Diego Maradona’s body arrived at the presidential palace in Argentina today as a grieving country prepares to pay its last respects to the flawed football genius who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.
As a crowd of weeping fans gathered outside, Maradona’s coffin was lifted out of an ambulance and brought into the palace where it will lie in state in a three-day spectacle of national mourning.
Others gathered outside the Buenos Aires stadium where Maradona began his career and which has since been renamed in his honour, setting up a makeshift shrine to celebrate Argentina’s legendary number 10.
His death has also been keenly felt in Europe, especially in Naples where he steered an unfashionable side to two league titles and where fans let off flares in tribute last night.
In Britain, where he is best remembered for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986 – an act of brazen cheating followed only minutes later by one of the greatest goals in football history – a minute’s silence took place ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League match on Wednesday night.
Regarded by some as the greatest player of all time, Maradona combined awesome footballing ability with a flair for showmanship and a turbulent personal life marked by drug and alcohol problems.
An autopsy report leaked to Argentine media said he died in his sleep after suffering heart failure, only two weeks after leaving hospital following surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain.
Medics also detected dilated cardiomyopathy, a medical condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
His nephew Johnny Esposito was the last person to see him alive, according to the report, before doctors with an appointment to see him went to his estate on Wednesday and found him unresponsive.
Three days of mourning have been declared by the Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez.
‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’
Maradona is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.
He had his youngest son Diego Fernando with his long-term girlfriend Veronica Ojeda in 2013; while he only acknowledged Diego Junior, 34, and daughter Jana, 23, in the last five years, both born after short flings.
The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.
Paramedics made an unsuccessful attempt to revive him after they arrived at the rented house in the gated residential estate of San Andres north of Buenos Aires he had moved to after leaving hospital following his operation on November 11.
Prosecution chief John Broyad, speaking outside San Andres as the retired footballer’s body was taken to a nearby morgue for an autopsy, said: ‘Diego Armando Maradona died around 12pm local time. The forensic police began their work at 4pm.
‘No signs of any criminality or violence have been detected. The autopsy is being carried out to determine beyond any doubt the cause of death but we can say at this stage that everything is pointing to natural causes.’
It is believed that his wake will take place at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, the seat of the country’s national government.
Maradona, who only turned 60 on October 30, spelled out while he was still alive the message he wanted engraved on his tombstone.
The soccer legend made the astonishing admission in a bizarre TV interview 15 years ago in which he revealed that ‘getting old with his grandchildren would mean a peaceful death’ for him.
Asked what he would say in the cemetery to himself, he said: ‘Thanks for having played football because it’s the sport that gave me most happiness and freedom and it’s like having touched the sky with my hand. Thanks to the ball.
‘Yes, I would put on the tombstone, “Thanks to the ball”.’
A hearse from the coroner’s office carrying Maradona’s body was escorted by police to the medical examiner’s office as fans lined the surrounding streets to catch a glimpse of it on Wednesday afternoon.
Thousands of fans have poured onto the streets in Argentina today, many at the entrance to the football club in Buenos Aires that Maradona had managed since September last year, Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata.
They hung up a banner with the legend’s face painted across it and of his mother Dalma Salvadora Franco.
A supporter struggled to hold back tears, describing the Argentine as ‘an unforgettable figure. We thank him for everything he did.’
Argentine network TN reported that its website, along with newspaper Clarín and other media outlets, were temporarily down as fans flocked to the site as news about Maradona’s death broke.
In the Buenos Aires town of Villa Devoto where Maradona grew up, his former neighbours placed Argentine flags on their balconies as broadcast calls from his World Cup goals blared from a loud speakers.
A 60-year-old woman recalled the late star would escape from his childhood home in Villa Fiorito, where a bevy of fans gathered to exchange anecdotes.
‘This was a poor area when Maradona lived here. The streets were filled with rock,’ she said. ‘He never forgot about his roots.’
A man sitting in the stands at the stadium where Maradona debuted as a 15-year-old for Argentina Juniors on October 20, 1976 recalled being there on the day and said he was ‘a star’.
‘The truth is that football has died,’ he said. ‘The truth is he had the life that he had. No one can censor it. It was difficult being Diego, coming out from where he grew up.’
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lamented the death of Maradona, whom he considered a close friend, and shared several photos of the past meetings.
‘With much sadness the legend of football has left us, a brother and unconditional friend of Venezuela. Dear and irreverent ‘Pelusa’, you will always be in my heart and in my thoughts. I have no words at the moment to express what I feel. Farewell, America’s Pibe!’
Argentina’s former manager Cesar Luis Menotti said: ‘I’m devastated. I can’t believe it. I’m absolutely gutted. There’s no more I can say at this moment.
‘I thought at first the news of his death was fake news but obviously it’s what happened. It’s terrible and a tragic surprise because measures had been taken to make sure he was being looked after.’
A minute’s silence was held before Wednesday night’s Champions League games.
The fifth of eight children, Maradona was born in Lanús, in the Argentinian province of Buenos Aires, on October 30, 1960 to a Roman Catholic family.
He was very close to his parents and siblings, demonstrated during a 1990 interview during which he produced stacks of phone bills which showed he had spent a minimum of 15,000 U.S. dollars a month calling his family.
They were poor, but close-knit, and he received his first football as a gift at the age of three, quickly falling in love with the game of football in Argentina, where the sport plays a key part in its culture.
By the age of 10, Maradona had joined Los Cebollitas – the youth team of Argentinos Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in Argentina – leading them to an incredible 136-game unbeaten streak.
He was even given the nickname ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (‘The Golden Boy’).
He made his first professional debut for the club’s senior team shortly before his 16th birthday, before going on to play for Bocca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli, making 491 professional appearances and 91 for the national team.
But despite his highly successful playing career and 1984 marriage to his childhood sweetheart Claudia Villafane, by the mid-1980s, Maradona had become addicted to cocaine, having started to use the drug in Barcelona in 1983.
By the time he was playing for Napoli – in the southern Italian city of Naples – his addiction had become more severe and started to interfere with his ability to play the sport which had made him an icon.
During his time in Naples, Maradona was elevated to the status of a demi-god in the city after helping to win Napoli its first European competition – the UEFA Cup, and two league championships.
But he was having a particularly hard time dealing with his fame, unable to go anywhere in the city without being hounded by the media and playing for a club he wanted leave – all while in the depths of a cocaine addiction.
It was in the crime-ridden city that Maradona enlisted the services of the Camorra – a notorious mafia crew – who offered him protection.
This served to indulge his habits of partying, taking hard drugs and enjoying the company of women other than his wife – reportedly having multiple affairs.
After a phone call with a prostitute was tapped by the police in January 1991, charges were brought against Maradona for cocaine possession and distribution, and in April the same year a blood test found traces of the drug, leading to a 15-month ban from football.
From Italy, he fled to Argentina, but was arrested there for cocaine possession as well, with pictures from the time showing a tearful Maradona being led away by police.
In 1994, eight years after his epic World Cup-winning performances in 1986, Maradona’s issues with drugs were laid bare to the world in a manic celebration against Greece during the World Cup group game in the United States.
After scoring a goal, the then 33-year-old wheeled away in celebration, screaming maniacally into a pitch-side camera.
Not long after the goal, Maradona was dismissed from international duties, and was sent home from the World Cup after testing positive for five variants of ephedrine – a performance enhancing drug banned by football’s governing body.
In 1998 – a year after he had retired from professional football – the icon received a prison sentence of two years and 10 months following an incident in which he shot an air rifle at reporters.
The incident had occurred in Feburary 1994, and resulted in four injuries after Maradona had become angry at journalists showing up at his Buenos Aires house. Footage from the incident showed him firing the weapon from behind a car.
Maradona also had the tendency to put on weight, suffering increasingly from obesity as he got older. At one point, he weighed 280 lbs (135 kg), and was obese at the end of his playing career.
For the rest of his life, he suffered from health issues, undergoing a gastric bypass in 2005, was readmitted to hospital in 2007 and treated for hepatitis and effects of alcohol abuse, and underwent surgery for a hernia in 2019.
In January, he had surgery to stem bleeding in his stomach and in July he underwent a knee operation.
Three weeks ago he was admitted to hospital for surgery on a blood clot in his brain, before being discharged to recover at home.
It was there that he died on Wednesday.
His footballing career also included turns on the pitch for Barcelona, Sevilla, Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys and he was most recently manager of Gimnasia y Esgrima in La Plata, Argentina.
He also managed the Argentinian national team at the South Africa World Cup in 2010.
The Argentine news outlet Clarin broke the news on Wednesday afternoon UK time, describing the news of Maradona’s passing as having a ‘worldwide impact’.
The sad news was confirmed by Maradona’s lawyer. Soon, tributes were pouring in from all over the world of football.
Maradona left hospital on November 11 just eight days after being admitted for emergency brain surgery.
The iconic former Argentinian footballer was driven away from the private Olivos Clinic just before 6pm on November 11 as hundreds of fans of photographers tried to get a glimpse of him.
Maradona was hospitalised the previous week and had to have an emergency operation to remove a blood clot from his brain.
Argentinian TV reporters travelling on motorbikes filmed the ambulance carrying him leaving before following the vehicle to transmit every inch of his journey.
Maradona had been admitted to hospital on several occasions since his retirement. He almost died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000 and underwent years of rehabilitation.
Maradona, who was well known for having a wild lifestyle during and after his playing days, had a gastric bypass operation to lose weight in 2005 and was once more hospitalised two years later for alcohol-induced hepatitis.
He also fell ill at the last World Cup in Russia, where he was filmed passing out in an executive box when Argentina took on and beat Nigeria in Group D.
Maradona’s ‘family XI’ battle for his millions: Footballer’s five known children ‘are likely to feud with his six rumoured offspring’ for a share of his willBy GERARD COUZENS FOR MAILONLINE
Diego Maradona’s death could spark a family feud over his estate as he leaves behind five children he recognised as his and six others he has been linked to.
Before he died one of his daughters joked he could make up a starting eleven with his kids after a 23-year-old Argentinian was named as the latest woman fighting to prove she was his daughter.
Maradona had recognised two sons and three daughters by four different women – including his ex-wife Claudia Villafane and former long-term partner Veronica Ojeda – as his own.
Giannina Maradona, one of the former footballer’s two daughters by Villafane, joked last year after the names of three children said to be his in Cuba were made public: ‘Just three more needed for the team of 11. You can do it!!!’
In October last year a 23-year-old brunette called Magali Gil emerged as the latest possible member of Maradona’s brood.
Popular Argentinian TV programme Intrusos said she had a young daughter which would have made the former Naples and Barcelona star a grandfather if he was confirmed as her father.
She is understood to have launched legal proceedings in April last year to try to prove her blood link.
Journalist Adrian Pallares told Intrusos: ‘Her mother didn’t raise her but her adoptive family, who gave her all their love.
‘The time came when she discovered she didn’t belong to that family and that her father could be Diego Armando Maradona.’
In February the she broke her silence in Argentina to confirm the situation had not moved forward and begged the football legend to agree to a DNA test.
She had already confirmed on Italian TV she had been adopted as a youngster and her birth mum contacted her at the start of 2019 to tell her who her real father was.
Magali told Argentinian journalist Tomas Dente, speaking at the start of the year for the first time in her home nation: ‘Sadly we still haven’t been able to fix a date for the DNA test.
‘I’d like to think that the predisposition Diego’s lawyer Matias Morla spoke about last December when we met is still there so this can be resolved as quickly as possible and in the best way possible.
‘I’m anxious and worried at what’s happening because this is something which is key for me, my identity and my past.
‘I’m trying to stay calm and understand that we’re talking about Diego Maradona who I know has got a packed diary.
‘I’d just like to urge him to realise there’s a person who’s waiting and needs him to be able to resolve my identify and put an end to this search.’
The Magali bombshell first emerged a month after Santiago Lara, who comes from the same Argentinian city of La Plata where Maradona managed Gimnasia y Esgrima, made a renewed TV appeal for the football legend to recognise him as his son.
The teenager, whose waitress mother Natalia Garat died aged 23 from lung cancer in 2006 and was raised by her ex-boyfriend Marcelo Lara, spoke for the first time in 2016 of his fight to find out who his real father is.
He said at the time: ‘I’ve been told my real father is supposedly Diego Maradona. My dad is always going to be Marcelo Lara but what I’ve been told is that my real father is supposedly Diego Maradona.
‘I think I look like him, the face, the curls, everything. I look at Marcelo and I know we’re not alike. It’s not easy to wake up in the morning with that feeling.’
‘I found out after I went past a newspaper stand near my house aged 13 and saw a magazine front cover with Maradona’s face on it and mine pixellated underneath.
‘I was left in a state of shock because I didn’t know what I was doing in the magazine. I went running home and asked Marcelo what was going on and he explained everything.
‘He told me my mum was well-known on the modelling circuit when she was younger and he told me he had the feeling I wasn’t his son.
‘He told me a DNA test was asked for but was never forthcoming.’
Maradona’s lawyer Matias Morla said months before the footballer’s death he would assume his responsibilities as Santiago’s father if the blood link was confirmed.
Morla has previously been quoted as saying ‘Everyone knows that in Argentina there’s Santiago and another person that people are talking about’, although other media in the South American country have speculated the 11th child that would make up Diego’s football team is a fourth Cuban.
The Cuban trio whose names have already been made public are Joana, Lu and Javielito, born after Maradona moved to the Caribbean island in February 2000 to fight drink and drug addictions.
Mr Morla, who admitted in October 2018 the ex-footballer had been ‘naughty’ in Cuba and confessed: ‘There’s going to be a lot of Maradonas, a lot, even if some people don’t like it’, has confirmed the trio met him during the funeral of Fidel Castro.
Over recent years Maradona had recognised his grown-up son Diego Junior, born from an extra-marital affair with Italian model Cristina Sinagra, and 23-year-old Jana who met her dad for the first time nearly six years ago following a court fight by her mum Valeria Sabalain.
Maradona also had two daughters by his ex-wife, 32-year-old Dalma and 30-year-old Gianinna, and a seven-year-old son called Diego Fernando by former girlfriend Veronica Ojeda.
Several Spanish-language memes went viral after Maradona’s lawyer revealed the three Cuban children.
One said: ‘If you were born between 1980 and 2019 and you have extraordinary footballing skills, contact us. You could be a son of Diego Maradona.’