This afternoon when I sat down at my laptop to write I wasn't expecting to translate another of Hernán Casciari's great soccer essays for you.
But I have this terrible habit of settling into my writing by watching some kind of video that will jump-start my creative juices. It may be a music video one day. A sports commercial the next. A TED Talk or a speech by some famous or important person.
Today I made the mistake, after writing Casciari an email to ask him what he thinks of an American taking a crack at translating his works, of pulling up a video of him reciting one of his stories. Except, in this video, it's his mother who is actually reciting the piece. And the piece is called, "A Letter to Maradona," who you all know died under dubious circumstances in November 2020.
Even though it reads as if it could've been written yesterday, the essay is actually more than a decade old. It was written and posted to Casciari's blog on April 21, 2004, when Maradona was readmitted to the hospital a month after nearly dying from heart and lung failure.
The essay was later included in Casciari's first novel, Mas Respeto Que Soy Tu Madre (Some Respect Please, I'm Your Mother), written from the perspective of an Argentinian housewife. It was Casciari's first viral essay, and it made the rounds again last year after Maradona's death.
Because I also have a poster of Maradona celebrating after scoring that famous goal against the English in Mexico '86 in my office (you'll catch the reference later), and I hadn't found any English translation of this essay online, I decided to give it a shot.
Tell me what you think.
I've seen my husband cry only three times in his life: when they told him Nacho was a boy; when you scored that second goal against the English; and when they booted you from the World Cup in '94.
I must admit, it is thanks to you I discovered my husband had blood in his veins.
For that reason, if he prays, I pray. And it doesn't matter to me if we have to pray for you again. In this home, when my husband says we need to light candles for Diego, we light them, and that's it.
But you are no saint of mine—I've already told you that a million times. You're a loudmouth and an asshole, and I can't stand to listen to you speak. My husband says, if I liked football, I'd feel differently about you. That on the field you were like someone from another planet. Nobody could do what you did. You broke the laws of physics and blah blah blah. I don't need convincing. I'm a grown woman. I don't understand anything about football, nor do I care to understand anything about that silly game you play.
But there are things I do understand. And it is for those things I pray these nights. But know this: it is not because of you.
Do you know why I pray? It's because there were moments when we had nothing, absolutely nothing, on the dinner table, and you brought joy to my family. Alfonsín had the country in shambles, and out of the sky God dropped on us that World Cup in '86 that you won by your own left foot and nobody else's.
For me, that was an insufferable time. All I had to feed my family that winter were spinach fritters, every lunch and dinner. It was all the same. We were starving.
But if I ask my husband or my son today what they remember of that winter, they smile. And they say you. That's all they remember. They don't have the faintest memory of the hunger in their bellies.
Tonight, outside the doors of the clinic where you're breathing through a plastic tube, there are dozens of foreign journalists taking photos of people lighting candles and praying the rosary past midnight. Sometimes I get embarrassed that the rest of the world thinks that Argentinian people are so simple. So stupid. Then I feel this need to tell them that nobody here is praying for that asshole they've seen on TV. For the loudmouth always saying vulgar things. I feel the need to tell them what kind of country this is: how few joys we've had these past 20 years. And that of the few, almost all of them were because of you.
It takes so much for us to agree on anything anymore. To laugh or cry or shout together. To chant Argentina! Argentina! and beat our chests with pride. To march hand in hand together. To want to better ourselves. To stomp our feet in anger. To do anything.
That day in '94 when they caught you with ephedrine I walked out to the street and—I swear on the lives of my three children—everyone was crying. They walked the streets in silence. You could see the mucus falling from their noses. All of Argentina was left without its breath. How strange we are, I thought to myself. Then I noticed I was also crying.
Even my son, the one who never saw you lift the World Cup, has a poster of you in his bedroom. He speaks of you like he knows you. Like he's seen you play. My grandfather, the Italian one, forgave you after that day you sent all of Italy to hell. Even my oldest, who absolutely hates football, says you're more than a drug addict and a cheater, and he defends you to the world.
How am I not supposed to pray for you to get better?
Many years from now, my children's children will live in a much better country. They will feel proud to be Argentinian; I'm sure of it. And in that Argentina no one will remember all the horrible parts of you. In the children's textbooks at school, it'll say only what we were meant to remember: that once there was this little Indian boy who played soccer better than anybody who ever lived.
In that future time, no one will remember that you were a loudmouth and an asshole. They will only say you were capable of lifting a sad, desperate country up so that it shouted with joy. That you made us happy in our darkest hour.
I pray so that man doesn't die.
I pray so that you'll be healed. So that you can finally rest after all the strength it's taken to be you. To be the only one like you. So that you will have years left to be just like the rest of us. A man who can hug his grandchildren. Because it must feel very nice to make it to old age, look your grandson in the eye, and say: Do you know who I was once? I was Diego Maradona, and I've lived to tell about it.
Here is my favorite version of the story read by Casciari's mother: