For many of us, Diego Armando Maradona was a once-in-life phenomenon. Some of us were lucky to see him live on TV; for others, he was a stuff of legend, unlike any other who had ever set a foot on a football field. His death on November 25 saddened millions—perhaps billions—of his fans the world over. In 1986, watching the World Cup for the very first time on TV, Nepalis were instantly mesmerized by this diminutive magician. And they continue to be.
Indra Khadka, 45, from Pathari Shanishchare, Morang first saw Maradona live during the 1990 World Cup. Later, he didn’t miss a single match featuring the little Argentinian. “Maradona’s skills with the ball and overall match-awareness remain unmatched in football,” he says. “His slick slicing movements through the opponent’s defense and his dribbling skills were works of pure art.”
Ganesh Karki, 34, a blogger from Morang who is currently living in Kathmandu, says he vaguely remembers people gathering in the courtyard of his ancestral house to watch Maradona play in the 1990 World Cup. It was only many-many years later that he would actually get to see Maradona in action, this time on YouTube. “I find his ball-control skills out of the world. No other footballer has as good a control while running with the ball,” he says.
Aakriti Singh, a Kathmandu based sports journalist, sees Maradona as the greatest football player of all time. “For every football lover, he is an idol,” she says. She adds her dad still fondly recalls the 1986 World Cup. Argentina won the contest under Maradona’s leadership. This is one reason, says Singh, Nepalis came to adore Argentina and its most-beloved son.
For Singh, seeing the legendary footballer transition from a strapping athlete to an over-weight teary cocaine addict, was heartbreaking. “And it is even more heartbreaking now that he is no more with us,” she adds.
Ram Subedi, 20, from Bhaktapur, says Maradona became his idol after he watched him on YouTube. “He has brilliant dribbling skills and his spin move drill is perfect,” Subedi adds.
Bicky Jack, 30, an IT professional from Kathmandu, remembers listening to his father praise Maradona. Fondly recalling his father’s stories told all those years ago, Bicky still watches Maradona’s clips on the internet time and again.
Likewise, Mukesh Raj Ranjitkar, 49, a businessman in Nawalparasi, says he remembers only a little football from his childhood but the images of Maradona still come back crystal-clear. “I remember his bicycle kick inspired many contemporary players. We used to call it Coca Cola style—I don’t know why exactly,” he recalls.
Mukesh Raj Ranjitkar
Ranjitkar says Maradona, while playing, used to run fast with great ball control. Ranjitkar’s admiration for the Napoli forward only increased on learning that, following the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and United Kingdom, the footballer became a great admirer of the valor of Gurkha soldiers.
Nishan Baral, 26, a forestry student from Lalitpur, says he wasn’t even born when Maradona was playing and yet he has come to associate the name with football itself. “There are a few players who transcend their generation, and Maradona was one of them,” he adds. For Baral, Maradona became a cool legend who was fun to watch on social media, and now that he is no more his presence will be greatly missed.
Deepak Raj Giree, 51, a famous actor in the Nepali movie industry, writes on his Facebook profile page, that people of his generation started supporting Argentina only because of Maradona. In fact, Nepali football fans to this day support Argentina because Maradona was once a part of it.
Prakriti Lamichhane, 23, an MBBS student in Kathmandu, who also loves playing football, says, as a little kid, the only memory of Diego Maradona was his ‘Hand of God’ goal. She could not watch him live but later was awestruck when her coach played back videos of the maestro.
“His brilliant ball control, dribbling, and agility are peerless,” she adds. She says she tried to copy some of his on-field moves—mostly unsuccessfully. “For someone who plays football herself, he is an absolute legend, and a true inspiration.”