Diego Armando Maradona, the soccer star who led Argentina to its second world title in 1986, died of a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 60. Maradona was viewed by many of the greatest players of all time as a life marked by on-field fame, off-field scandals, and political activism.
A poor boy from the slums of Buenos Aires, Maradona has shaped some of the most respected soccer teams in the world like Barcelona, Napoli and his personal favorite Boca Juniors, but he has never forgotten his humble upbringing. The player, who supported the market-friendly populist Carlos Menem in the 1990s and the neoliberal reforms he wanted to implement as President of Argentina, saw his politics shift increasingly to the left over time.
The Argentine star died on the same day as the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a personal friend and one of his political idols. Castro, who had been friends with Maradona since at least the late 1980s, invited the player for treatment in Cuba after Maradona nearly died of a cocaine overdose in 2000.
Maradona later dedicated his biography to Castro and the Cuban people and had himself tattooed by the commander, whom he referred to as "God", and his Argentine confidante Che Guevara. "Diego is [a] good friend and also very noble," Castro once said. "There is no question that he is a wonderful athlete and that he had a friendship with Cuba without making any material profit of his own."
"Forever Diego, we love you very much," wrote former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Twitter in the news about his death. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva shared a picture of himself with Maradona and the then Brazilian Foreign Minister and recognized the football legend's political role in Latin America.
"Diego Armando Maradona was a football giant from Argentina and the world, a unique talent and personality," Lula wrote. “His genius and passion in this field, his intensity in life and his commitment to the sovereignty of Latin America have shaped our time. … I can only thank you for your solidarity with the concerns of the population. "
But Maradona's legacy wasn't only felt later in life due to his political activism. Almost single-handedly, he helped Argentina regain its confidence in the mid-1980s after a failed war against the UK for the Falkland Islands. His legendary performance against England at the 1986 World Cup was both a personal triumph and a great win for an Argentina in dire need of one.