Earlier this year we were in Argentina for the Pro League matches of the Orange teams. There we looked back on Diego Maradona’s visit to the Argentina – Canada Hockey World League match, more than five years ago. On the day that the football legend died, we publish this special story again as a tribute.
Argentine player Lucas Vila points with his hand at the Cenard complex in Buenos Aires to the ground beneath his feet, to the path that runs behind the main grandstand. “Here he walked,” he says with a big smile and a tone as if he’s just a little kid again, instead of a grown man of 33 years old. “Here, exactly where we are now.”
Under the bar at Argentina on 6 June 2015 was the star Juan Manuel Vivaldi, the goalkeeper who is now even at the age of 40 still not too stiff to defend Argentina’s goal. “Of course I had to focus on the game,” he says. ‘Only: halfway through the second quarter that was almost impossible. Suddenly I saw him. Across the street, behind the other target. I could hardly believe it, but it was really Diego who climbed into the video tower. ‘
There was a real VIP room for Maradona and his traveling circus in the video tower, to prevent the common people from flying to the legend like bees to honey. The love of the Argentines for their folk hero is indescribable. Despite his excesses off the field, they have never forgotten how he helped his country to the world title in 1986.
As head coach of Gimnasia de la Plata, a top division relegation contender, he is currently touring the country as an attraction. In every away match, he is sung louder in the opponent’s stadium than players from the home team. Maradona is probably the only coach in the world for whom a throne is placed in the dugout every game. Nobody in Argentina thinks it’s crazy.
All week we had heard rumors that he was coming. Before the start of the game, we understood that it was almost certain to happen. But with Maradona you never know. When he says he’s coming, it doesn’t mean he’s coming, ‘Vila says with a laugh.
Vila: ‘I still remember the moment he arrived at the stadium. It was in the second quarter, it was 0-0. He passed behind the stands here, with all his bodyguards. On the field, we noticed that everyone in the audience was suddenly distracted. Nobody looked at us anymore, at the game. Everyone was only interested in Diego. ‘
Halfway through the game it was 1-1. In the provisional dressing room, a white tent next to the field, according to Vila and Vivaldi, national coach Carlos Retegui spent three minutes for the match meeting. If it were not less. For the remainder of the time, he had a surprise in store. He opened the flaps of the tent. Then suddenly he was standing there, the greatest footballer of all time.
Vivaldi: ‘I didn’t know what I was going through. My mouth fell wide in surprise. One by one Diego shook hands with everyone. A hand and a hug. Then we made a tour and Diego spoke.
The speech Maradona gave
Vivaldi: ‘He said that his father was ill and that he was doing very badly. It was an emotional moment. Tears were in his eyes. He said we had to win for his father and for Argentina. And that we had to play with passion for our homeland. He always had, he said. Then the peace was over and we went back to the field. It gave us so much energy that we played great in the second half. We won 2-1. ‘
Maradona did not experience the end of the game. He left a few minutes before the final whistle to get ahead of the crowd. “His speech is definitely in the top five of my best memories in hockey,” says Vila. ‘Every Argentinian dreams of touching Maradona one day in his life. I did it. I will never forget it.’