Millennium Post
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Argentines caught between love and indifference for Maradona

Buenos Aires: Argentine legend Diego Maradona is a controversial idol, worshipped as a god for his World Cup-winning exploits but whose life of excess has left a tormented public back home torn between veneration and derision.

The 57-year-old hit the headlines in Russia this week when he was filmed making two-handed middle-finger gestures to fans during Argentina's narrow win over Nigeria in their final World Cup pool game.

How to take his attention-grabbing outbursts is a recurring theme back home in Argentina.

"He thinks that the love that Argentines lavish on him is so great that when he behaves badly we'll look the other way," said 55-year-old businessman Bruno Sollner.

Daniel Carballo, 56, agreed that Maradona "is not an example, at least not for me and most of my friends and my family, no."

"There are things that are not acceptable, but well, he's like that," Carballo added.

Other South Americans tend to perceive Argentines as arrogant, and Maradona's cockiness and public anguish seem to personify a nation's suffering at its team's stuttering performance in Russia.

"He is arrogant, he gets out of control because of arrogance," said Sollner.

Maradona got adoration for his goals against England in the 1986 World Cup, both the cheat goal he scored with his hand -- he called it the "Hand of God" -- and another, when he danced past five English players to score what is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest goals of all time. In Buenos Aires that day, he became a god. It was almost as if he had avenged with a football Argentina's painful defeat in the Falklands War against Britain four years earlier.

Irreverent, charismatic and provocative, Maradona remains an idol in Argentina, even for a generation too young to have seen him play, when his name became synonymous with footballing genius.

Paula Garcia Paz, a teacher, was six when Maradona lifted the World Cup in 1986.

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