Italy pays tribute to football legend Diego Maradona

Naples is to rename its stadium after the city's beloved football hero.

The death of Diego Armando Maradona, on 25 November, has plunged the Italian city Naples into mourning for the football legend who played seven golden years with Napoli, leading the club to two Serie A victories.

The Argentine footballer helped Napoli to win its first Serie A league title in 1987, a remarkable feat that saw the team overcome heavyweights Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, going on to win a second Italian league title  in 1990 – a feat the club has never matched since.

When news broke that he had died yesterday - after suffering a cardiac arrest aged 60 - Neapolitans took to the streets to mourn their hero who remains revered three decades after he left Napoli.

Maradona remembered in Naples last night. Photo Il Messaggero.

The city's Stadio S. Paolo turned on all of its spotlights in honour of Maradona. Late last night it was confirmed that the stadium is to be renamed in honour of the footballer who scored 115 goals for Napoli, despite playing primarily in a creative role as an attacking midfielder.

Describing Maradona as "the greatest footballer of all time," Naples mayor Luigi De Magistris tweeted: "Diego made our people dream, he redeemed Naples with his genius. In 2017 he became our honorary citizen. Diego, Neapolitan and Argentine, you have given us joy and happiness! Naples loves you!"

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte led tributes to the footballer, who was released from hospital a couple of weeks ago following brain surgery: "The whole world mourns the passing of Maradona, who with his unparalleled talent wrote unforgettable pages in the history of football. Goodbye eternal champion."

Pope Francis, who famously shared a warm embrace with his co-national in 2014, is praying for Maradona, according to the Vatican press office. "The pope was informed about the death of Diego Maradona, he recalls the times he met him in these past years with affection, and he is remembering him in his prayers, as he did in the past days when he was informed about his condition," said Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni.

Pope Francis and Maradona in 2014.

The Argentine pope, an avid soccer fan, met with Maradona in 2014 during a special audience linked to a charity soccer game. The football legend presented Francis with a jersey, emblazoned with “Francisco" and Maradona’s signature No. 10.

Italy's sports minister Vincenzo Spadaforo tweeted: "Maradona's death is terrible news. He was more than a champion, he was a football genius, an absolute champion. He represented the dreams and hopes of the people of my city in an unrepeatable season. Naples is crying tonight."

Napoli tweeted "Ciao Diego, Always in our hearts," with the club sharing a flood of posts from rival teams, notably Juventus which shared Maradona's historic "impossible goal" that defeated the northern giants in Naples in 1985. The magnanimous gesture was deeply appreciated by Napoli fans.

Maradona led Napoli into a golden era of football.

This weekend all of Italy's league matches will begin with a minute's silence to mark Maradona's death.

Considered by many as the greatest football player who ever lived, Maradona captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. It was during that tournament, in the quarter-final against England, that he scored a goal with his hand in an infamous incident he referred to as the “hand of God.”

Maradona's native country is reeling over his sudden death, even though his poor health and struggles with addiction had long been a subject of intense media attention.

Former England striker Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter that Maradona was by “some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God.”