and his greatness led many to fall in love with football.
Football legend Diego Maradona died of a heart attack in Argentina on Wednesday night. He was 60.
Several of India’s sportspersons paid their tributes to the Argentine great. Former Indian cricket captain and now administrator Sourav Ganguly led the way, saying that he had ‘lost his hero’.
Maradona had visited Ganguly’s hometown Kolkata, a football-mad city, for a charity football match in 2017 and was welcomed in a grand manner, with the city even unveiling a Maradona statue.
A similar tribute has been planned in Goa, another state known for its love for football. The state government has announced that a statue of Maradona will be installed at either the Candolim or Calangute beaches to inspire the youth.
Diego Maradona visited India in 2012, when he flew down to Kerala for the unveiling of a jewellery store. A hand-drawn sketch of Maradona still adorns the walls of the hotel where he had stayed.
In December 2008, Maradona had visited Kolkata where he was greeted by some 15,000 fans at the airport. He then visited the Mohun Bagan ground where he displayed a few football tricks to entertain the crowd and met a few young football players.
Former Indian hockey team captain Viren Rasquinha may have missed one of Maradona’s most iconic performances, but witnessed his genius in later years.
Indian Olympic shooter Joydeep Karmakar and Indian hockey player Devindar Walmiki were also big fans of Diego Maradona.
Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, a football fan himself, felt that the world had lost not just a great footballer but also a great person.
“It's obviously a very sad day for football, it's very sad for sports in general because we have lost a genius,” Kohli said. “We have lost someone who has inspired people across generations and across walks of life, not just sports but so many people in their lives as well.”
While Maradona was loved across the board, the Argentine legend held a special place in the hearts of professional footballers.
Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri and former goalkeeper Subrata Paul hailed his magical skills with the ball.
Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia reminisced about how Maradona inspired him to take up the sport.
“Maradona was the reason for me to fall in love with this game. We tried doing the tricks and skills he did on the ground. He inspired me and many more players of my generation. He was the greatest to have played the game. Rest in Peace Maradona,” Bhaichung Bhutia wrote on Facebook.
One of the greatest footballers of all time, Maradona almost single-handedly led Argentina to glory in the 1986 FIFA World Cup and also led them to the final in 1990, where they fell to West Germany.
One of Maradona’s most talked-about games came against England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, where Maradona scored two memorable goals in the space of five minutes.
The first was the famous ‘Hand of God’ goal – where Maradona leapt high to meet a header and when he was unable to do so, tipped the ball into the goal with his outstretched hand to give Argentina the lead.
Five minutes later, Maradona scored what was voted as FIFA’s ‘Goal of the Century’. He took possession just inside his own half, tricked his way past two English midfielders, and with a trademark turn of pace, cut inside to his left foot, advanced towards goal before rounding the goalkeeper and put the ball in the back of the net.
Diego Maradona also led underdog Italian club Napoli to two Serie A titles in 1986-86 and 1989-90, the only two league triumphs in their history.