This article was first featured in Issue 6 of the Box To Box magazine on the assorted history of the World Cup with words by Ignasi Torne Gualdo and illustration by Matthew Shipley.
He was a filthy god. A sinner. The most human of the deities. Anyone could see in him a walking synthesis of human weaknesses. – Eduardo Galeano.
“Now, your name is Diego.” said Hernán after the ceremony. And I feel quite different, I start looking around at the people that surround me. I still have the taste of the pizza and Moscato, a traditional Italian wine, the favourite on Diego’s menu they say.
This is what happens when I try to integrate myself into a different culture. Everybody knows that Argentinians are crazy for football, the topic of football is a religion in Buenos Aires and nothing compares to the passionate fans singing and jumping before and after a game. Everything you have heard about the craziness of Argentinian football is true. And they embrace it, they love to be different from the rest of the world in footballing terms.
Hernán and Alejandro are both from Rosario and are fans of Newell’s Old Boys. Their sons love Diego too. For them, ‘El Pibe de Oro’ is part of their family. This is how they started this some years ago.
One day, in late-October, Alejandro called Hernán at midnight and the only thing he said was “Merry Christmas, my friend.” Hernán was confused, as it was late and he thought his friend would be drunk. But suddenly, he realises and then he understands. “Thanks, mate. Merry Christmas to you too.” Your life can change with just a little gesture, like a joke, half real, half… real. Because this is the Argentinian way to do things.
When it’s all about passion and love, they don’t joke. You just have to listen to Andrés Calamaro signing “Maradona no es una persona cualquiera”. Because no, he is not human. ‘El Potro’ Rodríguez compares Diego with Jesus, if the son of God can be wrong, why not Maradona?
Manu Chao declares “If I would be Maradona, I would live like him.” Nothing is more real than this. Diego Armando Maradona is the sun of the Argentinian flag. This is what I thought while I was reciting ‘Our Diego’, the prayer of every Maradonian baptised by the Iglesia. I put my hand on the World Cup replica trophy and I solemnly swore Diego’s ten commandments.
To adopt Diego as my second name, I felt that it was my duty to travel and discover the history behind ‘El Pelusa’. I headed to La Paternal, a Buenos Aires neighbourhood. It is a quiet area, with a familiar atmosphere and surrounded by murals everywhere related to the local team, Argentinos Juniors. In my opinion, there is the basic need to understand the character of Maradona. And to know how the locals think, your destination is an authentic bar and you just need to talk and talk. Lo de Tato seemed a good place to get in and speak with some local bar-going experts. After some questions helped them notice my Spanish accent, they asked me to join them. You can imagine how integrated one can be with a table, full of Argentine meat, wine and cigarettes. Even the police let the veterans smoke and shout.
“Oh, Diego was coming every day to eat with us when he was playing for the youth teams. Listen, guy! These two lads and I were invited to his wedding. This was a real wedding, more than 1.000 people enjoyed that party. No, it was more than one thousand. There were 1.500 people and not many caretas [expression in reference to rich or snobs]. If you ask the football fans here in Buenos Aires, all of them were at the stadium the day that Maradona made his Argentinos Jrs. debut. If you count every person present that day at La Paternal, the Azteca couldn’t host them! But we were at the stadium that day!” Juan Carlos smiles and look at me with pride, serving another cup of wine.
Jorge Valdano once said, “to be Rosarino is like to be Argentinian twice”. Despite the number 10 having played just five games for Newell’s Old Boys, the fans have the privilege, license and duty to sing “Here played the best of history. Here played Maradona. Diego wearing the colours of your club is even better than a trophy.”
I haven’t discovered the history behind the man, but understand a bit about where I come from. Because I will never forget the day I got baptised by Iglesia Maradoniana when I lived in Rosario, adopting Diego as my second name.