His nickname in Argentina is “El Dios” – or “The God.”
Both a play on his jersey number, 10 (“El Diez”), and a nod to the way Argentines viewed Maradona: as a god on the field, masterful in his footwork.
He took Argentina to victory over Mexico in the 1986 World Cup.
One of his shots in that tournament is considered the “goal of the century.”
So how does a football player go from being drafted to becoming a worshipped deity?
This is Diego Maradona’s rise to glory.
Rise of Maradona, “The Golden Boy”
Plucked from obscurity, Maradona rose to become a hero of the lower classes of Argentina.
Before long, he became the youngest Argentine to debut on the national team at 16 years old.
His mastery lay in his control over the ball and his ability to score and create opportunities for team members to score as well.
At 5’5”, his low center of gravity helped him maneuver and perform better than most, though his real value was his presence and leadership on the field.
He soon was deemed “El Pibe de Oro” – or “The Golden Boy.”
The 1986 World Cup win in the quarterfinal against England involved one goal that is now referred to as the “Hand of God.”
This is because, though the referee believed the goal was struck with his head, it was actually scored with Maradona’s hand.
Though he struggled with addiction which led to some controversy, he is regularly considered one of the top players (if not the top) of the 20th century.
Church of Diego Maradona
The fanaticism of Maradona in Argentina led to the creation of a parody church in his name.
The Church of Maradona was founded in 1998 on Maradona’s 38th birthday in Rosario, Argentina, by three of his fans.
Christmas is celebrated on Maradona’s birthday in October, and other memorable dates in Maradona’s life (including that “Hand of God” goal) are marked as holidays by the church as well.
One of its founders, Alejandro Verón, is quoted as saying:
“I have a rational religion and that’s the Catholic Church and I have a religion passed on my heart and passion and that’s Diego Maradona.”
Maradona’s birth in 1960 begins the world, with every year after designated d.D. (‘después de Diego’ in Spanish, or ‘after Diego’).
There are even ten commandments in the religion, the first of which is, “The ball is never soiled,” and the second, “Love football above all else.”
They thereafter become more Diego-focused, with the last commandment being, “Name your first son ‘Diego’.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, followers of the Church of Diego have spread to Mexico and Brazil and as far as Italy and Spain.
This lines up, as Maradona led club teams to the gold in Spain and Italy.
The idol worship is real and so are the church’s rituals, but its worshippers view their church as all in good fun.
Still, this level of fanaticism raises the question: how did Maradona capture the imaginations of Argentine society?
“The Golden Boy” passed away in 2020, at the age of 60, from cardiac arrest.
After his death, Buenos Aires University cultural professor, Pablo Alabarces, said of Maradona:
“In our collective imagination Diego Maradona represents a certain glorious past, he’s a symbol of what we might have been.”
Is this how? Is he a symbol of Argentina’s glorious past?
Whatever the case, he was mourned by many, and his legend and death were memorialized not only in Argentina but across the globe.