BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Diego Maradona celebrated his 60th birthday on Friday with tributes from around the world and a 100-metre long billboard being erected in his honour in the centre of Buenos Aires.
However, the Gimnasia y Esgrima coach is expected to spend a quiet day at home and could miss the restart of the Argentine league due to fears about COVID-19.
The former Boca Juniors and Napoli striker was reported to have come into contact with someone who displayed COVID-19 symptoms and could miss his side’s home match against Patronato, the first in the restarted top flight league campaign that was paused in March.
Nevertheless, friends sent tributes to the iconic and flamboyant player best known for leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup title.
A billboard featuring Maradona’s face was unveiled on Buenos Aires’ majestic central Avenida, alongside the obelisk where fans traditionally gather to celebrate major victories.
On Instagram, football greats from around the world – former Brazil striker Ronaldo Nazario, manager Jose Mourinho and former Italy captain Franco Baresi among them – shared their best wishes.
“I start my 60th with these marvellous messages that you’ve all sent me,” Maradona said in response. “Thanks for your love and your friendship. This is the best present you could have given me.”
Maradona is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest footballers of all time.
He won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina and his two goals against England in the quarter-final victory – one the infamous Hand of God, the second a brilliant solo goal – are unforgettable moments in sporting history.
He also transformed Italian club Napoli, helping them to their first league title in 1987, as well as to the UEFA Cup in 1989 and another Serie A trophy a year later.
But there was also a dark side that cost him dearly.
Maradona’s drug addiction tainted his later years in Italy and led to him being kicked out of the 1994 World Cup and banned from the game for 15 months.
Knee injuries took their toll as did weight problems and he was hospitalized in 2004 with severe heart and respiratory problems linked to cocaine use. He now often uses crutches to walk.
Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo in Buenos Aires; writing by Andrew Downie in London; Editing by Christian Radnedge