No matter how much we try to argue and compare the man with greats of any and every era or generation, none can ever match the intensity, passion & selflessness with which he played the game and gave it all that any mortal possibly can.
It was a warm summer of 1986. I was a few months away from my 8th birthday as we came down to Kolkata on our annual summer trip from Bhilai. The Train was mighty late and we only reached late at night to find an almost deserted city. All we could hear on our way was distant cheers coming out of TV sets, far and thin.
I was just about 8 years old and couldn’t fathom much while Baba rushed into my uncle’s place, dumped the luggage and dragged me along to a neighbor’s place in a hurry. Everyone packed in that small room infront of the black & white television set kept jumping up and down to my amazement. Honestly I was more intrigued with the fanatics of Baba and his friends than what was being shown on Television. That night I was introduced to the Mexican wave and Diego Armando Maradona.
Though I was exposed to sports very early into my childhood, thanks to my sports fanatic family, it was that night that the seeds of fanaticism were sown into me. It is only a poetic justice that two decades later my uncle’s grandsons were responsible for my day out with the God himself. What started with hazy receptions of Doordarshan ended up with crystal clear rendezvous right at our backyard in Barasat.
For many Maradona is a rebel, a misguided child of football, a drug addict, a complete disoriented person. To the rest of us Maradona is all about passion, devotion, dedication, patriotism and above all emotion. A fighter who never worried of the army he had, the ammunitions at his disposal, the challenges he would have to encounter, nothing. All he cared was giving more than his best. All he ever did is to remain sincere to his game and create pure magic mesmerizing even his hardest opponents on the field.
Name me one other footballer who could just lead and take any team of the standards he had to the pinnacle of success as he did. There’s none, even remotely close. In a complete team sport as football this is unreal.
Some of us who were blessed to witness him in person during his last visit to Kolkata could feel the aura of the man. The fire within him for football had not diminished a bit. No matter how happy he looked moving around the city doing all sort of events from unveiling his statue to launching a laundry brand, he only felt home when he stepped on to the green. The child in him surfaced the moment he saw around 100 kids with a ball each waiting to greet him on the field. What was supposed to be a 20 minute session went on almost for an hour. Even in that small session with kids he never met before nor would ever see again, his passion and intensity reflected in every single move he and the kids made. The reaction of 10,000 odd spectators on the ground was nothing but of awe and madness.
Even though he missed playing against Sourav Ganguly as he felt drained out after the long session with the kids, he was all cheerful and to his self as he met not only Dada but a whole galaxy of celebrity footballers and sportsperson. I remember, he greeting one of the former football captains of India in that line up and saying in his broken English, “You number 1 India? I number 1 in whole world.” Such is Maradona. He not only believed but lived as the king, the numero uno. Perhaps that’s why he was what he was.
We have not lost a legendary footballer or sportsperson but the emotional quotient of this great game. He may not have lived a perfect life off the ground but what he left on the ground can never be matched. No matter how much we talk and debate about Pele, Messi, Ronaldo and rest for being the Greatest of All Times, to me, Maradona is right up there beyond any debate when it comes to his game for which we know the man.
Diego Armando Maradona shall forever remain the God of the greatest game on this planet for as long as it exists. While he continues to mesmerize all up there where he has chosen to be may the God rest in peace on this mortal planet.