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Friends and foes rally around fallen Maradona

Friends and former colleagues of Diego Maradona rallied to his support as the stricken Argentine football icon lay in a hospital bed recovering from heart attack.
PTI | By Justin Davis (AFP), Paris
PUBLISHED ON APR 21, 2004 03:51 PM IST

Friends and former colleagues of Diego Maradona rallied to his support on Monday as the stricken Argentine football icon lay in a hospital bed recovering from a second heart attack.

The 43-year-old was admitted to a private clinic on Sunday and a few hours later it was confirmed that the man who led his country to World Cup victory in 1986 had suffered a major heart attack.

As doctors fought to improve Maradona's condition, messages of support poured in from friends and foes alike.

Maradona's former club Napoli, who won Italy's Serie A title twice in 1987 and 1990 and enjoyed UEFA Cup success in 1989 while the Argentine striker was there from 1984 to 1991, was among the first to pay tribute.

"Napoli football club are following the developments of Diego Armando Maradona's health with huge concern," read a statement released by the club, whose fans still regard Maradona as an icon.

"Since last (Sunday) night, when the news first arrived, Napoli tried to make contact to find out exactly what happened.

"The club, acting as a spokesperson for all Neapolitan supporters and the whole city, wish the Argentine champion — who wrote unforgettable pages in the club's history — a quick and complete recovery."

Former Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino bore witness to the ups and downs of the Argentine's spell at the club — Maradona also tested positive for cocaine in March 1991 in his last season at the club while there in which he allegedly had links with the local Mafia — said he felt as though it was one of his family.

"I've been trying to reach Diego's family. The news has hit me as though it is one of my sons brothers," Ferlaino told Spanish newspaper Marca.

"Diego, throughout his life, has continually shown how to overcome the difficulties which seem impossible to overcome. He doesn't know how to give up. He has extraordinary inner strength," added Ferlaino, who admitted that he had had his fair share of run-ins with the star.

"Maybe we did, but that can happen even between people who like each other. But in our case those differences were mostly nurtured by the people who were part of Diego's entourage."

Maradona's friend and former agent for many years, Guillermo Coppola, said he had been shocked upon seeing the condition of the man from whom he was practically inseparable.

"I got into the hospital and the sad truth is that I feel very bad," Coppola was quoted by Marca as saying.

"We were together for so many years, practically our whole lives. We had a few differences, but the feeling I've got for Diego will never leave me."

Carlos Bilardo, who was in charge of Argentina when they won the World Cup in 1986, refused to comment after he visited his former protege at the hospital.

However Kenny Sansom - one of the England players who fell victim to Maradona's famous "Hand of God" goal at the Mexico City quarter-final in 1986 - perhaps summed up Maradona best as he described both his positive and negative sides.

"He had everything. He could go past people for fun. The second goal he scored against us in '86 he went past six players," said Sansom.

"But when people say name your world XI of all-time, I always put him on the bench because of that first goal (the 'Hand of God' goal).

"But I would put him among the top five players who've ever played the game," added Sansom, who like Ferlaino said that many of Maradona's so-called friends were partly to blame for his demise.

"He got a lot of people who were "hangers-on" and, let's face it, who wouldn't want to be around the famous Maradona.

"But I think he'll be regretting a few of those in his hospital bed."

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