Tributes have been paid by Newell’s Old Boys fans, coaches and players, both past and present, after the death of football icon Diego Armando Maradona.
He passed away aged 60 on Thursday, 25 November after a cardiac arrest.
Maradona played for Newell’s Old Boys for a short period in 1993. Although he only played five official games in the red and black of La Lepra, he etched his name into the history of club by making the choice to sign for Newell’s when other, perhaps more lucrative, options were available.
His legacy at the club is so strong that one of the stands at the home ground of Newell’s Old Boys, Estadio Marcelo Bielsa, is named in his honour while the famous number 10 shirt that he wore for Newell’s has become a cult classic.
The club paid tribute to Maradona after news broke that he had suffered a cardiac arrest at his home in Buenos Aires. Fans young and old began to arrive at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa in Rosario and tributes were stuck to a wall outside the ground that is painted with a mural of Maradona in the Newell’s colours with the word ‘D10S’ – ‘God’.
The official club account released a tweet with a simple sentence summing up the feelings of devotees of Maradona everywhere: “There are no words”.
Overnight, Maradona’s iconic number 10 was painted onto the stand named in his honour at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa.
Newell’s icon and current Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa called Maradona an artist and an icon:
Lionel Messi, the current captain of Argentina who played under Maradona during his time as national team manager, said that Diego was eternal:
“A very sad day for all Argentines and for football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal. I keep all the beautiful moments lived with him and I wanted to take the opportunity to send my condolences to all his family and friends. RIP”— Lionel Messi
Newell’s club captain Maxi Rodríguez, who also played under Maradona for Argentina, posted on Instagram:
“I can’t believe it, it’s that news I never wanted to hear. Thanks DIEGO for filling us with football! I will always remember your talks, advice and your hugs. Goodbye 10.— Maxi Rodríguez
Soon after, current Newell’s striker Ignacio Scocco also paid tribute to the man he called ‘the most Argentine of all Argentines’:
“The greatest player in the history of football left … the most Argentinean Argentine of all, the one who gave us the most important joys, the one who made us known in all corners of the world and the one who left everything for us 🇦🇷 Rest in peace Diego … Your legacy will be eternal 🇦🇷”— Ignacio Scocco
Former Newell’s players who had played in the same era of Maradona, like Ricardo Lunari and the Malawian star Ernest ‘Wire’ Mtawali, were quick to pay tribute on Twitter.
Former Newell’s youth player Fabian Costello, who now lives in Ireland, told 42.ie that the whole community of ex-Newell’s players was in shock at the news of Diego’s death.
Newell’s Vice-President Cristian D’Amico, who last year presented a framed shirt to Diego Maradona at the home of Newell’s when he brought his Gimnasia team there for a league match, tweeted that the “pain was enormous but the gratitude infinite”.
Former Newell’s player and current manager of Argentina, Lionel Scaloni, said that the hearts of all Argentines were broken:
Former Newell’s player and manager Héctor Bidoglio said that Maradona had made him happy and posted a photograph of the two of them as players:
Another former Newell’s player who wrote about his sadness at losing Maradona was Julio ‘Negro’ Zamora:
Rolando Schiavi, who was called up by Maradona to play for Argentina, said that he told Diego he loved him every time they met:
Maradona’s friend and former teammate Jorge Valdano, himself also a legend of Newell’s, appeared distraught while working as a pundit for Champions League television coverage in Spain. He was asked about his friend but was overcome with emotion.
A number of former Newell’s players who are now based abroad released statements on Twitter.
Franco Escobar, of Atlanta United, said that Maradona brought joy to the Argentine people:
Milton Valenzuela, of Columbus Crew, commented on the death of Maradona via the club’s Twitter account, saying that he along with the whole of Argentina is grieving:
Fernando Forestieri of Udinese said he found out during Udinese’s Coppa Italia match with Fiorentina that Maradona had passed and that he could not contain his tears:
Maradona at Newell’s
Diego Maradona’s spell at Newell’s was short but the impact of his signing is immeasurable. After 9 years in Europe, he made the decision to return to Argentina and in September 1993, Diego chose Newell’s Old Boys as his next club. Newell’s had won three titles under coach Marcelo Bielsa in the years before Maradona’s arrival, but Bielsa had recently left the club.
His presentation to the fans at the El Coloso ground was an enormous spectacle and a friendly was organised against the Ecuadorian side Emelec on 7 October 1993 to mark Diego’s debut for Newell’s.
Newell’s won the game 1-0 with Maradona scoring the only goal on his debut.
Newell’s fans went wild for Maradona and sales of his shirt with the number 10 emblazoned on the back were said to have broke all records. Maradona would later present Fidel Castro of Cuba with the shirt that he wore in that first game against Emelec.
Maradona officially debuted in the league a few days later on October 10 against Independiente, although it was a 3-1 defeat for Newell’s. He also played against Belgrano, Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata, Boca Juniors and Huracán.
During this time, the Newell’s manager who had masterminded the move for Maradona, Jorge Raúl Solari, had left the club. He was replaced by a coach that would never ‘click’ with Diego: Jorge Castelli. It proved an ominous move.
Maradona’s last game for Newell’s was a friendly match on January 26, 1994, against Vasco da Gama.
His love for Newell’s continued even after leaving. He regularly appeared in videos wearing a Newell’s shirt and declaring his love for ‘La Lepra’.
In what now almost seems like a premature wake, Diego Maradona returned to Rosario and to Newell’s as manager of Gimnasia in October 2019. The reception he received from fans of Newell’s Old Boys was electric.
The night before the game, Newell’s fans surrounded the hotel in which the Gimnasia squad were staying and Maradona emerged to join in a chorus of the song ‘Rosario Te Alienta’ which claims:
“Here is where the greatest in history played, here is where Maradona and Messi played”.
The same thing happened again the next time Maradona returned to Rosario in February 2020. Although this time, Newell’s were not playing. Maradona’s Gimnasia were in town to take on Rosario Central, but Newell’s fans were still there to greet him. Staying in the same hotel, Maradona emerged again.
We know now that Diego Maradona will not return to Rosario again, but his spirit is forever etched in the history of this club.
Maradona and Newell’s Old Boys is a love story that is eternal. Thank you, Diego.