Argentine football legend Diego Maradona has died at the age of 60, his spokesman announced Wednesday.
Renowned along with Brazil’s Pele as one of the greatest footballers of all time, the Argentine World Cup winning captain died of a heart attack, having undergone brain surgery earlier this month, a member of his entourage told AFP.
President Alberto Fernandez immediately announced three days of national mourning in the South American country.
“Rest in Peace, legend of football,” tweeted Brazil idol Neymar. His message was accompanied by a black and white photo of Maradona from his playing days with Neymar as a boy.
Shortly before the announcement that shocked the world, Argentine media reported Maradona had suffered a serious health setback on Wednesday and was being treated at his home north of Buenos Aires.
“There are four ambulances at the door of the residence. They have summoned family members to come. It is serious,” the TyC Sports channel reported.
The life of the divine footballing talent that was Diego Armando Maradona has been marked by wild highs and lows.
Excesses with cocaine and alcohol had long taken their toll on the mercurial talent’s health.
The former player underwent surgery earlier this month to remove a clot lodged between his brain and skull.
Maradona has been admitted to hospital three times in the last 20 years for serious health issues — two of which were potentially fatal — due to his drug and alcohol addictions.
‘Hand of God’
The highs were crowned by his performances when he captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
In the final, Maradona set up the 86th-minute winner against West Germany. He scored twice in the semi-final against Belgium, beating four defenders for the second.
But the match that defined his tournament, and possibly his international career, was the 2-1 quarter-final win over England, in which he scored two goals that will be remembered forever — for very different reasons.
In the 51st minute, as England goalkeeper Peter Shilton reached to catch the ball, Maradona , some seven inches shorter, jumped alongside him and with a deftness that fooled the eye, flicked the ball with his hand through the England goalkeeper’s arms and into the net.
After the game, Maradona said he scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”
The goal he scored four minutes later, when he picked up the ball in his own half and glided past six England players, including Shilton, was named “Goal of the Century” by FIFA.
He played for Boca Juniors in Argentina before joining Barcelona in Spain and later Napoli in Italy.
European football authority UEFA announced that Maradona is to be honored with a minute’s silence before Wednesday’s Champions League games.
In 2000, world football authority FIFA ran an online Player of the Century poll. Maradona gained 54 per cent of the vote, Pele was second with 18 per cent. FIFA declared them joint winners.
Maradona married his long-time girlfriend Claudia Villafane in 1984. They had two daughters, Dalma and Gianinna, and divorced in 2004.
He also had a son, Diego Junior, born in Naples in 1986, although he only acknowledged paternity in 2004.