Dubai: Diego Maradona’s impact on lovers of the beautiful game exceeded all limits and borders, regardless of their nationality or allegiance.
The dream of meeting Diego Maradona stayed with me for many years, but I never imagined that first time I would see the legend face-to-face would be at Dubai Central Jail.
It was a Tuesday morning of December 2011, when I went to Al Awir Central Jail to cover the closing ceremony of the “World Cup” tournament organised for inmates at the centre.
Dubai Police made a promise to journalists about a special guest coming to present the medals to the winning team. When he arrived, I thought my eyes were deceiving me at first but that really was the legendary Maradona wearing a navy blue shirt and walking with police officials to the main stage of the ceremony.
I fell in love with football watching Maradona on television during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. To the Argentine people, Maradona is a celestial deity. For me and other football fans, he is the player we all wish we could have been.
Watching Maradona in front of me gave me goosebumps. It was one of the best moments of my life. I stood a few metres away alongside the inmates trying to shake his hand. Some struggled to have a close look at the legend of football. For the inmates, having Maradona anywhere nearby would have been enough. But to have the legend kick-off their ‘World Cup’ final and present the medals made prison life a lot brighter, at least for an afternoon.
“We all might commit mistakes but it is possible, after getting out, to look to our lives and future in a better light,” Maradona told the prisoners in a speech before the kick-off. “There is not a better way than football to give a better feeling of the future.” After nine years of that speech, I was at home watching TV, when I received a notification on my smartphone that the legend had passed away.
There are certain footballers that transcend the beautiful game, mere mortals who watch football see them as fictional beings. I remembered one of the inmates that I interviewed after the legend left the prison’s yard that day. He told me: “It is impossible to define the indefinable. Diego is eternal.”