On the 25th of November 2020, in the small locality of Dique Lujan, in Tigre Argentina, one of sport’s greatest Icons Diego Armando Maradona breathed his last. The beautiful game had lost its ‘symbol of beauty’.
I did not watch Maradona play in real time, but the stories I heard and read, plus the videos of him I watched, just confirmed what my uncle Godfrey Kasozi had always told me of this football genius.
My admiration for Ronaldinho Gaucho, who is to me the best footballer I have watched live had almost blinded my judgment of those who came before and after him, but uncle Kasozi like we used to refer to him at home, ensured that I was schooled about the man of their times.
I first heard of Maradona as a child from Kasozi, who despite never kicking a ball, was an ardent follower of anything and everything in the world including sport. From the famous O.J Simpson case of the 90’s, to Justin Juuko’s signature swing punch, this man knew it all and always fed me the stories. Quite frankly, his stories were fun and eventually became music to my ears.
As a student to the famous St. Henry’s Kitovu that was one of the traditional football schools in the late 80’s when the Argentine ruled the game, Kasozi was exposed to football and having discovered that he was never good at indulging, he chose to follow keenly.
Kasozi has always been a theatrically effective orator with a special craft, ‘Maradona would make you think football was easy’, Kasozi would go as I continuously tried to rebuff his suggestions with all forms of un matching comparisons with those I had seen.
“With his low centre of gravity and strong left foot, the man would clear the ball from his goal line, then dribble past about five players and score.” I felt like this was an exaggeration. (At this time, I had never watched videos of Maradona’s famous goal of the 20th century against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter finals. Yet he kept telling me about it and his hand of god.)
“In fact, that is why many say he single-handedly won the 1986 world cup for Argentina”, he continued. He would go on and on and on, and with time I actually felt like I had watched the man.
A left footed player my self, Kasozi’s description of Armando low-key pushed me to do things the ‘Maradona way’. Whenever I went for training at the Kiwafu play grounds in Kitoro, I tried to dribble past players from end to end, something that got me more criticism than praise from my tough coach Tamale Richard and teammates.
“Gwe Dan, gaba omupiira, wesala biki,” an enraged Tamale would shout with his sports man Cigarette in his hand. (Meaning, Dan, pass the ball).
After several failed attempts to emulate someone I had never watched, I just gave up and started to appreciate that may be that man had something special.
It was after years when I got exposed to the internet and television highlights that I started seeing the magic I had heard years back.
I may not have seen or heard of a more entertaining achiever than the son of ‘Diego Maradona ‘Chitoro’ but I later learnt that Every football team has its Maradona.
My child hood academy Entebbe Mayors had several very talented players but Odugudde Denis stood out.
Odugudde won games for Entebbe mayors. I have not seen a player who comfortably bossed every position he was deployed in.
From defence, midfield to striking, Guma, as he is popularly known now days, would turn up and hold his side afloat even in training.
His touch was enviable, he made you love watching him. He was our Maradona. Whatever happened after, I wouldn’t know, but clearly the Guma at KCCA FC now is not anywhere close to my childhood teammate Odugudde.
At Entebbe secondary school we had Kaita Brian. Until today, am not sure what Kaita’s natural position was, but for all the years he played for the school team, all our victories revolved around him.
Onduparaka Football Club’s journey to the top flight is littered with foot prints of a young man, Muhammad Shaban.
For the two years he was with the Caterpillars, Shaban scored almost all the crucial goals that earned them promotion into the Uganda Premier League in the 2015/16 season and almost won the Uganda Cup for them the same season only falling to Vipers SC on the final.
Hadn’t it been for his un ceremonial departure from the club to rivals KCCA FC, perhaps the greenlight stadium would have a Muhammad Shaban stand by now.
SC Villa loyalist still worship Andrew Fimbo Mukasa. Mukasa scored a record 45 goals in one season as the Jogoo won the Uganda Super League in 1999. Elsewhere, his shirt number would have been retired.
I did not watch him play, but KCCA FC annals depict Phillip Omondi as their Maradona. Their current coach Mike Mutebi simply refers to him as his best of all time. Omondi was an artist they say. A gift that never stopped giving.
Just like every team has their Maradona, each has their Maradona moment too.
In my time watching the Uganda Cranes, Farouk Miya’s strike against Comoros on the 4th of September 2016 at the parked Mandela National Stadium, that sent Uganda to her first AFCON finals of our times stands out as my Maradona moment for the Cranes.
My OBs and OGs will tell you that in my senior five, I also had my Maradona moment as captain of my Kenyatta house in the inter-house competitions. I can say I single-handedly guided this side full of ‘no bodies’ to the first quarter final finish in decades of their existence.
For me what Diego Maradona represented is what football is about. It’s the beauty and entertainment in competition, the craftiness in war, the passion seen through the feet, it is why we call it the beautiful game.
If you take away the entertainment from the game, you are taking away its beauty. Its like plucking out a woman’s eyes and say she is still good looking.
His body might be six feet under and his soul in the Hands of God, but Diego Armando Maradona’s legacy surely lives with us and will do for generations to come.
Whether you watched him play in real time, just heard stories from your uncle about him, read or watched highlights of him, there is enough evidence to prove that he was and will for ever be one of the greatest players of all time.
The name Maradona is one we shall talk about for lifetimes to come. May his Soul Continue Resting in Peace.