Buenos Aires, Naples, London (6/5 – 63)
One of the football’s greats, Diego Maradona, still works from heaven as two teams that are symbolized by him become champions again not long after his death. On 25 November 2020, at the age of 60, Maradona suffered cardiac arrest and died in his sleep at his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina. No one could question Maradona’s significance in world football. He was widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
Alongside Pele, Maradona was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the 20th Century award. His most famous achievements involve Argentina at the international level and Napoli at the club level.
For Argentina, Maradona earned 91 caps and scored 34 goals. He captained Argentina in the 1986 FIFA World Cup and led them to victory where he also won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
In the quarter-final of that tournament, Maradona recorded two of the most famous goals in history as Argentina defeated England 2-1. One is an unpenalized handling foul that Maradona himself called “Hand of God”. The other one is a 60 meters dribble past five England players. The goal was voted “Goal of the Century” by FIFA.com voters in 2002. At Napoli, Maradona almost single-handedly elevated the team to the most successful era in its history.
Before Maradona’s arrival, Italian football was dominated by teams from the north and center of the country, such as AC Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, and Roma. No team in the south of the Italian Peninsula had ever won a league title. Led by Maradona, Napoli won their first-ever Serie A Italian Championship in 1986–1987 and again in 1989-1990.
Both Argentina and Napoli suffer difficulties after The Maradona Era. Many talented players emerge in Argentina and they were dubbed The New Maradona such as Ariel Ortega, Marcelo Gallardo, Juan Roman Riquelme, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola, dan Carlos Tevez.
Unlike Maradona, none of them could win The FIFA World Cup. The same thing happened at Napoli. After the 1990’s success, Napoli could not become the Italian champion again. Their best achievement in Serie A is second place in 2012-2013, 2015-2016, and 2017-2018 seasons.
As if Argentina and Napoli need Maradona’s help from heaven, they only managed to become champions again about two years after the superstar’s death. Finally, there is one player dubbed The New Maradona who fulfilled his status. Lionel Messi almost single-handedly carried Argentina to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup, 36 years after Maradona’s triumph in 1986.
Messi scored seven goals and assisted three more in the tournament including two in the final against France on 18 December 2022. Just like Maradona, Messi won the Golden Ball award as the best overall player. Five months after Argentina’s glory, 4 May 2023, Napoli secured a third Serie A title, 33 years after Maradona’s exploit in 1990.
There is no dominance of a single player for Napoli this time. But they have a very solid team that would make Maradona proud. Napoli dominate the 2002-2023 Serie A from the beginning as they occupied first place on the table since week 6 of the competition. Expectedly, Argentina and Napoli dedicated their newest glory to Maradona.
“Diego is watching us from heaven. He is pushing us, he is encouraging us from heaven,” Messi told reporters after the 2022 World Cup final. “The fans have seen great coaches and great players, they’re supporters who watched Maradona play, and probably some kind of protection from him has led to this result,” Napoli’s coach Spalletti told DAZN.
Maradona makes Argentina and Napoli believe. Even from heaven, he continues to spur his beloved teams to glory.