Football legend Maradona enjoyed legendary status like Muhammad Ali
Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the London Middle East Institute, believes that Diego Maradona “had something that one rarely finds in any human being.”
Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, recently passed away at the age of 60 because of a heart attack at his home. He was once a boy from the poor outskirts of Buenos Aires.
“A unique, mesmerizing combination of integrity, authenticity and charisma. This is what made him a larger than life personality,” Adib-Moghaddam noted.
He believes Maradona and Muhammad Ali are both “giants in the truest meaning of the word”.
“When the name of presidents, so-called tech-giants and others will be forgotten in the annals of human history, giants such as Maradona and Muhammad Ali will stand ten feet taller than the rest. They are giants in the truest meaning of the word,” remarked Adib-Moghaddam, who is also an expert in global thought as well as comparative philosophies.
The following is the text of the interview with him conducted and published by the Tehran Times.
“Q: Maradona, the world football legend, has died. This news was a big shock. I even saw on Twitter that researchers and academics sadly announced his death. Why was he considered a legend?
A: Allow me to start by expressing my sincere condolences to Maradona’s family, Argentina as a country and indeed the world of football. On a personal level, I was very saddened by his death, even beyond my own expectations. It was a true shock for everyone I have talked to.
Maradona had something that one rarely finds in any human being. A unique, mesmerising combination of integrity, authenticity and charisma. This is what made him a larger than life personality, or a legend in your words. Legends don’t really die exactly because of that almost metaphysical aura that they carry with them. The only person I can compare him with would be Muhammad Ali, who had a similarly legendary status because he combined all the attributes that made Maradona so special, as well. These giants of human history leave such indelible marks on the lives of people, that heaves this repository of common sentiments beyond time and space. This is why Maradona had a universal appeal, because his life connected with the sentiments of people all over the world on an immediate human and individual level. Again, it was the same with Muhammad Ali.
Q: Maradona was unique in terms of technical ability. The peak of his football career was at the 1986 World Cup. His two goals against England are remembered. One is "God's hand" and the other is dribbling half of the English players. The victory came as Britain and Argentina were at war over the Malvinas Islands, and Argentina was defeated and their national pride tarnished. It seems that Maradona's goals were a symbol of revenge for that war. What is your opinion?
A: He said so. Maradona was quite explicit about the political charge of the game for Argentina. This is not to say that he ever lost his human touch as a sportsman. Gary Lineker, one of the stars of English football, has had nothing but praise for Maradona exactly because he never mixed sports with politics in a crude and vulgar way. The game was more about the feeling of subjugation, David winning against Goliath – These were themes that Maradona identified with throughout his life which is why he is the people’s champion. Maradona felt for the people, and for the struggle of the oppressed because he worked himself up from poverty to success against all odds. The victory against England was a part of this narrative. Apart from that his goals showed the genius of the man, each in their own way. Unforgettable, even decades later. One of those flashpoints in history that will always be there as evidence for unique human ability.
“Maradona had a universal appeal because his life connected with the sentiments of people all over the world on an immediate human and individual level.”
Q: Maradona had given up all his popularity in the 1980s to the thoughts of Che Guevara and Castro, and this intensified the issuance of the Bolivarian Revolution and the Sierra Maestra Revolution. It was enough for Maradona to make a mistake; all the Western media covered it. Why did Maradona become an example of confrontation between two discourses and political currents in the international system, battle between left and right?
A: Maradona was not a political man, in the sense that he was not interested in power. This is another unique facet about him. He instinctively positioned himself on the opposite side of power, and used his status to support causes that he considered to be people’s focused. This is why he supported the Palestinians and why he was critical of U.S. invasions in West Asia. His fascination with Castro and later on Hugo Chavez was exactly due to this romanticism. He saw these leaders as embodiments of the struggles of the poor, or the wretched of the earth to use Frantz Fanon’s famous words. In this way Maradona was an anti-imperialist – He opposed subjugation and oppression. His infatuation with the events on Cuba and Venezuela was largely driven by this romantic feeling in support of the people.
Q: Some believe that his addiction to drugs may also be the work of Western and American security services. Only then could they destroy him. But this never failed to dispel his vigour. If you agree with this view, what is the reason? Why did Maradona remain a myth despite his drug addiction?
A: Maradona never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. Yes, the impingements on his life by organised crime cartels, even governments is well known. But it is exactly these instances of human error that make him so loved. He was not a manicured, Instagram, PR product of capitalism. He remained true to his background and principles, and confident enough to take everything on the chin that came with that persona. One of the things that mitigates my personal sadness about his death is the fact that he lived life to the full. He was what the Germans aptly call a “Lebemann” and the French a “bon vivant”. Those vices come with the territory and it is only in seeing them in another person that we can mirror our own fallibility as humans. Don’t forget that a fascist mentality is all about strict rules and adherence to laws and regulations. Maradona was the opposite. He was free.
Q: After saying goodbye to football, Maradona did not show interest to official football institutions, including FIFA. His goal with the hand, although it was a non-football and immoral act, is popular. Why didn’t he coalesce with official institutions, both on and off the football field?
A: I think if Maradona wanted to reinvent himself as a functionary, he would have done so. Judging from his interviews, style of living and coaching projects, however, I don’t think he was interested in pursuing a career such as Beckenbauer or Pele who were involved at the margins of sports politics. I genuinely think he disliked these types of institutional power and found all forms of governance suspect. His barrio was the football pitch, and his people were those who were marginalised like he was as a child. There was this “class consciousness” that was important to his life and that explains some of the decisions he took, from moving to Napoli as the biggest sports superstar at the time to playing in Seville and then coaching teams such as Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico and Gimnasia de la Plata.
Q: Maradona remains a myth in the 21st century as we witness demythologization. Why?
A: I think it goes back to that unique combination of authenticity, charisma and integrity. Maradona never pretended to be something that he wasn’t and he never betrayed whatever principle he believed in. This is the metaphysical effect that we started this interview with. It chimes with what we associate with heroes such as Hercules or Rostam. Those mythical champions are deeply embedded in our subliminal human DNA – individuals such as Maradona appeal to those sentiments which is why they defy the determinations of time, even space. They become literally “larger than life”. When the name of presidents, so-called tech-giants and others will be forgotten in the annals of human history, giants such as Maradona and Muhammad Ali will stand ten feet taller than the rest. They are giants in the truest meaning of the word.”