Even by Diego Maradona’s flamboyant standards, it was a night to remember.
The Argentine football legend received a hero’s welcome Tuesday on his return to former club Newell’s Old Boys — for which he only played a handful of games in the twilight of his career — despite arriving as the coach of opposition team Gimnasia.
Before the match, Maradona was presented with an array of gifts, including a painting of himself playing for Newell’s, a piece of artwork of his face, a customized captain’s armband with the word “Dios” (God) written on it — the ‘i’ and ‘o’ replaced with his famous No. 10 — and a club shirt.
Not forgetting a throne emblazoned with his face, which he of course signed and sat on instead of the bench.
The welcome Maradona received from Newell’s fans would have been enough to make a rock star blush, as the 42,000 capacity crowd inside the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa sang his name and provided a rhythm to which he obligingly danced.
“The pearls of Newell’s tribute that made Diego Maradona cry,” wrote Argentine online news site Infobae.
With a play on the city name of Rosario, the home of Newell’s, Newspaper La Nacion said: “A Rosary of emotions: Newell’s tribute, Diego Maradona’s tears and the autographed throne.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming this was an exhibition match or a testimonial, rather than a competitive Argentine first division clash — but it was most certainly the latter.
Perhaps all the pre-match fawning became a distraction for the home side, as Newell’s — in contention for the title after 10 games — suffered a shock 4-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Gimnasia, only its second win of the season.
Maradona took over the ailing side in September and after overseeing three consecutive defeats, he has since guided the team to two wins in its last three matches.