1 January 2004

WITH HIS LEFT FOOT IN CUBA AND HIS HEART IN JAPAN

MARINA ZUCCHI (reporter of Clarín)    E-mail: giornalista@ubbi.com

He was not in the Japanese stadium of Yokohama, but there is no doubt that in spite of distance his heart was beating like the heart of those Argentinean fans who had  travelled to the other part of the world to support Boca Juniors. For the "number 10" the greatest happiness in December came from his beloved team, which defeated AC Milan and won the Intercontinental Cup for the third time in its history.

Like in the year 2000, Maradona was forced to stay away from the match. Problems with getting a Japanese visa did not allow him to be at the stadium and be one more fan supporting Boca, but this time he got his little revenge: he enjoyed the travel of his "two embassadors" - his daughters - who, as Diego said "took there my eyes, my heart, my soul".

"That's how the braves play. Beauty is not in kicking your opponent", he said while celebrating after the match, as if this triumph after penalty kicks had been his work too. The Boca fans who travelled to witness this great achievement in the Far East and who sung the famous "Maradó" chorus, swear that his ghost flew over the stadium... that his magic helped the players of Carlos Bianchi's team and even that his bravery frightened the Milan players...

Nostalgic legend or not, one thing is sure, that no matter if time goes by and no matter how hard he can try, "Pelusa" will always be remembered as the great football player who defended the most popular colors of Argentina.

The Argentinean Radio Mitre interviewed him just after the match with the president of Boca, Mauricio Macri, with whom he had always had a "complex" relationship. The triumph, however, erased all the old problems and Diego begged the staff not to let Bianchi go, since he had been the most triumphant coach in the history of Boca.

And the word Maradona kept echoing in Argentina apart from the Boca celebrations. The launch of a wine named after him and the new theatre musical about his life confirm that despite his isolation in Cuba the best football player ever is still a useful brand to make good business.

"The number 10, between heaven and hell" is a musical that will certainly give a lot to talk about in Buenos Aires, where it will debut on January 7th. The author explains that it is going to be the story of "a man who committed the sin of being the best of all". The work will deal about his childhood and youth, but the thing people m,ost expect will be to see an old Maradona, with 80 years of age, who will reflect about his life.

In the meanwhile, the travelling Museum prepared by Maradona's family, will make one more stop before starting its international tour. The exhibition will visit the city of Mar del Plata (a famous touristic resort in the austral summer) after receiving more than 120.000 visitors in Buenos Aires. The most distant location for the exhibition will be as far as South Korea, where it is expected in April.

One more thing to say is that Argentinos Juniors, the team in which Maradona grew up and made his debut back in 1976, has renovated its stadium. A lot of words were said whether it should be named after Diego Maradona or not and this generated a little dispute between the fans of Argentinos and Maradona himself, who has been accused of "having forgotten the club". A final name was not given yet and Diego did not go to the big party, but his parents did, and they were given a plaque for the love they showed towards the club.

"I am proud of having been a Cebollita. And of having used that red shirt with a white diagonal line. And actually I am proud of having given my life for Argentinos", D answered Diego on the Olé newspaper.

So what are his plans for the 2004?, the Maradona fans from all over the world are asking. He has changed football and passion from people for golf and distance from flashes. The closest news could be his comeback to the green football field in the farewell match of Carlos Valderrama, on February 1st.

Diego has been invited with other stars such as Cantona, Francescoli and Chilavert to the farewell of the Columbian player. But as soon as the eternal left foot touched a ball once again, his figure becomes the prime actor on the scene. In the end, his performance would be like a small consolation for all those people who still do not resign to lose the football player who enchanted the planet more than anyone else.