Football legend Diego Maradona dies at 60

One of the greatest footballers of all time, Maradona passed away at age 60 after suffering a heart attack in Tigre, Argentina.

Maradona led Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986 [File: Carlo Fumagalli/AP Photo]

Argentinian football legend Diego Armando Maradona, one of the greatest players of all time, has died after suffering a heart attack.

He was 60.

Argentina President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning following Maradona’s death in the city of Tigre on Wednesday.

“You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy,” the president tweeted.

Maradona, who in 1986 led Argentina to a World Cup triumph, had a history of health problems.

Earlier this month, he underwent successful brain surgery for a blood clot at a private clinic in the capital, Buenos Aires.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo, reporting from Buenos Aires, said people were “just getting used to the idea that he [Maradona] will no longer be here”.

“People have been saying that Maradona made them cry out of happiness because he helped them win the World Cup … now, they will be crying out of pain,” Bo said.

Maradona leaves behind two daughters and one son.

‘We are in mourning’

Retired Brazilian football star Pele mourned the Argentinian icon’s death.

“Sad news to lose a friend like that. May God give enough strength to his family. For sure, one day we will kick a ball together in heaven,” he said in a brief statement.

In 2001, FIFA named Maradona one of the two greatest players in the sport’s history, alongside Pele.

Former football stars Brazilian Edson Arantes do Nascimento (‘Pele’) and Argentinian Diego Maradona, left, sit together at a reception May 14, 1995 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil [File: Guillermo Copolla/Reuters]

Former teammate and Argentine player Osvaldo Ardiles said Maradona was the “best football player in the history of football”.

“Thank dear Dieguito for your friendship, for your football, sublime, without comparison,” Ardiles posted on Twitter.

“Simply, the best football player in the history of football. So many enjoyable moments together. Impossible to say which one was the best. RIP my dear friend.”

Italian football club Napoli, based in the city of Naples, said the death of its former player was a “devastating blow” for both the city and the club.

“We are in mourning,” said club spokesman Nicola Lombardo. “We feel like a boxer who has been knocked out. We are in shock.”

Maradona played for Napoli between 1984 and 1991, helping the city win its first Serie A league title.

Hours after his death, Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris said the city’s football stadium should be renamed to honour Maradona.

‘Pure genius’

One of eight children, Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, in the city of Lanus near Buenos Aires.

Growing up in a poor neighbourhood, Maradona gained fame at age 10 by performing at halftime during professional matches, wowing crowds by keeping the ball airborne for minutes with his feet, chest and head.

He made his playing debut with the Argentinos Juniors youth team, leading a squad of mostly 14-year-olds through 136 unbeaten matches.

“To see him play was pure bliss, true stardom,” teammate Carlos Beltran said.

Maradona played from 1976-81 for Argentinos Juniors, then went to Boca Juniors for a year before heading to Barcelona for a world-record $8m.

In 1984, the Spanish giants sold his contract to Napoli. He remade its fortunes almost singlehandedly, taking his new team to the 1987 Italian league championship for its first title in 60 years.

Argentinian football superstar Diego Armando Maradona cheers after the Napoli team clinches its first Italian major league title in Naples on May 10, 1987 [File: Meazza Sambucetti/AP]

One of his most memorable moments came in the 1986 World Cup when Maradona netted one of his iconic goals with his hand, while playing against England in the quarterfinals but when the referee was unable to see his trick. The goal is infamously known as “The Hand of God”.

Then, he scored a second goal of scarcely believable quality, when he dribbled past almost the whole England team before scoring, widely seen as the greatest individual goal in World Cup history.

Argentina went on to win the 1986 World Cup beating West Germany 3-2 in the final in Mexico City.

A year after losing the 1990 World Cup final to West Germany, Maradona moved to Spanish club Sevilla, but his career was on the decline. He played five matches at Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys in 1994 before returning from 1995-1997 to Boca – his final club.

Health issues

Towards the end of his career, drug problems overshadowed his final playing years.

Maradona failed a doping test in 1991 and was banned for 15 months, acknowledging his longtime cocaine addiction. Cocaine, he once said famously, had proven to be his “toughest rival.”

He failed another doping test for stimulants and was thrown out of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Towards the end of his football career, drug problems overshadowed his final playing years [File: Javier Soriano/AFP]

Hospitalised and near death in 2000 and again in 2004 for heart problems blamed on cocaine, he later said he overcame the drug problem.

But more health problems followed, despite 2005 gastric bypass surgery that greatly trimmed his weight. Maradona was hospitalised in early 2007 for acute hepatitis that his doctor blamed on excessive drinking and eating.

He made an unlikely return to the national team in 2008 when he was appointed Argentina’s coach, but after a quarter-final exit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he was ousted.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies