Barcelona hosted Osasuna today in a match that doubled as Lionel Messi’s first game after Diego Maradona’s death last Wednesday. Messi scored the final goal in Barça’s 4–0 romp, and he celebrated it with an homage to Maradona:
The jersey Messi had on is an old Maradona one from 1993, when he played for Newell’s Old Boys, which is Messi’s beloved, hometown Argentine club. Maradona signed with Newell’s in the fall of 1993 at 32 years old, making it his first season back in Argentina after his years in Spain and Italy.
His return was, predictably, a sensation. Some 40 thousand fans attended his first training session at the club, which Newell’s made open to the public and held in the stadium. Locals got their first glimpse of their national icon in action in a friendly match against Ecuadorian club Emelec on October 7. In attendance that day was none other than a 6-year-old Lionel Messi, as Argentine journalist Juan Pablo Varsky pointed out on Twitter.
Maradona only made five appearances in his lone season for Newell’s, due to a combination of injuries and disagreements with management. His last game for the club was a friendly against Vasco da Gama in January of 1994, after which he stopped showing up for practice. On February 1, Newell’s cut Maradona from the team. On February 2, Maradona was arrested after shooting an air rifle at a pack of journalists outside his house.
Later that year, Maradona rejoined the Argentina national team in its run-up to the 1994 World Cup. Maradona helped the team qualify for the tournament, and played two matches in the World Cup before being ousted from the tournament and suspended from the sport for 15 months after failing an anti-doping test. The following year, Argentine writer Alejandro Apo read on his radio show the following script, written by Eduardo Sacheri, which for my money is the best explication of what Maradona meant to his country: