Diego Maradona passed away at his home in Tigre after suffering a heart attack on Wednesday morning.
The Argentina idol was recovering at his home in Tigre after undergoing brain surgery to fix a blood clot at the start of November.
But on Wednesday morning he suffered cardiac arrest, and paramedics at the scene failed to revive him, sending the world into the throes of grief.
“He only gave us Argentines joy,” President Alberto Fernandez stated as he decreed three days of national mourning, an honour previously afforded to just a handful of figures in the country’s history, including late head of state Juan Domingo Peron and wife Evita.
“Maradona is Argentina, I highly doubt that the world will ever see another Maradona.”
Like Peron and Evita, Diego had his detractors, often justified in their criticism. He could be boorish, foul-mouthed, self-destructive, and time and again allowed himself to be led down dark roads by unscrupulous managers, agents and hangers-on.
But he was also a symbol of hope, proof that any kid with a dream, no matter how humble or difficult their upbringing, could rise up and reach the pinnacle of human achievement.
Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, in the Policlinica Lanus, a short distance from the tiny, ramshackle home he shared with parents, Don Diego and Dona Tota, and his seven siblings in the shanty town Villa Fiorito.
As a child he honed his unique footballing abilities in the informal matches held on the wastelands and dirt roads of the villa , in a childhood which also moulded him psychologically. No opponent was too big, too intimidating or too vicious for the little Pelusa to take on and humiliate with his other-wordly dribbling skills, or to confront when he felt an injustice had been committed.
By the age of 16 he was already wowing fans with Argentinos Juniors, having made his debut against Talleres in a match which, so the story goes, hundreds of thousands claim to have witnessed first-hand, dwarfing the capacity of the La Paternal stadium which now carries his name.
A short but dazzling spell with local giants Boca Juniors followed, forging a mutual love between club and player which persisted until his dying day, as did his explosive stint under Cesar Menotti at Barcelona, marred by the horrifying ankle injury inflicted by Andoni Goikoetxea, the ‘Butcher of Bilbao’, and the beginnings of a drug addiction that would overshadow so many of his later years.
But it was upon arriving at unfashionable Napoli in 1984 that Maradona began the transformation from player to demi-god.
From day one, Diego immediately felt at home in Naples, having grown up in extreme poverty in Villa Fiorito, an overpopulated shantytown in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.
He found a team, city and public that endured the same problems as he did growing up. It was a dysfunctional, downtrodden, yet hugely passionate about football.
The people of Naples actually helped fund-raise his transfer from Barcelona, topping up an extra £500,000 for the deal to go through.
“I want to become the idol of the poor children of Naples because they are like I was when I lived in Buenos Aires,” he said on his first day as a player there.
Before his arrival, a team from the southern mainland had never won the Scudetto.
Napoli themselves had narrowly avoided relegation in 1982-83 and 1983-84 – finishing a point above the drop zone just weeks before he signed.
With him on board, they went ahead to win two league titles, a Copa Italia and the Uefa Cup, making Maradona an all-time legend at San Paolo.
His time in Italy may ultimately have ended under a cloud, leaving shortly after the 1990 World Cup after receiving a ban for testing positive for cocaine, but he remained an idol in his adopted home city, which on Wednesday was plunged into a state of mourning just as acute as in Buenos Aires.
The hand of God, and the foot of a demi-god.
The definitive Maradona moment though, arose in the sunshine of Mexico City one balmy July afternoon.
In the course of 90 minutes Argentina’s No.10 scored two goals against England in the World Cup quarter finals.
The first was probably the most contentious ever seen in the history of the tournament, as Maradona stealthily used his hand to tip the ball over the keeper and into the net; sparking wild celebrations from his teammates, and equal fury from the outraged England players.
“It was a little bit the head of Diego, and a little the hand of God,” he said after that quarter-final, coining at a stroke a name fit for the impudence of his goal, palmed over the head of the bewildered Peter Shilton.
The second was a piece of unbelievable skill, balance and audacity, with Maradona running through the England defense like it was non-existent and leaving the keeper plus his defenders on the floor to score the crucial winning goal.
It would later be remembered as the ‘Goal of the Century’.
Argentina went on to win the world cup in the final against West Germany; with Maradona winning the Golden Ball as recognition for his unparalleled abilities.
The curtain falls
Diego’s professional career finally ended in 1997, preceding a series of health problems related to both his substance issues and ballooning weight that came close to ending his life.
When he finally returned to Argentine football last year with Gimnasia he received moving tributes from opposing teams prior to every match, although even then one could see that physically he was on the wane, the coach needing assistance to walk to the dugout and carry out interviews.
His health kept deteriorating, resulting in his passing on Wednesday, after brain surgery was unable to alleviate his illness.
What we can say without hesitation is that, at his best, he was the finest talent of his generation.
More than that, his personality captivated the entire world, making him a hero even to those too young to have ever seen him play live and in the flesh.
Sixty years is far too short a time for a man like Diego to have walked the earth, but in that brief period he left a mark that will remain long after the mourning comes to an end.
Maradona has died; but Diego, in all his guises, is immortal.