'In the hands of God': what the papers say about the death of Diego Maradona

Emma Kemp
·5 min read

It has been 12,576 days since Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal – not that those working for England’s newspapers are counting. A theme of resentment permeated several front pages on Thursday, hours after the Argentine football great’s death aged 60.

As Argentina’s president Alberto Fernández declared three days of national mourning, editions across Europe, Argentina and the world portrayed Maradona as both a hero and a villain, one who both took his country to 1986 World Cup glory in Mexico and snatched it away from another.

If L’Équipe’s “God is dead” headline equates to a hero’s farewell, then the Daily Star revealed itself to be in the “villain” camp by running a photo of the World Cup quarter-final moment Maradona rose above England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and used his fist to punch the ball into an empty net alongside the headline “Where was VAR when we needed it most?”

The Star’s sub-heading “Maradona in the hands of God” – echoing Gary Lineker’s earlier Twitter tribute to mixed reviews – was also popular with other UK papers including the Daily Mirror, which also lamented Maradona was “in the hands of God” and offered a mixed ovation to “a hero, a villain, a cheat and a genius”.

The Mirror’s back page was emblazoned with the words of Lionel Messi: “He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.”

The Sun ran the same headline followed by “England’s World Cup nemesis and one of the all-time greats”. Inside, Mark Irwin wrote “few people in history have ever divided public opinion as much as the man who won a World Cup almost single-handedly while blatantly cheating on and off the pitch. Yet for those of us fortunate enough to witness Maradona in his prime, none of his flaws can detract from his genius.”

The Metro too followed suit though only dedicated two-thirds of a front page also carved out for Meghan Markle’s miscarriage heartbreak.

Both the Daily Telegraph and the Times pictured Maradona at his most glorious hour, on the shoulders of Argentina teammates lifting the 1986 World Cup trophy next to front-page reports of Covid’s heavy economic fallout.

The Independent’s wider view of that shot frames the words “Maradona, football’s flawed genius”.

The Guardian broke the pattern with a close-up of Maradona’s face, eyes to the sky, alongside Pele’s tribute: “I lost a great friend and the world has lost a legend.”

The Daily Mail, potentially due to edition timing issues, did not mention Maradona at all on its front page, however Shilton had his say inside and appears unwilling to forgive Maradona for that handball goal.

“What I don’t like is that he never apologised,” he wrote. “Never at any stage did he say he had cheated and that he would like to say sorry. Instead, he used his ‘Hand of God’ line. That wasn’t right. It seems he had greatness in him but sadly no sportsmanship.”

French newspaper L’Équipe opted for the former via the front-page headline “God is dead” next to a photo of Maradona in the Argentina jersey at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

Libération took a simplistic approach. A relatively small one-word headline, “Heavenly”, sat beneath the feet of a young Maradona from behind, that shock of dark hair and No 10 shirt entering the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires.

In Italy, too, the news temporarily pushed developments in the coronavirus pandemic and world events out of the spotlight.

Italy’s biggest sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport ran a banner headline reading “For Number 10 Maradona, football cries more than everyone”. The newspaper also quoted Pelé as saying, “I will play football with Maradona in heaven.” Lionel Messi, another Argentinian who is considered one of the greatest active players, was quoted as saying, “Maradona isn’t gone. He is eternal.”

Corriere Della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, said: “Goodbye Diego: you ARE football.” The Roman daily Il Messaggero called Maradona “A king of football with a Neapolitan heart”.

Spain’s Marca ran the same close-up shot chosen by the Guardian next to the words: “If I die, I want to be reborn and I want to be a footballer... and I want to be Diego Armando Maradona again.”

Also paying tribute were Argentina’s biggest newspapers La Nación and Clarín.