Recently (in November 2012), Diego Maradona came to Kerala. More precisely, he visited Kannur, part of the football-crazy Malabar region. Maradona went back a day later, after inaugurating a jewellery showroom, and celebrating his 51st birthday a week earlier. But memories of the Argentine legend would linger in Malabar and may outlive the ghost of Vasco da Gama.
Despite S Sreesanth, and in some cases, because of him, Malayalis still love football though they do not have a Xavier Pius, Sathyan, I M Vijayan and Joe Paul Ancherry in the current National squad.
Twenty-something Malayalis who watch Premier League would not know about Pius, but they should know everything about Maradona. Especially if you are from Malabar region, home to legions of football fans from districts, including Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur.
Malayalis and Maradona are made for each other. It would be fair to say Maradona is a spent force on football field. He has had disastrous stints as a football manager both at national and club level. But nobody worships Maradona the manager. His stature as a player has not been surpassed by Lionel Messi, despite the number of goals, the young Argentine has scored.
But for a football-poor India and Kerala, Maradona left some messages in the way he kicked up passion for the game in Kannur the other day. He just became one with the crowd of admirers in Kannur. He danced with them. Sang a song. Kicked away footballs to waiting, screaming fans. Headed the ball for a few minutes with what would be an obscure local footballer (I M Vijayan to us) to Diego. He cut a cake. He tried to say a few words in Malayalam. (Experts say he did not succeed in this.) He did not have a posse of security guards ringing him. In fact Maradona had no worries so he could be himself.
Back to Maradona mystique. Malayali’s romance with communism resulted in many naming their children after Lenin and Stalin. There were many Sachins, even before Sachin Tendulkar came along.
But are there any Maradonas in Malabar? Maybe I should find out.