Italy pays tribute to football legend Diego Maradona

Naples is to rename its stadium after the city’s beloved football hero.

The death of Diego Armando Maradona, on 25 November, has plunged the Italian city, Naples, into mourning for the football legend who played seven golden years with Napoli, leading the club to two Serie A victories.

The Argentine footballer helped Napoli win its first Serie A league title in 1987, a remarkable feat that saw the team overcome heavyweights Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, and win a second Italian league title in 1990 – a feat the club has never matched since.

When news broke that he had died yesterday – after suffering a cardiac arrest aged 60 – Neapolitans took to the streets to mourn their hero who remains revered three decades after he left Napoli.

The city’s Stadio S. Paolo turned on all of its spotlights in honor of Maradona. Late last night, it was confirmed that the stadium is to be renamed in honor of the footballer who scored 115 goals for Napoli, despite playing primarily in a creative role as an attacking midfielder.

Describing Maradona as “the greatest footballer of all time,” Naples mayor Luigi De Magistris tweeted: “Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius. In 2017 he became our honorary citizen. Diego, Neapolitan, and Argentine, you have given us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!”

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte led tributes to the footballer, who was released from the hospital a couple of weeks ago following brain surgery: “The whole world mourns the passing of Maradona, who with his unparalleled talent wrote unforgettable pages in the history of football. Goodbye, eternal champion.”

According to the Vatican press office, Pope Francis, who famously shared a warm embrace with his co-national in 2014, is praying for Maradona. “The pope was informed about the death of Diego Maradona, he recalls the times he met him in these past years with affection, and he remembers him in his prayers, as he did in the past days when he was informed about his condition,” said Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni.

Pope Francis and Maradona in 2014.

An avid soccer fan, the Argentine pope, met with Maradona in 2014 during a special audience linked to a charity soccer game. The football legend presented Francis with a jersey emblazoned with “Francisco” and Maradona’s signature No. 10.

Italy’s sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora tweeted: “Maradona’s death is terrible news. He was more than a champion; he was a football genius, an absolute champion. He represented the dreams and hopes of the people of my city in an unrepeatable season. Naples is crying tonight.”

Napoli tweeted “Ciao Diego, Always in our hearts,” with the club sharing a flood of posts from rival teams, notably Juventus, which shared Maradona’s historic “impossible goal” that defeated the northern giants in Naples in 1985. Napoli fans deeply appreciated the magnanimous gesture.

Maradona led Napoli into a golden era of football.

This weekend all of Italy’s league matches will begin with a minute’s silence to mark Maradona’s death.

As the greatest football player who ever lived, Maradona captained Argentina to victory in Mexico’s 1986 World Cup. During that tournament, in the quarter-final against England, he scored a goal with his hand in an infamous incident he referred to as the “hand of God.”

Maradona’s native country is reeling over his sudden death, even though his poor health and struggles with addiction had long been a subject of intense media attention.

Former England striker Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter that Maradona was by “some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully, he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God.”