Pope Francis remembers football legend and fellow Argentine Diego Maradona with affection and is keeping him in his prayers, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
Maradona, who died aged 60 on Wednesday at his home in Argentina of a heart attack, met the pope several times at the Vatican after Francis was elected in 2013 as Latin America’s first pope, Reuters reports.
The official Vatican News website ran the story of Maradona’s death on its front page with a headline calling him “football’s poet”. It called Maradona “an extraordinary player but a fragile man”, a reference to his struggle with drugs.
Maradona travelled to Rome several times to take part in several benefit games called “Matches for Peace”, whose proceeds went to a papal charity for education in developing countries and for victims of the 2106 earthquake in central Italy.
On one occasion, Maradona gave the pope a signed jersey with a dedication that read in Spanish: “To Pope Francis, with all my affection and wishes for much peace in the world”.
Many of the world’s biggest football players and clubs paid tribute to the flawed genius.
Among them were Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as Pele, who was voted as one of FIFA’s two greatest footballers ever alongside Maradona in 2000.
Maradona won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, but the Brazilian FA also released a statement in tribute, which read: “Football is in mourning. Diego Armando Maradona excited the world with his grit, irreverence and ability with the ball and on the pitch.”
Messi summed up the feelings of football fans around the world: “Diego is eternal.”