A week on the road for Diego Maradona has seen the Argentinean taunting journalists, ice-skating and praising Vladimir Putin
Where Diego Maradona goes, headlines follow and this past week has certainly been no different as the media circus followed the iconic Argentinian to Naples, where he was made an honorary citizen, to the usual backdrop of scandal and farce.
Thirty-three years ago almost to the day, the intense love affair between Diego Maradona and the city of Naples began; supporters packed the Stadio San Paolo in 1984 to catch a glimpse of their historic new signing and on Wednesday, el D10S was back in perhaps the only place that loves him more than Argentina.
The honour presented by the Mayor of Naples would perhaps normally be a reserved, formal affair but this is no ordinary recipient and when bands warmed up the crowd, they were met with boos as the impatient supporters wanted just one thing.
Maradona eventually took to the stage and accepted the award saying, “I’ve been a citizen since I arrived in Naples. No one welcomed me like the Neapolitans, and I thank those who didn’t want me to become a citizen, as it proves that we can do anything in a democracy.”
And from there Maradona left to be with his disciples where he the tone was anything but formal; perched on the roof of his car, the Napoli hero led the crowd in anti-Juventus songs and bizarrely posed for photos flashing his bare chest with pride.
For those in Naples and for many still in Argentina, Maradona can do no wrong; his flaws are part of his character and seem to fuel the fiery World Cup winner to do and say exactly what he wants.
When one Italian newspaper suggested that Diego had demanded payment for the ceremony in Naples, Maradona responded in typically diplomatic fashion: “I’d like to find the person who said I came here to earn $260,953 and I’d spit in his face.”
However, this wasn’t the only criticism of the award as even former teammates from Napoli’s 1987 Scudetto-winning side suggested that Maradona shouldn’t be the only honorary citizen but a moment in the life of one of football’s greatest but most controversial characters wouldn’t be complete without a little drama.
Since lifting two Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup, Maradona’s relation with Italy has not been without controversy, thanks to his well-publicised drug use, long standing issues regarding tax evasion and rumoured links to the Neapolitan mafia.
5 July 1984…
The day Maradona shocked the world and joined Napoli. pic.twitter.com/RymLcZwHQJ
— Old Days Football (@OldDaysFootball) July 5, 2017
For almost the thirty-odd years since then, this has been the life of Diego Maradona – unquestionably one of the greatest players to ever kick a football but also a tabloid gossip column regular.
Only in the past few weeks, Maradona responded to criticism of his famous ‘hand of god’ from Brazilian Dani Alves, branding him an idiot, noted his absence from Lionel Messi’s wedding by suggesting that his invitation was lost in the post, very vocally criticised new Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli and added a further chapter in his complicated personal life by calling his ex-wife a thief.
During his trip to Russia prior to arriving in Naples, Maradona uttered one of the few things that most would actually agree with when questioned on United States president Donald Trump: “For me, he’s more of a comic. He’s like a cartoon to me.”
But as quickly as Maradona had you in agreement, all was lost: “Putin is a man who can bring peace to many in this world. He’s a phenomenon, simply a phenomenon. “
Amid the sight of Maradona downing shots vodka and tottering around on ice-rinks, there was also the more serious accusation of sexual harassment from a Russian journalist, who claimed that her dress was ripped off in a hotel room before being thrown out in her underwear. The accusations have been strongly disputed by Maradona and his lawyers from Cohen Law firm and there was certainly no sign of worry when in Naples.
For a man idolised since his teens, Maradona lives in a bubble. The past week a perfect snapshot of his life – idolatry and tabloid controversy in almost equal measure.