The soccer legend, who recently turned 57, has seemed on multiple occasions to have his days numbered—but he's always managed to stick around. Did someone say the hand of God?
Presse Sports-USA TODAY Sports
This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español.
Fifty-seven years ago, a humble family welcomed into the world the person who would become the greatest soccer player in history. Nobody who comes from nothing moves to the center of everything without confronting obstacles. In Diego Maradona's case, those obstacles were often self-imposed. On more than one occasion, his health said "this is the end of the line," and on more than one occasion, he managed to escape death. Just as it was on the field, so it was in the ER. Here, we take a look at some critical moments that made Maradona a legend—a living legend—of sports.
From a Beach Resort in Uruguay to the Land of Fidel Castro
For Maradona, the year 2000 almost started and finished in the same month. On vacation in the Uruguayan beach town of Punta del Este, the soccer genius was admitted to the Cantegril Sanatorium with a diagnosis of "hypertensive crisis and ventricular arrhythmia"—the result of a cocaine overdose.
Jorge Romero, the recently graduated doctor who was called to the house where Maradona was resting that afternoon, described the timeline later in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País: "When I arrived, they rushed me inside. I found not Maradona, but a man who was dying. He was in a coma, laid out in a chair, surrounded by people who didn't really have any idea what to do."
After two days in intensive care, he began to breathe on his own. According to his representative at the time, Guillermo Cóppola, Maradona's return to the land of the living was a scene worthy of No. 10. "One night, you opened the door of the room and found a guy hooked up with wires. It was Diego and he says, 'Guille, bring me some steak with fried eggs and French fries and get me out of here. Where am I?'"
Following the scare and after leaving Cantegril, Maradona, his family, and his closest friends needed to think about how to treat an illness that had gotten out of control. After going back and forth between Canada and the United States, they decided he would begin addiction treatment at the National Center for Mental Health (CENSAM) in Cuba.
The transfer of Maradona to the island would be another saga tinged with his unique magic, and which, among other outcomes, would forever link Maradona to Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and socialist ideas in general. Maradona and Castro were friends until the commandant's death, and Maradona himself even interviewed Castro five years after their initial meeting, when he was hosting his own TV show. But that's another story.
Two Heart Attacks in One Month
"Jesus was resurrected once. You, many times." A number of signs like this were posted at the entrance of the Swiss-Argentine Clinic, capturing the spirit of the people, who wasted no time in showing up at the clinic for news: Maradona's heart, once again, seemed like it couldn't go on. It was April 2004 and Maradona, vastly overweight, was in a grave state in the intensive care unit.
He faced serious hypertension and pneumonia. He spent a week on a respirator and, as always, his recovery seemed to be a strange mix of miraculousness and hard-headedness. On his fourth day post-respirator, the soccer idol felt so good that he left the clinic against doctors' orders.
Within a month he was re-admitted, once again with severe hypertension. The second scare was too much for his family and the decision was unanimous: Another admission to a specialty clinic in Buenos Aires—la Clínica del Parque—this time, for four months. It ended with a new trip to the Cuban CENSAM center—this time for 70 days. Faithful to his Lazarus-like nature, in less than a year the man seemed new: He'd lost many pounds and was hosting his first TV show, the epic La Noche del 10.
Rumors of Death
Argentina, April 2007. On one side, various online news sites were down, dozens of phone calls were coming in from international media outlets, and the main channel showing a black screen in place of programming. On the other side—and imagine if this had been 2017—SMS text chains, rumors in chatrooms and blogs. Even the Ministry of Health echoed some of the rumors: Had Diego Maradona died? At that moment, he was going through what would be the last of his clinical admissions related to drug use at the Avril Clinic in Buenos Aires. Through some channel, the source of which never became clear, someone began to circulate news of the worst, and the dust storm didn't take even a day to reach the highest levels of government: Argentina's Minister of Health at the time, Ginés González García, got in touch with the doctors who were responsible for Maradona's admission.
Then came a thorough response from his ex-wife, Claudia Villafañe: "Diego is perfectly fine. Everyone's talking about him but nobody says where the rumors are coming from because they'd have to admit responsibility for the lie."
Barely a year after having left Avril, Maradona, once again in top form, took over the Argentinian national team during World Cup qualifying. He coached them through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And surely, coaching them again was among his birthday wishes on October 30 of this year when he turned 57. We wish him the happiest of belated birthdays and hope that his stories continue filling the pages here and around the world.