His life was a running planetary pop opera for the ages. From Somalia to Bangladesh, everyone is familiar with the basic contours of his story – the pibe from Villa Fiorito, a poor suburb of Buenos Aires (“I am a slum dweller”), who elevated football to the status of pure art.
Being the king of the pitch is one thing. Playing on the global pitch non-stop is a completely different ball game. Multitudes instinctively seized what he was all about – like he was always emitting a magic buzz in a higher frequency, beyond the Empire of the Senses.
Italians, who know a thing or two about aesthetic genius, would compare him to Caravaggio: a wild, human – all too human – pagan deity dwelling in light and shades, hitting all time lows over and over as virtually his whole life played out in public: the dizzying ballet of all inner demons exploding, family scandals, divorces, rivers of alcohol, doping, evading the income tax enforcers, Himalayas of Colombian marching powder, countless intimations of death amid perpetual joy.
He personified the non-stop crossover of Olympian Heights with The Harder They Fall: a walking – dribbling – fest of wild contradictions, beyond good and evil. To borrow, laterally, from T.S. Eliot, he was like a river, “a strong brown god – sullen, untamed and intractable.”
The late, great Eduardo Galeano did picture him as a pagan deity, just like one of us: “arrogant, womanizer, weak…. We’re all like that!” El Pibe was the ultimate dirty god – “a sinner, irresponsible, presumptuous, a drunkard.” He could “never return to the anonymous multitude where he came from.”