‘He only gave us joy’: Argentines pay homage to Diego Maradona

Buenos Aires, Argentina – Amid loud chants to dismiss a football legend who had left too early, Wilson Cisnero leaned against a brightly painted brick building on which there was a simple small sign he had glued. “God is with God”, he writes, punctuated with the number 10.

The 25-year-old had traveled two kilometers (1.2 miles) to get to Buenos Aires’ famous La Boca neighborhood because, like many others, he didn’t know where to go when he learned that Diego Maradona was deceased.

Crowds gathered outside La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most famous football clubs, who once counted Maradona as its star.

“Argentina is Maradona,” Cisnero said, his devastation clear through his glassy gaze. “You look at all this shame with the coronavirus and now this other shame,” he lamented. “Now football is left without its God.”

Wilson Cisnero stands in front of a ‘God is with God’ sign in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

That same pain was written on the faces of Argentines on Wednesday, as the nation grappled with his unexpected death. To the world he was Maradona. For Argentina, he was “El Diego” – a kid who pushed slums, dazzled on the pitch like no other, dominated the sport and delivered World Cup glory that has yet to be repeated in Argentina.

Maradona suffered cardiac arrest at her home, north of the capital Buenos Aires, on Wednesday. He had recently undergone brain surgery, making headlines. He was 60 years old.

“It’s something you can’t describe,” said Rafael Bellido, 49, sitting on the steps of La Bombonera, next to his partner Marcela Reynoso, as they shared a companion, a traditional Argentinian brew. . “El Diego was the person who represented us the best,” he said. “When he was playing, you were looking and wanted to curse, he would curse. He reflected us. In addition to everything he has done in the field.

“Now is the time when Argentinian society must return all the joy he has given us,” he added. “And how long he made us happy. A long moment. Every time he touched the ground. You can’t describe it.

Marcela Reynoso and Rafael Bellido mourn Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

As tributes poured in from around the world, President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning, canceling all his commitments as the government prepared to hold a vigil at the presidential palace. The government expects a million people to pay tribute to him. Government buildings will be illuminated in the colors of the Argentine flag in his honor.

In a statement, Fernandez said it was the Argentines’ luck to have been able to experience the era of Maradona, to have seen his greatness and appreciated his affection.

“I doubt that we will ever see another player like Maradona in any way, not only because of his technical qualities, but also because of that courage, that strength, that courage, which he has shown every time. that he put on the jersey he defended. An exceptional player who only gave us joy, ”he said.

“Maradona was a genuine man, he stood up for what he believed in,” added the president. “He is a good example of what ordinary Argentines are, so visceral. Above all, I have always insisted that he was never a fraudster – he said what he didn’t like.

By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people had gathered at the foot of the Buenos Aires Obelisk, singing the praises of Maradona as a giant banner sported its face waved in the wind. Outside La Bombonera, crowds erupt into intermittent songs and dances.

“Diego is not dead, Diego is not dead, Diego lives in the village,” chanted the crowd. Each had their own story, their own reason for being there and what it meant to them. His incredible ups and downs that he also experienced were theirs too.

“There will always be criticism,” Reynoso said. “The important thing is that he has found his own happiness.”

Diego Covelo marks a sign in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

Diego Covelo, who considers himself a member of the fan-founded Maradoniana Church in 1988, pasted a poster of Maradona in his Boca Juniors jersey outside the stadium. He and a few friends had been watching outside the clinic during the football legend’s recent hospital admission.

“If we were there during the good times of course we have to be there during the bad times,” said Covelo, 35.

Josue Mustafa, 24, saw children playing football on the way to La Boca and said to himself: ” This is Maradona’s legacy.

It will stay with everyone – young people and older people. “

Blanca Salursi, standing under a giant mural of El Diego in La Boca, recalled seeing him play when he was young in one of Buenos Aires’ slums

“I also came from the slums, you come from below,” said the 60-year-old woman. And with a twinkle in her teary eyes as she turned to leave, she said, “Never forget he was the best there was.”

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