When Diego Maradona was in awe of Roger Federer in Dubai
Many of Ferrari’s British friends sent him messages after Maradona’s death
Jorge Ferrari, a UAE-based sports photographer, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw his iconic compatriot Diego Maradona behave like a wide-eyed child seeing Roger Federer at the 2013 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“He came to watch Roger Federer. At the end of the match, Maradona wanted to meet Federer,” Ferrari recalled.
“So we went with him through the Dubai stadium tunnel which has all the pictures of the tournament champions and he kept stopping and kissing the Federer pictures (he has won the tournament a few times).
“When Federer eventually arrived there after the end of his match, Maradona was nearly crying. He hugged and kissed him,” Ferrari added.
“Maradona was really in awe of Federer. It was not like people like us meeting Federer, you know. It was Maradona meeting Federer. But he was super excited like he was some little kid meeting his idol.”
Ferrari, the official photographer of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships who moved to the UAE after making a narrow escape from the Gulf War in Kuwait, also narrated another beautiful Maradona story.
“First of all, he made me work a lot because I had to take millions of photos. So I was really stressed, following him everywhere because he came every day to the women’s week of the tennis tournament in 2013,” Ferrari remembered.
“Then one day, as he was leaving the stadium, somebody told him that some special needs kids were waiting to meet him. He turned around and came back to meet the kids. He hugged them, got pictures with them. And the kids were so happy.”
Maradona, arguably the greatest player ever to have kicked a ball, died at the age of 60 on Wednesday.
And Ferrari said Argentinians had been ‘expecting this’ for 20 years, referring to Maradona’s history of drug abuse and reckless lifestyle.
“We were wondering how he was still alive. We thought it was the end in 2000 when he had the cocaine-induced heart failure. So knowing his history, everyone used to wonder how he was alive. But still people were in big shock last night (Wednesday),” Ferrari admitted.
Despite being thousands of miles away from his homeland, Ferrari was awake until the early morning of Thursday, tuning into the Argentinian radio to listen to the stories commentators had to share after the passing of the country’s greatest hero.
“In the Argentine radio I was listening to until 3am Thursday, they were saying of all the famous Argentina people (Eva Peron, Che Guevara, Lionel Messi), Maradona is the most recognised Argentinian ever in the world. In the last 40-50 years, Argentina is Maradona,” Ferrari said.
“I mean he pretty much won that 1986 World Cup (in Mexico) single-handedly. I cannot think of any other player who has had such impact in a World Cup. Not even Pele. The influence that he had in that modest Argentina team, nobody else has had, before or after.”
Ferrari said that in Argentina it was not easy being Maradona who rose from poverty to cement his place in the pantheon of the greatest athletes that ever lived.
“You know from the age of 17 or 18 until his last days, he could not step out of his house. He got mobbed everywhere. I mean who can live like that,” Ferrari said.
“The radio guys were telling a story that one day Maradona got into a restaurant and pleaded with the other people to let him finish his food and then he would sign autographs. Minutes later, there was a queue of people for his autograph.
“Then there was another story of Maradona flying in a first class seat. He fell asleep, but passengers from the business class still got into the first class just to see him sleep!”
It’s not surprising then that riots broke out in Buenos Aires when some mourners were unable to catch a glimpse of Maradona in his eternal sleep.
Many of Ferrari’s British friends sent him messages after Maradona left his adoring fans in tears.
“These friends usually taunt me about the ‘Hand of God’ goal (against England). But last night, they were just respectful, no traces of any irony in their messages,” Ferrari said.
“That’s why I replied to one of them and said: “You guys have the Queen and we have Maradona!”
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