(Reuters) – Former Reuters Cuba correspondent Andrew Cawthorne recollects taking the sphere with Diego Maradona, who died on Wednesday, on this Reuters story from 2004.
As I stepped as much as take the penalty in Cuba’s nationwide soccer stadium, a bloated however grinning Diego Maradona wiped and positioned the ball, whispered phrases of recommendation and clasped his palms in prayer.
Inevitably, I scuffed the ball into the goalkeeper’s arms. “You struck it effectively, you’ll do higher,” Maradona lied.
The overseas press misplaced 6-0 to a Maradona mates’ XI on that wet night in Havana in June, 2000 – a defeat that fulfilled a boyhood fantasy of taking part in alongside one of many world’s best footballers.
Maradona was in Cuba to obtain free medical remedy for his drug and alcohol issues. His supervisor Guillermo Coppola had quietly requested us to keep away from tackling the then grossly obese Argentine in order to not humiliate him.
However the humiliation was all ours as Maradona, regardless of his terrible state, used his innate imaginative and prescient and talent to attain two long-range objectives previous our chain-smoking goalkeeper.
That was certainly one of a number of video games I performed with Maradona. He had arrived in Cuba earlier within the yr after practically dying in Uruguay and used the kick-arounds to construct up health.
The Cuban Soccer Federation laid on their nationwide Pedro Marrero stadium — full with post-match masseurs — that night time within the nice man’s honour. At different occasions, we simply performed on pitches in a area and behind a lodge.
Each time he scored, Maradona’s objective celebrations had been the identical I remembered from his glory days, beating England en path to profitable the World Cup in Mexico in 1986 or serving to rework Napoli’s fortunes in Italy.
Fists clenched, arms raised, head tilted again, eyes to the heavens, Maradona would whoop in delight earlier than falling to the bottom or working wildly throughout the pitch to have fun.
“What a beautiful feeling to attain a objective. I like this recreation. That is my life,” he roared in ecstasy throughout one five-a-side.
I had Reuters colleague Alfredo Tedeschi to thank for my friendship with Maradona in Cuba.
‘DO THEY HATE ME IN ENGLAND?’
A TV cameraman and fellow Argentine, Tedeschi infuriated Maradona a lot along with his paparazzi-style techniques that the footballer punched by means of his automobile window in anger inside a couple of days of coming to Cuba to get out of the limelight.
Tedeschi was additionally a larger-than-life character and the pair made up inside days with a bearhug and a barbecued steak.
After that Maradona started visiting his home practically on daily basis, having fun with Tedeschi’s high quality wines and thick steaks to the shock of these of us who thought he was on a strict weight loss program.
Watching his beloved Boca Juniors or the Argentine nationwide group stay by way of a particular satellite tv for pc hyperlink Tedeschi had organised only for him, Maradona would scream like a madman on the referee and have fun objectives by diving totally clothed into Tedeschi’s swimming pool.
One night time, over cigars and wine after dinner, I posed him the query I had been longing to ask: “So how did it really feel to attain these two objectives in opposition to England in 1986?”
I feared he can be bored to reply it but once more however to my delight, Maradona — conscious of the uncritical adulation from myself and Tedeschi’s two boys sitting with us — launched into an hour-long memory.
He laughed on the well-known “Hand of God” objective, earlier than asking with actual concern “Do they hate me in England?”.
Then he talked us by means of each swerve and swivel of his well-known waltz by means of England’s group for arguably the perfect objective within the historical past of the World Cup.
Maradona’s pipe-dream was to handle a giant membership. “Manchester United or Actual Madrid would do”, he mentioned half-seriously, his ego and desperation to remain within the recreation blinding him to how badly his fame had been shattered by his drug downside.
Throughout one recreation on Tedeschi’s tv, Maradona rushed as much as the set at halftime when a publicity spot confirmed him as a youngster. “That’s me, take a look at me!” he shouted like a child.
His delight was unbounded when, following a discreet cell phone name from Coppola to a Buenos Aires TV contact, the digicam swung spherical to indicate his daughter standing within the crowd.
In Havana, Maradona met his personal hero, Cuban President Fidel Castro, a number of occasions. As soon as, behind closed doorways at Havana’s Revolution Palace, he taught the septuagenarian, baseball-loving revolutionary find out how to dribble a soccer ball.
Maradona confirmed off to Cuba’s “Most Chief” a tattoo of Castro that the Argentine had on his left shin, and one other longer-standing tattoo of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara on his proper shoulder.
“I’m not communist, however I’m ‘Fidelista’ to my dying,” Maradona informed us later.
Cawthorne was Reuters’ correspondent in Havana from 1998 to 2002