Maradona charms fans and town­ship kids

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - PABALLO THEKISO

THE DIEGO Maradona who charmed the crowds on his brief visit to South Africa this week was not the per­son many peo­ple ex­pected.

Ahead of the visit of the for­mer Ar­gen­tine star, and now his coun­try’s coach, the foot­baller’s me­dia min­ders had warned the me­dia he was vir­tu­ally off lim­its.

It did seem in keep­ing with Maradona’s life­style, as por­trayed in the me­dia. A bril­liant soc­cer player in his time, he has be­come known for his ar­ro­gant and anti-so­cial life style. So, I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the “other” Diego Maradona.

He ar­rived in South Africa only days af­ter Fifa lifted a twom­onth ban im­posed on him for un­ruly be­hav­iour and swear­ing af­ter a match late last year.

The Ar­gen­tinean coach was in the coun­try to in­spect fa­cil­i­ties his team will use dur­ing the 2010 Fifa World Cup in June and July, and to spend time with dis­ad­van­taged school kids in GaRankuwa, Shoshanguve in North Pre­to­ria, and in Soweto.

Yet, when he landed at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Maradona ap­peared de­ter­mined to be­come part of the peo­ple. Fans crowded around him and he re­sponded pos­i­tively. From that mo­ment my per­cep­tion of him be­gan to change.

Dur­ing his visit to the High Per­for­mance Cen­tre in Pre­to­ria – where Ar­gentina will be based – stu­dent cricket play­ers walked up to him and asked for pic­tures. He warmly opened his arms and hugged them.

Then he sim­ply broke the rules his PR peo­ple had laid down and talked to the me­dia.

It was clear he was not just there to show his face, but to make the kids feel very spe­cial.

Read­ing the leg­end’s bi­og­ra­phy made me un­der­stand why he re­lated so well with the kids from the town­ships.

Maradona has hum­ble be­gin­nings and was once a poor but tal­ented boy with dreams but no hope.

The su­per­star might be known for his faults and ar­ro­gance, but I met a dif­fer­ent Maradona this week – a peo­ple’s per­son, fa­ther and leg­end.

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