We have lost an idol – Marcelo Bielsa pays tribute to ‘artist’ Diego Maradona

Argentina has lost an “idol” following the death of Diego Maradona, former national team manager Marcelo Bielsa has said.

Maradona, regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, died on Wednesday after a reported heart attack.

He inspired his country to World Cup glory in 1986, and also helped Napoli win the Italian league title in 1987 and 1990.

Leeds manager Bielsa, like most Argentinians, was struggling to process the loss of a national hero on Thursday.

“He was for us, and will continue to be, an idol,” Bielsa, who managed the Argentina national side from 1998 to 2004, said.

“Given the fact he is not with us any more brings great sadness. We have lost an idol and it makes us feel weak.

“What really stood out was his relationship with the public. Everything he did as a footballer was of a beauty which cannot be matched.

“Maradona was an artist. Players with such individual brilliance – they don’t know what it is to play with pressure.”

The president of his old club Napoli, Aurelio De Laurentiis, said consideration was being given to renaming their stadium in Maradona’s honour.

Flags flew at half-mast outside the ground of another of his former clubs, Barcelona, while Boca Juniors switched off all the lights at their ‘La Bombonera’ stadium, except those in Maradona’s private box.

The circumstances around Maradona’s death could be subject to an investigation, after his lawyer Matias Morla wrote on Twitter that there was “criminal idiocy” in the emergency response.

Maradona’s coffin has been taken to the presidential palace in Buenos Aires to mark the start of a three-day period of national mourning.

Hundreds of fans also congregated at other landmarks associated with Maradona, outside the home where he was born in the Villa Fiorito neighbourhood, Argentinos Juniors’ stadium and also at the headquarters of Gimnasia, the Argentinian club in La Plata where he was head coach before he died.

Former Tottenham midfielder Ossie Ardiles, who played alongside Maradona for Argentina at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, said he was an “incredibly special” player.

“I knew Diego from a very early age and of course I knew exactly what all his struggles were – in fact all the problems he had were outside the pitch,” he told talkSPORT.

“He had this problem with power, with presidents, with kings – he couldn’t stand them very well.

“When he was on the pitch he was the happiest person in the world because nobody could touch him there. He knew he was the very best.”

Peter Shilton recalled Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal against England
Peter Shilton recalled Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal against England

Maradona is a hugely controversial figure in England after his ‘Hand of God’ goal helped knock the country out of the 1986 World Cup.

Peter Shilton, the England goalkeeper beaten to the ball by Maradona, told Sky Sports News: “He was quite clever because he flicked his head at the same time (as handling it). He had a very quick football brain and he knew what he was doing.

“I didn’t expect Maradona to go up to the referee and say, ‘I handballed that’, but I think after the game, he talked about the Hand of God, he didn’t really apologise and say, ‘I got away with it’. It was a bit unsportsmanlike.

“That really rubbed the salt in the wounds as far as the (England) team was concerned.”

Nevertheless, Shilton said Maradona was the greatest player he ever came up against.