The footballing world was plunged into shock and sadness as news emerged that Diego Maradona died of a heart attack on Wednesday. Diego Maradona had died after suffering a heart attack at his home in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Reuters reported.Maradona, 60, had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural haematoma several weeks ago. The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager is widely reckoned as the greatest player of all time. He was largely responsible for Argentina’s World Cup victory in 1986 in Mexico, scoring two famous goals in one game against England in the quarter-finals.

Shashi Tharoor, the Lok Sabha MP, led the tributes when he posted an emotional tribute of Diego Maradona on his Twitter handle stating that, “God has reclaimed his hand.” It was a play on that infamous or legendary ‘Hand of God’ goal which he scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.

In Argentina, he was worshipped as ‘El Dios’ – The God – partly a play on words on his number 10 shirt, ‘El Diez.’ In his hometown of Rosario, there is a church named in honour of Diego Maradona called Iglesia Maradoniana which has been built by some of his hard-core fans.

BCCI president and former India cricket team captain Sourav Ganguly also expressed sadness that his hero was no more, sharing a picture of him with Diego Maradona some years ago.

The religion is so entrenched that even time spans are named after Diego Maradona. For example, the birth of time begins from October 30, 1960, the day Maradona was born. Thus, the year is 60 AD (After Diego) for people who come to the church. The Iglesia was founded on October 30 in the city of Rosario, Argentina by three fans (Héctor Campomar, Alejandro Verón and Hernan Amez). It is seen as a syncretism or as a religion and not exactly a cult. One of the founders, Alejandro Veron said: “I have a rational religion, and that’s Catholic Church, and I have a religion passed on my heart, passion, and that’s Diego Maradona.”

In a 2008 article in The Guardian, the Church of Maradona released their version of the 10 commandments which imbibed football and the personality of Maradona. Its stated, “The ball is never soiled, Love football above all else, Declare unconditional love for Diego and the beauty of football, Defend the Argentina shirt, Spread the news of Diego’s miracles throughout the universe, Honor the temples where he played and his sacred shirts, Don’t proclaim Diego as a member of any single team, Preach and spread the principles of the Church of Maradona, Make Diego your middle name and name your first son Diego, Don’t live estranged from reality and don’t be useless.

Stellar international career

In his international career with Argentina, Maradona earned 91 caps and scored 34 goals. Maradona played in four FIFA World Cups, including the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where he captained Argentina and led them to victory over West Germany in the final, and won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. In the 1986 World Cup quarter final, he scored both goals in a 2–1 victory over England that entered football history for two different reasons. The first goal was an unpenalized handling foul known as the “Hand of God”, while the second goal followed a 60 meter dribble past five England players, voted “Goal of the Century” by voters in 2002.

The Argentinian was the first player in football history to set the world record transfer fee twice, first when he transferred to Barcelona for a then world record GBP 5 million, and second, when he transferred to Napoli for another record fee GBP 6.9 million. He played for Argentinos Juniors, Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla and Newell’s Old Boys during his club career, and is most famous for his time at Napoli and Barcelona where he won numerous accolades.

Diego Maradona had a deep connection with India and his death is a major shock for millions of football lovers in India.

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