In the view of many soccer fans, he’s the greatest player in the history of the sport. Born fifty-five years ago in a shantytown in Buenos Aires, he played for such teams as FC Barcelona and Napoli. He captained the Argentine national squad to victory in the 1986 World Cup finals, where he scored a goal that’s been voted the greatest in World Cup history.
Millions adore Diego Maradona. And there are a few people he adores, too. Recently he recorded a video tour of his home in Dubai – yes, Dubai. In addition to pointing out family portraits, he proudly showed off photographs of himself with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, whom Maradona called, respectively, “the greatest man” and “his best disciple.”
The soccer giant, observed Adam Dubove at the PanamPost, “has never hidden his political inclinations. He publicly backed Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, ardently defends the Cuban dictatorship, and even became friends with the late Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi.” His body bears tattoos of both Fidel and Che Guevara. On his house tour, Maradona displayed a framed letter from Castro, sent to him “earlier this year to debunk rumors of his death,” and another recent missive, from Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. “I framed it,” he explained, “because to me, she is my president.”
The letter from Castro, which ran to four pages, made headlines in January of this year. As the Independent put it, the letter provided “the first news heard about Castro and his activities for nearly three months.” When Maradona showed it to journalists, media around the world reported that Fidel – who had not been seen in public for over a year – was, indeed, still alive. Rumors of his death had circulated only a week earlier.
That’s not all. Maradona is also friendly with the rulers of the United Arab Emirate, and was a fan of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the former President of Iran.
These friendships go back quite a while. In 2005, Maradona went with Chávez to Mar del Plata, Argentina, to protest a trade agreement proposed by the administration of George W. Bush. Appearing on Chávez’s own radio show back in 2007, Maradona said, “I believe in Chávez, I am a chavista.… Everything Fidel does, everything Chávez does is, for me, the best. I hate everything that comes from the United States. I hate it with all my strength.”
“I came to Venezuela to find a president,” he later remarked, “and found a friend.” Chávez, he added, “taught me a lot.”
In February of last year, Maradona responded to democratic protests against Maduro’s regime by offering to fight for it. “We’re seeing all the lies from the imperialists, and I’m willing to be a soldier for Venezuela for whatever is needed of me,” Maradona vowed. “Chávez would have wanted this.” George W. Bush and others U.S. leaders, said Maradona, “disgust me.” He added: “I believe in Venezuela. Long live Maduro, and Chávez, from the heavens, is accompanying you.”
In April 2013, a month after Chávez’s death, Maradona and Maduro paid tribute to him at his tomb. “What I remember about Hugo,” Maradona confessed on Venezuelan government TV, “was a great friendship, an incredible political wisdom. Hugo Chávez has changed Latin America’s way of thinking. We had surrendered to the United States and he put it in our heads that we can go forward on our own.” Apologizing for not making it to the funeral, Maradona smeared the “imperialist” U.S. and expressed his support for Maduro’s presidential candidacy.
This past June, Maduro himself recommended that Maradona be named head of FIFA, the international soccer association.