The world remembers the Argentinian icon as the “human of immortals” but for Malaysians who watched him played against Selangor XI in 1982 — led by our very own homegrown star Mokhtar Dahari — he was still an attacking midfielder that was not yet a household name. Little did they know that they were watching a legend in-the-making, who later sealed his controversial moniker “Hand of God” in the 1986 World Cup against England.
People have called his gameplay a quasi-religious experience — as if the ball was his pet, which could be summoned at his command. Despite his shortcomings as well as the endless scandals and addictions that crippled his career, this was a man who loved the sport, and it had adored him in return. Argentina, Maradona’s homeland, had declared three days of national mourning the moment his death was announced.
Bob Holmes, veteran sports pundit specialising in football, has summed up Maradona’s legacy neatly:
“Maradona once famously said, ‘You become addicted to the moon and it’s not always possible to come back down’.
“No footballer has ever had the words ‘from another planet’ used to describe him more often than Diego Maradona so his lunar reference explains a lot. The phrase ‘flawed genius’ might have been invented for him.”
Tributes from footballers around the world:
Datuk Soh Chin Aun
"Maradona wasn't a famous footballer yet when he played on Malaysian grounds but he became a formidable legend soon after (just like Pelé), thanks to his talent and perseverance. You can always count on him to leave behind a memorable game. Always," shared the former Malaysian national football skipper during a phoner with Options.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known as Pelé
Fellow football legend and Hublot ambassador, Pelé, paid a moving tribute to his “great friend”. The Brazilian three-time World Cup winner has been Maradona’s closest competitor and together, the two led the greatest rivalry in football history.
“What sad news. I lost a great friend and the world lost a legend. There is still much to be said, but for now, may God give strength to family members. One day, I hope we can play football together in the sky.”
The greatest Argentinian player of the current generation, who played under Maradona for two years, wrote on Instagram: “A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He's left us but he hasn't gone, because Diego is eternal.
"I'll keep all the great times I enjoyed with him and want to take the opportunity to send my deepest respects to all his family and friends. RIP."
The highest scorer in UCL history also offered his condolences. "Today I say goodbye to a friend and the world says goodbye to an eternal genius. One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician," the Portuguese wrote. "He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled. Rest in peace, ace. You will never be forgotten."
The former England captain expressed his sadness on Instagram, hailing Maradona as a “pure genius”.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, known as Ronaldinho
In a Twitter thread, Brazilian star player shared memorable moments he had with Maradona. “My feelings to the family and to everyone who loves this genius. My friend, my idol, my number 10, thank you for every moment in your company, whether at games or at a simple dinner.
“Our conversations have always been very special and I will cherish all moments of joy on the field together, where I was there to admire you and pay tribute to your greatness.
“It inspired me during my career and, when I met you and played that 5 football, it was one of the best nights of my life. I was with my idols in the field. Rest in peace, my idol, I love you. The wizard of wizards! Eternal.”
Stay tuned for more.