The Napoli soccer team went out on the field bearing his number 10 jersey, with a minute of silence, while the chants sung in Maradona’s honor for the last 30 years could be heard from outside San Paolo Stadium. It was the homage paid by Naples to its king, with a multitude of torches and smoke bombs that blanketed the stadium in Fuorigrotta, the home of “the king” for seven years. They were powerful but dangerous images, in view of the close gatherings and the lack of masks. Together with the homage brought by the captain of Napoli, Lorenzo Insigne, to one of Diego’s photos at the entrance of the stadium, it was the epilogue of a day of intense and terrible pain, of the awareness that came after the loss: Diego is dead, Diego is no more.
And while the referee of the Europa League Napoli-Rijeka match gave the start, a candle was lit on every balcony in Naples and the surrounding province, with applause for “il Diez.” Before, there had been hours and hours of tributes. There was an unending lay pilgrimage to the votive sites in honor of Diego, from the murals in the Spanish Quarter to the chapel that also houses one of his curls, stuck between the Decumani, and all the way to San Paolo stadium. There, since the morning, as people waited for the Europa League match between Napoli and Rijeka, with the players of the Neapolitan team naturally wearing a black band of mourning on their arms, the images of Maradona’s best goals and plays were being projected on the two big screens. It was an endless parade of classic moments in the history of soccer, which didn’t cease to accompany the two teams during the match.
Outside the Fuorigrotta stadium, the house of Diego for seven years, organized soccer fans joined an endless flow of those who had love for the Argentine. There was a torchlight procession. And there was a sign reading “Stadio Diego Armando Maradona” held up at curva B, bearing the face of the Argentine. It was an explicit demand to the city authorities to name the stadium after “il Diez.” The fans’ faces were full of sadness. They made a bow, said a prayer—evidence of social distancing and responsible use of masks, and witnesses to a local cult worship taking place before the photos of the Argentine phenomenon. There were thousands of people, an endless flow that would continue throughout the night, while Diego’s funeral was taking place in Argentina.
Many fans were watching on their phones the live broadcast of the tribute that the Argentines were giving to Maradona at Casa Rosada, as a final send-off, with flowers, jerseys from Boca Juniors and the Argentine national team. Among the fans, Carlos Tevez and Martin Palermo were also there, forwards in the Argentine national team during the crazy years of the army of brothers in the shadow of “il Diez,” and were both in tears in front of “the Myth.” He himself would have certainly had a big laugh seeing himself placed in nativity scenes on the famous Neapolitan street of nativity scene masters, Via San Gregorio Armeno, wearing the number 10 jersey of the Napoli team who won the first Italian championship, complete with the names of the sponsors on his chest and the team captain’s armband.
He was the last rock-and-roll soul of soccer, full of talent, mystery and self-destruction, a cursed genius like Baudelaire or Jim Morrison, who has become a protective divinity of the city. He and Naples—it was a spontaneous crossing of chromosomes. “A connection, a bolt of lightning. It was the brilliant indiscipline of both one and the other that made them meet and fall in love, forever.” Oscar Nicolaus, a psychologist teaching at the Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, is one of the historical founders of Te Diegum, a cultural association that brought together a handful of intellectuals after Maradona’s farewell to Naples in March 1991, when he tested positive for cocaine. “We were taken in by his beauty,” Nicolaus explains. “Only moralists think that art is for a few; art is actually everywhere. As ones who had fallen in love and were grieved at the distance separating us, we had the clear feeling that once Diego was gone, the jackals would go wild—and that was what happened.”
First, they set up a group under the name La Classe Non è Acqua (“You Can’t Buy Class”), presented at a conference in the presence of Gianni Minà; then came the idea of a book entitled Te Diegum. “Maradona, like Naples, is an oxymoron: he creates genius and gets lost in complex situations. It’s all based on our double identity, Arab and Western, which impedes us from managing complexities,” says the co-founder of Te Diegum, explaining the affinity between Maradona and the city also on account of the anarchic component present in both, seen in the tendency to create and observe their own rules: “Diego Maradona became king because he realized the dream of the Neapolitans: to be anarchic and winners. As Eric Cantona said, in 20 years soccer will still be synonymous with Diego Maradona.”