French president Emmanuel Macron has praised Diego Maradona for defeating ‘Margaret Thatcher’s England’ with his ‘Hand of God’ goal in an official tribute to the Argentinian football legend, who died on Wednesday.
The Elysee hailed Maradona’s contribution in ‘the most geopolitical match in football history’ – Argentina’s 2-1 win over England in the 1986 World Cup, four years after Thatcher’s victory in the Falklands War.
Maradona scored the first goal illegally with his fist – the famous ‘Hand of God’ – before his mesmerising dribble just moments later ended in a second goal later ranked the greatest of the century.
Macron also admitted that as an eight-year-old he was desperate for a Panini sticker of his hero, hinted that he might have named a son Diego, and hailed Maradona as the greatest of all time – better than French legend Zinedine Zidane.
Emmanuel Macron, pictured, released a tribute to Diego Maradona after the Argentinian football legend’s death from a heart attack on Wednesday
Maradona handles the ball past Peter Shilton to open the scoring in Argentina’s 1986 World Cup quarter-final against England
The 600-word tribute released by the Elysee on Thursday recalled how Maradona had ‘God as a teammate’ during the clash with England.
The presidential tribute says Maradona ‘had to write the history of a country scarred by dictatorship and military defeat’.
‘This resurrection took place in 1986, in the most geopolitical match in football history, a World Cup quarter-final against Margaret Thatcher’s England,’ it says.
‘On June 22, 1986, in Mexico City, he scored his first goal with God as a teammate. The miracle is disputed, but the referee didn’t see a thing: Maradona’s sense of showmanship made him irrelevant.
‘Then follows ‘the goal of the century’, which evokes the spirits of football’s greatest dribblers: Garrincha, Kopa, Pelé, united in one action.
‘Over 50 metres, in a mind-blowing race, he passed half of the England team, dribbled past goalkeeper Shilton before putting the ball into the net and the Albiceleste [Argentina’s nickname] into the last four of the World Cup.
‘In the same match, god and devil, he scored the two most famous goals in football history. There was a King Pelé, there is now a God Diego.’
Macron was just eight at the time of the game, but now says that ‘the hand of God had placed a football genius on earth’.
‘It has just taken it from us, with an unforeseen dribble that has deceived all our defences,’ the tribute goes on.
‘Did it want, by this gesture, to settle the debate of the century: is Diego Maradona the greatest football player of all time? The tears of millions of orphans respond to it today with painful evidence.’
Margaret Thatcher takes applause in 1982, the year of the Falklands War – a conflict which made the England v Argentina match four years later a politically charged occasion
Macron also hails Maradona as ‘not really an athlete, more an artist, he embodied the magic of the game.’
The flowery tribute could raise eyebrows in a country where Zinedine Zidane, the 48-year-old manager of Real Madrid is viewed by some as the greatest player ever.
‘Zizou’ scored the goals that won France the World Cup in 1998 and he also led them to the final in 2006.
Macron also mocks Maradona’s visits to South American revolutionaries Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez as tasting ‘like bitter defeat’.
‘It was on the pitches that Maradona made the revolution,’ the tribute says. ‘To all those who saved their pocket money to finally complete the Panini Mexico 1986 album with his sticker, to all those who tried to negotiate with their partner to baptize their son Diego, to his Argentinian compatriots, to the Neapolitans who drew frescoes worthy of Diego Riveira in his effigy, to all football lovers, the President of the Republic sends his heartfelt condolences.’
Macron ends his eulogy with the words ‘Diego queda’ – Diego remains.