Maradona charms fans and township kids
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.