Ahead of World Cup 2022, we visit Diego Maradona’s neighbourhood

 Locals in his old stomping grounds often reminisce about him, remembering him as imperfect but fiery and a ball wizard.

As a Diego Maradona fan, you may have heard implausible tales about the Argentine legend.

One that you may partake in begins with an orange and a modest school with a beautiful courtyard full with flowering plants. Maradona received his early education in the slums of Villa Fiorito, a working-class suburb of Buenos Aires.

According to urban legend, on his way home from school, he kicked and played tricks with the orange he received for dessert as if it were a football, demonstrating his growing mastery of the object.

Christian Bustos, 44, a lifetime resident of Fiorito, remarked, "That's the famous story," as he stood at the school's entrance.

Maradona amazed his instructors with his football prowess even at a young age.

He left Villa Fiorito and the modest white home he and his parents and five siblings had occupied when he was a teenager. He moved to La Paternal, a suburb of Buenos Aires, where he played for the Argentina Juniors. From there, he made the switch to Boca Juniors, also in Buenos Aires, and shot to fame throughout the world.

Even though he has been dead for two years due to heart failure and pulmonary edema, the spirit of the tenacious, contentious, and revered celebrity still reverberates throughout Fiorito. The aging face of the town bears his likeness.

Artists have created murals of Maradona on buildings and stadiums. People passing by these photographs on their way to work had to endure seeing them on decaying walls and in front of a dirt field used by a local football team.

Bustos, who works at the Fiorito Cultural Centre, believes that "all of us in the community have some of Maradona in us." Those of us who were born in Fiorito know what it's like to challenge the establishment and win.

Since Maradona smashed that orange all over its streets, Fiorito has seen significant transformation. Lighting, plumbing, and other curb appeal enhancements are in place. The dirt field where Maradona sharpened his abilities is now surrounded by homes, and the street corner where neighbours used to throw their waste is now a grass-covered plaza.

A painting of a young Diego Maradona now hangs in the renovated courtyard of the school where he first encountered oranges.

Laura Fleitas, a 46-year-old teacher who has been at the school since 1998, reflected on the significance of the fact that it was Maradona's alma mater.

Both his grandma and his godmom were employees here. The grand chef in the family was his grandma. They had a lot of fame among the locals.

Claudio "Tati" Villarruel, now 48 years old, has also learned about Maradona's early days in the game through tales told to him by his father, who co-founded Estrellas Unidas, the Fiorito football team for whom Maradona once played. Estrellas Rojas was the original name for the area.

They started as a small group that met at people's homes, but eventually they built a clubhouse close to where Maradona resided to give themselves more legitimacy.

Villarruel's uncle, Osvaldo, recently recalled how, when Maradona was only five or six years old, he would actually dance around him and the other older boys with a football, much to their disgust. Villarruel, who grew up five blocks from Maradona's home house and is now the secretary general of Estrellas Unidas, joked that they would send him packing on some days.

On October 30, the club hosted a BBQ and celebration in honor of Maradona's birthday, gathering musicians, artists, relatives, and former teammates to the clubhouse, which was decked up in Maradona memorabilia.

The men of Maradona's generation embraced one another and reflected on the rapid passage of time since their own playing days. The crowd then flocked out onto the sidewalk to help unveil a new street sign honoring Maradona.

Many fans here admired not only Maradona's football prowess but also his boldness in the offseason. He railed against American imperialism and the Vatican's wealth while lamenting Argentina's worsening poverty.

Without Diego, Villarruel stated, "I couldn't fathom this World Cup because Diego gave it that quota of joy and pride."

With all the things he might be saying, we still miss him. Nothing was ever spoken without him saying it. What he went through with his addiction is irrelevant to us since he is not alone and, as he put it, "You can't stain the ball."

While certain aspects of life in Fiorito have evolved, others have remained largely unchanged. The neighborhood where Maradona had resided now has a sewage system, whereas another nearby neighborhood does not. Fiorito's plight of abject poverty persists.

In the year since it was designated as a historical landmark by the Argentine government, Maradona's childhood home has become something of a shrine to the star. Even though the mansion is closed to the public and in ruin, devoted fans still lay flags and flowers in front of it. Maradona's mom reportedly gave the house to a lady she knew, and the lady's son currently resides there.

Bustos expresses regret that more has not been done to protect the home's historical value and other ties that Fiorito has to Maradona, which he feels may be an economic engine for residents.

Residents take great satisfaction in calling Maradona's old stomping grounds home, but he claims they are used to the constant stream of tourists and picture opportunities that bring them little actual progress.

We know because we experience it," Bustos remarked. So many times they've lied to us already. A lot of people, including Diego, have taken up his cause of standing up to the powerful, and I think this quote captures the spirit of that struggle.

Bustos's personal goal is to provide his neighborhood with more opportunities to express their creativity. He's been collaborating with neighborhood artists on murals to brighten up the neighborhood.

They painted murals on the sides of houses during the COVID-19 epidemic, some of which were memorials to those who had died. As he put it, "convirtiendo el dolor a color" (translating to "converting the anguish into something that is colourful") is the Spanish phrase he used.

Maradona has been gone from Fiorito for quite some time, but the bonds of friendship he established among the locals are unbreakable.

"I appreciated that he fought with everyone," Bustos remarked of him. And I suppose all of us from Fiorito have a little of that air of superiority. Not only Fiorito, but everyone, wanted some of Maradona. You're sad about the way things turned out. Even though many people said that he was free to do whatever he pleased, I don't believe he received the attention he needed.

Even though Maradona has left this world, his legacy lives on in the residents of Villa Fiorito. Gustavo Horacio Insaurralde, 39, sits at his desk in a building in town with a giant mural of Maradona seated on a pitch on its rear wall.

The man spends five days a week searching the streets of Buenos Aires collecting cardboard boxes and other recyclables to resell. Next to the Maradona picture, he keeps the big sacks containing his daily earnings. Bags of cardboard are "the bread I bring home for my family," he explained.

After thinking about the happiness Maradona brought to the world, Insaurralde made a profound observation. After his passing, he attempted to pay his respects by joining the crowds waiting to examine his body in Argentina's presidential palace, but scuffles between supporters and authorities prevented him from entering.

'Diego was a wizard,' Insaurralde said. Maybe he wasn't as great a person as we'd anticipated. There are things he did that get males in trouble, and you have to show them that those behaviors are counterproductive. True, he worked miracles with the ball, but that's not the point. In a dramatic gesture, he raised the jersey above his head.


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