Three days of national mourning have begun in Argentina following the death of Diego Maradona aged 60, as tributes poured in from around the world.
Maradona captained Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986 and is regarded as one of the best players of all time, if not the greatest.
He died at his home in Tigre, near Buenos Aires, on Wednesday after suffering a cardiac arrest, having undergone surgery earlier this month to remove a clot on the brain. His body will lie in state at the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace.
Barcelona and Argentina captain Lionel Messi, considered alongside Maradona as one of the greatest players in history, said it was a sad day for football. "He has left us but he will never leave us because Diego is eternal,” he wrote on Facebook.
Juventus and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo said the world was saying goodbye to an “eternal genius.”
“One of the best ever. An unparalleled magician. He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled,” he wrote on Twitter.
And Brazilian legend Pelé wrote, “One day, I hope we can play ball together in the sky.”
Maradona scored 34 goals in 91 appearances for Argentina, leading them to two World Cup finals. A message on the Argentina national team’s Twitter page simply said, “Goodbye, Diego.”
Maradona was captain when Argentina won the World Cup for the second time in 1986, scoring two of the most famous goals in history in the quarter-final against England: one, the so-called “Hand of God”, where he used his hand to prod the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper, and the other a sublime piece of skill and energy where he rounded most of the England players before slotting home.
At club level he is best known for his illustrious spell at Napoli, where he won two Serie A titles and a handful of domestic and European cups. The club would later retire the famous number 10 shirt worn by Maradona.
Napoli said in a statement: “Everyone expects our words. But what words can we use for pain like the one we are experiencing? Now is the time for tears. Then there will be the time for words.”
Maradona’s time in Italy coincided with his massive drug use, and in the 1990s he was suspended for drug violations and even kicked out of Argentina’s World Cup squad at USA 94.
In the following decade he was twice hospitalised for heart problems, and struggled with obesity. He returned to dabble in management, even leading Argentina to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
But whatever his exploits off the field, he will forever be remembered for what he did on the pitch, as quite simply one of the most talented players of all time, and an icon of Argentina.