The Call of the 10 – Translation

The Call of the 10 – Translation


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[Daniel Alarcón]:

Welcome to Radio Ambulante. From NPR, I’m Daniel Alarcón.


 [Mariano Sinito, small boy]: Our Father, who art in the soccer fields, hallowed be thy left. Let thy magic come to our eyes; let thy goals be remembered on earth as they are in heaven.

[Daniel]: This is Mariano Sinito, an Argentine boy who belonged to a rather strange Church. One with rites, prayers and holy days, like any other, but with a somewhat different God. Earthly, excessive, sinful, but capable of doing great miracles on a soccer field.

We’re talking about the Maradonian Church, the cult of Diego Armando Maradona. The Church was born in the city of Rosario, Argentina. And about Mariano, who at the age of nine, in 2005, appeared on a television program explaining the details of his soccer church.


[Dady Brieva]: If I look for myself among those affiliated with the Maradonian Church, among the faithful, am I there? Do I have my card? Am I . . . what would you call it, a member?

 [Mariano]: Yes, a member. I never had the opportunity to visit the website because I don’t have internet on my . . . on the computer. Besides, my dad won’t let me use it because it belongs to him, a Notebook. He uses it for work.

[Daniel]: The person speaking with Mariano is Dady Brieva, a comedian who back then hosted “Agrandadytos”, a show in which he interviewed very young children and made them talk about everything—love, what they thought of adults, in short, cute conversations that were funny.

In the program we are listening to, Mariano even recited the Maradonian commandments.


 [Mariano]: Thou shalt preach the principles of the Maradonian Church. Thou shalt take Diego as a middle name and pass it on your son.

 [Dady]: And if it’s a woman?

 [Mariano]: Name her Diego.

 [Daniel]: Those are the eighth and the ninth commandments.


[Dady]: Tell me the tenth commandment.

 [Mariano]: Thou shalt not be the head of a thermos and never let a turtle get away.

 [Dady]: And?

 [Mariano]: You must never speak ill of Diego.

[Daniel]: Two of Maradona’s famous phrases: not being the head of a thermos, that is, not being a fool, not having an empty head like a thermos. And don’t let a turtle get away. Meaning that if you aren’t clever enough, opportunities will slip out of your hand.

This wasn’t the first time Mariano appeared in “Agrandadytos”. They had invited him before, and they had talked about the same thing more or less—about Maradona, about the rites of the church, about what it would be like to meet Diego.

But this time, something different happened.

After the commandments, Dady and Mariano kept on talking for a while, until the conversation was interrupted by a phone call.


[Diego Armando Maradona]: Hello.

 [Mario Sinito]: Hello, who’s speaking?

[Maradona]: Hello, Dady?

[Mario]: I know that voice, yes, it’s Diego, it’s Diego.

[Maradona]: Mariano?

[Dady]: Hold on—can it be Diego? — Because there are a lot of imitators out there.

[Mariano]: But he, no, no, no.

[Dady]: Ask him a question to see if it is Diego.

[Mariano]: Was the goal against the English done with your hand?

[Maradona]: Hmm. I’ll tell you on Monday, on the program.

[Mariano]: Ok then, it’s all good, it is Diego.

[Dady]: But why?

[Mariano]: It’s Diego, I say it’s Diego.

 [Daniel]: In the video, you can see how Mariano’s expression changes when he hears Maradona’s voice. He opens his eyes very wide, as if he hardly believes what he’s experiencing. And he says:


 [Mariano]: Wow! I feel like I’m touching the sky, I’m meeting God.

 [Daniel]: “I feel like I’m touching the sky,” he says. But that call was actually the beginning of a long story. This is Mariano today, 25 years old:

[Mariano]: When I was nine, ten years old, I had one of the happiest moments of my life, followed by a little hell on earth.

[Daniel]: Our producer Aneris Casassus continues the story.

[Aneris Casassus]: Let’s start with how Mariano ended up in the Maradonian Church. You could say that everything fell into place for it.

First of all, he was born in Rosario, which for many is the leading soccer city of the leading soccer country in the world. He couldn’t even walk yet, and he was already going to the field to see the games with Newell’s Old Boys, one of the Rosario teams. His dad took him—he was a Maradona fan, of course, but not as much as his mom.

The founders of the Maradonian Church, in fact, were friends of the family.

The story of the Diego creed began on October 29, 1998.

It was almost midnight. Hernán Amez, a sports journalist, went out to buy a beer, and along the way he met a friend.

This is Hernán.

[Hernán Amez]: And I went out holding a beer bottle in my hand and headed to a store. He did the same, at the same time, and he had the same thing in mind, right? Have something to drink after twelve, each in his own house. We ran into each other. “What are you doing? How are you doing?” Merry Christmas!” I said.

 [Aneris]: “Merry Christmas,” he said in those first minutes of October 30, and there was no need to explain anything. His friend replied the same. Then they called a third friend to repeat the greeting.

[Hernán]: And I say to him, “Merry Christmas” to surprise him. And he says, “You guys are crazy, what are you doing, you’re drunk.” Well . . . and in reality, this happened before we drank the beer. But the “Merry Christmas” led us the next day, feeling refreshed, to start calling other friends and wishing them the same, and well . . .

[Aneris]: They all understood the joke. “Merry Christmas” because that day was Diego Maradona’s 38th birthday, the “God of Soccer” to many Argentinians. So they decided they had to celebrate. The first three years, they organized barbecues, meetings to watch the goals, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Until, in 2001, Hernán had an idea.

[Hernán]: We talked a lot about . . . about the god. Well, precisely the miracles that he caused in us. I felt we had to—I mean, to reflect something different for Maradona. Maradona was different. We have to do something different also because we feel it. And I proposed we create the Maradonian Church with our whole group of friends.

[Aneris]: The first thing they decided was to have their own calendar . . .

[Hernán]: We began to have the Maradonian calendar, right? The year 41DD, because the birth of Diego also marks our beginning.

[Aneris]: The year 41DD, Después de Diego.

Deep down, it was a big exaggeration, half joking, half serious, of the adoration they felt for Maradona. But launching a Church in which god was a soccer player, in a city like Rosario, made all the sense in the world. The news soon spread by word of mouth and the “faithful” began to arrive, first from all parts of the city, and then from all over the country.

With Christmas defined, the next thing they did was choose their Easter. And of course, it could be nothing other than the anniversary of the mythical game in which Argentina and England faced off during the World Cup in Mexico 86.

 Four years earlier, in 1982, Argentina had gone to war with England to regain sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. An unequal war, in which 650 Argentinian soldiers died in less than three months. They were still feeling the sting of defeat when Argentina faced England in Mexico, and the players took it as a rematch.

In the most important game of his life, with the Azteca Stadium filled to bursting, Maradona had an unforgettable performance. First, he did the “Hand of God,” the most famous feat of cheating in soccer history, when Diego pretended to head the ball, but actually scored with his fist. And four minutes later, his most beautiful move, the so-called “goal of the century,” according to a FIFA poll, the best goal of the twentieth century.


[Víctor Hugo Morales]: Gooooooal. golazo! Cosmic Comet! What planet did you come from? Leaving so many Englishmen behind, so that the entire country is one clenched fist, cheering for Argentina.

[Aneris]: The cheating and the art. The two sides of Maradona’s genius.


[Víctor Hugo Morales]: Argentina two, England zero.

[Aneris]: It was on an anniversary of that famous match—Easter of the year 42 DD for the Maradonians, 2003 for the rest of us—when Mariano Sinito, the boy we heard at the beginning, showed up at the Church for the first time.

[Mariano]: It was a meal at a restaurant. My dad was going and asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes.

[Aneris]: He was seven years old, played soccer in the Newell’s Old Boys junior league, and pretended he was Maradona every time he touched a ball. Of course he was going to accept the invitation.

He remembers well everything he saw when he walked in.

[Mariano]: A model of a chapel that was made with the logo of the Maradonian Church, but instead of having a bell, it had a ball. The ball with the crown of thorns, which is how soccer has suffered since Maradona retired. Ah, the goalary, which is like a giant rosary, in which each of the little balls represents one of Maradona’s goals for the Argentinian team . . .

[Aneris]: By that time, the Church was well established and the festivities were massive. They had traditions, commandments, and even their own prayers.


 [Voice]: In the name of La Tota, Don Diego, and the fruit of their love. Diegooooooo, Diegooooo, Diegoooo . . . .

[Aneris]: That day, while they ate pizza and drank, Mariano remembers that someone read the first chapter of Maradona’s autobiography, they watched fragments of the game against England, and they all sang a couple of songs.


 [Aneris]: Mariano was fascinated. His dad started taking him to all the celebrations. Mariano memorized Maradona’s achievements and the phrases that he heard in church.

At the age of seven, he had seen the videos of all his greatest feats and began to learn many facts about his life: That he was born in a poor neighborhood of Greater Buenos Aires, called Villa Fiorito. That as a child they called him “Pelusa” (Fluff) because of his disheveled curls. That he was one of eight children of Doña Tota and Don Diego. That with his first salary at Argentinos Juniors, at age 16, he took Doña Tota out to eat pizza and that, from that moment on, his family stopped going hungry. That later he played with his beloved club, Boca Juniors. And then he played in Europe. First with Barcelona and then with little Napoli, in southern Italy. That there he began to build another part of his myth—the rebel against the powerful, winning several titles against the rich clubs of the north.

And he had learned, for example, the fact that Diego did not like it when people cried. That he couldn’t bear to see his loved ones crying, and that once he became famous, he would feel very uncomfortable if someone cried when they met him.

Soon, Mariano and his dad were baptized as Maradonians. In order to do so, they had to replicate the “Hand of God” in a maximum of three attempts. They made an improvised goal and someone was the goalie.

Little by little, the Church grew. They could gather some five hundred people at Easter and Christmas, and couples even came to get married in Diego’s name.

It was all still a big delirium of these soccer fans, but it grew so much that it began to appear in the press around the world, and Hernán and his friends could barely keep track of the number of members. The last database is from a decade ago, and according to Hernán, it has 250 thousand faithful in 120 countries. Among them: Lionel Messi and English soccer stars such as Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen.

It was during the Maradonian Christmas of 2004 that the little devotee caught the attention of the media. That night, there were journalists covering the event, and Mariano answered some questions.

Something in particular caught the attention of Hernán, the founder of the Church.

[Hernán]: His talkativeness, because he spoke very well, fast.

[Aneris]: There was an explanation: In addition to being a soccer player, Mariano dreamed of being an actor. He would ask his dad to put him down for castings, and he would imagine himself on the red carpet, working on television or maybe making movies. So he always tried to show himself very much at ease in front of the cameras.

And that’s important for what I’m about to tell you now.


[Narrator]: God came to TV. From this Monday at 10:00 p.m., “La Noche del 10”.

[Aneris]: “La Noche del 10” was a television program hosted by Maradona himself, about himself and his great feats, released in 2005. And it wasn’t just a show. It was a mega-production as was never before seen in Argentina, with outstanding figures, celebrities like Pelé, Messi, Mike Tyson, Thalía, Roberto Gómez Bolaños, Fidel Castro, Raffaella Carrà . . .

And if you don’t believe this deification of Diego, then listen to the publicity for his program. It wasn’t only the members of the Maradonian Church who worshiped him as a god.


[Narrator]: They say he was the same as everyone else, yet he did things that seemed like little miracles. He gave people back something much more important than their sight. He restored their pride. They say that they cut off his legs and he kept walking. They say that he died and rose again, one, two, three thousand times. The greatest world television program hosted by the greatest, because there is nothing more beautiful than getting a good look at Diego, because there is nothing like watching him on Channel 13.

[Aneris]: “Getting a good look at Diego,” they say, because, as you heard, the program was presented as Maradona’s latest “resurrection.” Since his retirement from soccer eight years earlier, his drug problems had worsened, he had been hospitalized, and he had gained a tremendous amount of weight. But after reaching a state in which his health was a cause of concern for the whole country, he looked like his usual self again. He had undergone a gastric bypass and claimed to have overcome his addictions a year and a half ago.

In the promos of the program, he appeared fit, quick to answer, well versed. It was as if suddenly the real Diego had returned, and the impostor of recent years had disappeared.

And in a program about Diego, directed by Diego, of course there was room for everything. Like, for example, him interviewing himself. And not as a monologue, but literally, with a montage showing two Diegos sitting at the same table—the interviewer on the left side of the screen, wearing a shirt and jacket; the interviewee on the right, wearing a T-shirt and jeans.


[Maradona 1]: Well Diego, let’s talk about soccer.

[Maradona 2]: Go ahead, Diego, go ahead.

[Maradona 1]: What did soccer give you?

[Maradona 2]: Soccer gave me everything. It gave me fame, it gave me money, it gave me happiness, it gave me glory . . .

[Aneris]: In that interview with himself, he talked about his history with drugs.


[Maradona 2]: For those who take drugs, when a low comes you have to get high to keep going, and it’s a chain.

[Aneris]: About how he had hit rock bottom, and how only his wife, his daughters, his mother and his brothers had been able to pull him out from there—temporarily.


[Maradona 2]: And I was under water, and they grabbed me by the hair just like that and they pulled me out so I wouldn’t drown.

[Maradona 1]: Can you say that we’ve beaten the addiction? Or not?

[Maradona 2]: No, you never beat it.

[Aneris]: Despite topics like these, “La Noche del 10” had been designed as a family-oriented show. That’s why the producers decided to promote it on “Agrandadytos”, the program we mentioned earlier, where they interviewed children. They wanted to find a tender, eloquent boy who was a super-fan of Maradona and create a great television moment. One that all the news outlets would be talking about the next day.

So, they called Hernán, from the Maradonian Church, to see if they could recommend anyone. He immediately thought of Mariano, who had spoken so well in front of the journalists.

[Hernán]: I told him, “Look,” I say, “I think this is the one who will work. Here you go; call him, talk to his father.”

[Aneris]: The producer called the father first and then spoke with Mariano, who was already nine, to see if it was true that he was as much a fan of Diego as they said.

He even kind of tested him on different data about Maradona. This is how Mariano remembers it:

[Mariano]: I must have given them the right answers because they called me the following week . . . to go to a casting in front of the cameras in Buenos Aires. Their idea was to see if I would . . . shrink in front of the camera, you see?

[Aneris]: But no, Mariano did not shrink. His father began to take him out of school every Wednesday or Thursday to travel from Rosario to Buenos Aires, where they stayed for two days. First, he passed a few rounds of casting and then the recordings began. His dream of being an actor seemed close.

Several interviews were shot with the host, Dady Brieva, where he was introduced as a representative of the Maradonian Church. They made him recite the commandments, talk about what they did, the rituals. Then he would go back to Rosario with his father and on Monday he was back in school, where he was already starting to become famous because he was on TV. But not as famous as he would be after that episode where he received the call from Maradona.

[Mariano]: When we went to record that show, I should have already suspected, now looking back, that something strange was going to happen.

[Aneris]: When he arrived at the TV channel, the first thing that caught Mariano’s attention was a large high-end vehicle, which he had never seen there.

[Mariano]: Basically, the length of an entire block. It looked like a luxury limousine. A blue French vehicle.

[Aneris]: Mariano leaned out the window, and something caught his eye and stuck with him.

[Marino]: I remember seeing in the car, in the ashtray, in the back seat, a cigar. I thought, “Well, the owner of the TV channel must have arrived today; he must be here at the door.”

[Aneris]: But unusual things kept happening. First, he had to change up on the second floor, instead of in the dressing room he had always used. Then he had to go through very dark hallway, which he had never used, to get to the set. And when he got there, the atmosphere made his jaw drop.

[Mariano]: Producers, people from other programs, family, friends, people from the Maradonian Church, all ready to watch the interview from the stands. In my head I was thinking, “Well, I must be the number one attraction on the channel.”

[Aneris]: They settled in, the lights came on and the show began.


[Dady]: Ladies and gentlemen, the “Agrandadytos” stage dresses up for a party by presenting one of its most prominent figures . . .

[Aneris]: In the middle of the set, there was a very low table, with two chairs for children. Dady was sitting on one side and Mariano on the other. That day, he was wearing a blue sweatshirt of Argentina’s national team, with Maradona’s number 10 on his chest.

They talked about whether there were celebrities in the Church, whether the fans of Newell’s and Rosario Central, their archrival, could coexist in it. If Mariano would be willing to share the program with a special guest . . .


[Dady]: I’m about to invite a grandson of Pelé to come here so we can chat together, what do you think?

 [Mariano]: Go right ahead!

 [Dady]: Do I have your permission?

 [Mariano]: Yes, you do.

 [Dady]: And we can talk, who knows . . .

 [Mariano]: It’s all good. It’s all good. It’s even better that way.

[Aneris]: Mariano recites the commandments, they talk a little more and then the call that we already heard comes in, Maradona, which interrupts everything.


 [Mariano]: I know that voice, yes, it’s Diego.

[Aneris]: The conversation lasts about three minutes, and Mariano never stops smiling. In the end, Maradona extends an invitation . . .


[Maradona]: I want to take the opportunity to invite Mariano whenever he would like to come to my show.

 [Mariano]: Goal!

 [Maradona]: (Laughter) have him get three or four friends from the Maradonian Church . . .

 [Mariano]: No problem.

 [Maradona]: And they can come to the show, they are invited.

 [Dady]: Sometimes you look for God and you don’t find him in your prayers—what are the chances of having the Maradonian Church, and finding god, and knowing that it’s god, and being able to chat with god. That doesn’t happen in any other church.

[Mariano]: It’s like having god’s phone number!

 [Aneris]: Mariano is ecstatic. He’s talking to Maradona on the phone, he’s being invited to his show, and soon he’ll be able to meet him in person. When the call ends, Dady goes a step further: he suggests they pray to see if maybe the dream will come true sooner . . .


[Dady]: Let’s pray hard to see if God comes down from heaven and comes to us. We can pray the Our Father.

 [Mariano]: Yes.

 [Dady]: Let do it.

[Aneris]: Mariano closes his eyes, puts his hands together and says:

[Mariano]: “Our god who art in the soccer fields, hallowed be thy left. Let thy magic come to our eyes; let thy goals be remembered on earth as they are in heaven. Give us this day joy, and forgive those journalists as we forgive the Neapolitan mafia. And lead us not into temptation, deliver us from Havelange . . . Diego.”

[Aneris]: When he finishes praying, the presenter gives him a warning:


 [Dady]: You know that when you pray with all your might . . . and you really want something, it happens, right?

 [Aneris]: Then Mariano looks from side to side, sensing what is about to happen . . .


[Mariano]: Whoa, no . . . no, no, no . . .

[Aneris]: Suddenly, Maradona steps out from the shadows. Mariano rubs his eyes, still looking at him, and the “Agrandadytos” set is silent.

Diego greets Dady and walks over to where Mariano is.


 [Maradona]: Hello, buddy.

[Aneris]: Diego opens his arms and leans down to hug him. They remain like this for several seconds, glued to each other, and Mariano starts to cry.        

Despite the cameras and the audience, it’s an emotional moment, even intimate, between the idol and the child who admires him above all things.

And it’s right at this very moment that Dady interrupts.


[Dady]: Well, you’re not going to cry like a baby, now.

[Mariano]: What? Whadda ya’ wan’ me to do?

 [Dady]: Well, okay, go ahead and cry. Calm down and then come over here, it’s ok. Come on, now, let’s show Diego everything we know. We were talking, we were talking about everything. You made me pray like a moron.

 [Maradona]: Come on, buddy; its ok, buddy, come on.

 [Dady]: What the hell, right? How powerful, right?

 [Mariano]: You bet! How can it not be powerful!

 [Aneris]: Diego sits next to him, tries to calm him down: he hugs him, strokes his hair. Mariano covers his eyes and wipes his tears.

Mariano had kept back his tears during the call, but now, having Diego by his side, it was impossible . . .


 [Mariano]: When I was talking on the phone with you, I didn’t feel like crying because I know you don’t like it when people cry.

[Maradona]: (Laughter). It’s true, it’s true, buddy . . .

 [Mariano]: Diego doesn’t like it when people cry.

 [Dady]: But hey, come on, pull yourself together and let’s enjoy the man, buddy . . . We’re here.

 [Mariano]: I’m trying, but . . . I’m with Diego! The only time this is going to happen in my life, I think.

 [Aneris]: Maradona makes a gesture of surprise at this fact that Mariano knows about him.


 [Maradona]: And you know, this crying thing, I say people shouldn’t cry, I don’t like it when people cry. And this kid, look at the things he knows . . . “Because Diego doesn’t like it when people cry.”

[Aneris]: Diego kisses him on the cheek. Mariano smiles.


[Mariano]: Now I’m touching the sky, I really am. I’m next to god, what else could you want.

[Dady]: Right? Well, what happens now? Is there a day before and after this moment?

 [Mariano]: Sure, there is a day before and after.

[Daniel]: And he wasn’t wrong. After meeting his god, his life would never be the same.

We’ll be back after a break.

[Daniel]: We’re back on Radio Ambulante, I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, we met Mariano Sinito, a nine-year-old boy, a member of the Maradonian Church, who met Maradona on television. It was one of the happiest moments of his life, but it would soon transform into something else . . .

Aneris continues the story.

[Aneris]: Mariano had always dreamed of meeting Diego. But he saw it as a fantasy.

[Mariano]: The same way that I imagine playing in the first division of Barcelona, something far-off, difficult to achieve, you know? Like winning the lottery.

[Aneris]: That’s why, the moment he finished reciting the “Our Diego,” he opened his eyes, and he saw Maradona enter the television studio . . .

[Mariano]: I go into a state of complete denial. And I start to say, “No, no, no, no, no, no.”


[Mariano, child]: No, no, no . . .

[Mariano]: It’s the only word that would come out, and I absolutely break down in tears when I give him a hug. Dady Brieva made a joke telling me not to cry like a fool. And I got mad at him (laughs), I wanted to insult him. But I remembered I was on television and I couldn’t insult him on the air. Then the Rosarino inside me came out. For those who don’t know, those of us from Rosario have a very strong accent in Argentina. We don’t pronounce certain letters. Well, instead of insulting him, the Rosarino inside me said, “Whadda ya’ wan’ me to do?”


 [Mariano child]: “Whadda ya’ wan’ me to do?”

 [Mariano]: Without pronouncing a single S

[Aneris]: That phrase from Mariano would stick in the memory of the tens of thousands of people who were on the other side of the screen that Sunday. The program had a peak rating in Argentina. In Rosario, especially, they were very aware of his appearances on television. Everyone watched him—relatives, his friends from school and the neighborhood, his teachers.

But the most emotional part for Mariano wasn’t seen on the air. When the recording was over, Maradona approached his family. He picked up his little brother, and thanked his dad and his mom for letting him meet their son.

Mariano went home happy. He had met his idol and, incidentally, had become famous. And he carried in his hands a ball signed by Diego.

As was to be expected, when he returned to school, he was the center of attention. His classmates asked him to share more details about what Diego was like, what it was like to be with him. Mariano had been left with a feeling:

 [Mariano]: Maradona is a very short person, but at that moment he made me feel two centimeters tall. I mean, he made me feel tiny next to him, because he has a very special energy and it’s something that you can’t explain unless you feel it. He really is a human being with a different energy.

[Aneris]: That was one of the things he told some of his classmates, who congratulated him and were proud to have a friend who was on TV. Although some of the boys began to tease him for crying on television. They made fun of him by saying the now famous “whadda ya’ want me to do,” the phrase Mariano had said in tears on the air. Whenever he came up against that, he always had a reply ready, one that brought him peace:

[Mariano]: “Well, I gave Maradona a hug and you didn’t.”

 [Aneris]: The teasing didn’t affect him much. And he didn’t have much time to pay attention to it, either. After the meeting in “Agrandadytos”, Maradona had given him a VIP pass to go to all the episodes of “La Noche del 10”. Mariano became a sort of chronicler, who covered the behind-the-scenes of the program as a special envoy for “Agrandadytos”.

So he continued to travel to Buenos Aires every week to be part of the recordings. And there, behind the scenes, he came across people he never thought he would ever meet: from Roberto Gómez Bolaños, El Chavo, to Lionel Messi—from Rosario and a Newell’s fan like him.

And he would greet Maradona, no longer in tears, and he was always very kind.

 [Mariano]: “Nice to see you. How are you? That’s good. Hello, Marianito, welcome.”

[Aneris]: Everything he was experiencing seemed incredible to him. He lived his life between Buenos Aires, Maradona and the cameras, on the one hand, and Rosario and school on the other. His friends kept commenting on all his appearances, but not just them. His teachers and principals also began to talk about it, and not always in a positive way.

Maradona was no longer just the myth that had avenged Argentina against England. In the last ten years, he had also become a figure marked by excesses and contradictions. A brilliant and unique soccer player, questioned in his private life that was always public. His political opinions generated controversy. Everything he did was a scandal, everything was discussed, not only on sports programs, but even on the news. He always gave people something to talk about. He had children he wouldn’t recognize, he threw out strong criticisms against other former players, FIFA or even the Vatican, and he went so far as to shoot at journalists outside his home with a compressed air rifle.

At that point in his life, the devotion that millions felt for him began to find its counterbalance in another sector of Argentine society, which was beginning to detest him. And on this other side were several of Mariano’s teachers.

He attended a Catholic school. And, although he was only nine years old, many of the adults there would not tolerate his having a relationship with Maradona, let alone appearing on television praying to him as if he were a god. His language and literature teacher did not miss an opportunity to remind him of that.

[Mariano]: He always began his classes with the Our Father and during the days of “Agrandadytos” he emphasized that I should pray the Our Father, saying, “You’re not going to confuse the Our Father and pray Maradona’s instead.” You know? And that really embarrassed me in front of my classmates.

[Aneris]: At first it seemed like a joke, but it gradually morphed into something else. Anyway, Mariano let it pass. He was excited about his closeness to Diego and his participation in “La Noche del 10,” and he continued recording sketches with other children in “Agrandadytos”.

But as his TV exposure increased, some teachers at school began to be more emphatic in their rejection. The Catechism teacher, for example, refused to let him to participate in his classes until he repented of what he had done on television.

[Mariano]: They randomly sent me to confess to the . . . school priest. They accused me of heresy because of the Maradonian Church, for idolizing—I won’t say a false prophet, but a false idol.

 [Aneris]: All this, while “La Noche del 10” was one of the programs with the highest ratings in the entire country. For a time, Mariano endured these situations in silence. He kept it a secret and tried to continue enjoying everything that was happening to him.

But one day, during a school ceremony, with all the students and teachers from the school present, Mariano couldn’t take it anymore. He was standing in the schoolyard with the others. But to the vice principal, he wasn’t just another kid.

[Mariano]: In front of the microphone, he referred directly to what I was doing on television and said, “Those people who make fools of themselves by worshiping false prophets,” looking directly at me.

[Aneris]: That day, Mariano came home from school crying. When his parents saw him like that, they asked him what was wrong, and he told them everything that had happened in school as a result of his relationship with Maradona.

His dad didn’t react well at all.

[Mariano]: He went running to my school. He grabbed the vice principal by the collar and almost beat him to death. My dad was in a blind rage at that moment.

The school threatened to call the police, and Mariano’s father finally left, but shouting, demanding an end to the harassment of his son. They thought of switching schools, but Mariano didn’t want to be separated from his friends. So his mother asked for a hearing with the board of directors of the school, and they assured her that this kind of discrimination would not happen again.

But outside of school, things weren’t going so well, either. He received similar comments at meetings with acquaintances, distant relatives, or even on the street, where people stopped him just to say things. Sometimes good, sometimes not so much.

[Mariano]: They pointed their fingers at me and had no problem saying to a nine-year-old boy, “How could you cry over that drug addict on television? You’re an idiot,” or “Your idol is a bad person,” or “your idol is no example of anything.” And I was nine years old, I didn’t have the ability to make those value judgments about a person.

[Aneris]: Towards the end of 2005, “Agrandadytos” and “La Noche del 10” stopped airing, and Mariano stopped appearing on television. The trips to Buenos Aires and the TV studios were over, and he returned to his old life. And without the euphoria of being close to his idol, the questions began to affect him more and more.

[Mariano]: I really had a hard time . . . those years. I saw how a certain sector of society—yes, the adults, to be more specific—killed my idol in front of my eyes; they made me feel guilty for having met my idol.

 [Aneris]: And he didn’t know to respond to those criticisms.

[Mariano]: I had no choice but to keep silent and not say a thing because no, I had no answer. I had no arguments to respond with.

 [Aneris]: Around that time, he began to experience insomnia and sudden mood changes. Sometimes he wanted to do a thousand things at once and other times he didn’t want to do anything.

 The criticism began to affect him so much that sometimes, at family gatherings, if someone played the “Agrandadytos” video, Mariano would ask them to stop. He no longer wanted to see himself there, in what had been one of the happiest moments of his life. His parents understood that it no longer did him any good to remember that day. When they went somewhere and someone started talking about Maradona, there was an unspoken agreement within his family to avoid mentioning the program.

After a while, Mariano also began having pain in his legs and arms, and he didn’t want to go back to any castings. Over the years, he began to pretend that all that history had never happened to him.

[Mariano]: I began to deny that I was the one there. When they said, you’re the boy from “Agrandadytos”, I would say “No, they confuse me all the time, we have the same name and that’s it.”

[Aneris]: It was a defense mechanism.

[Mariano]: I managed to isolate that moment in my head in a box that said bad memory. And it was a lot of work get it out of that box and put it back in the one with the nice memories.

 [Aneris]: It took his entire adolescence and several years of therapy. There he began to understand the things that had happened to him since he was a child and that had worsened in recent years, after his parents divorced. Periods of uncontrollable anger or joy, followed by deep depression. Sleeping problems.

[Mariano]: When my psychiatrist found out that I had pain in my extremities, added to all the other symptoms he had already figured out, he diagnosed me. And well, it’s something I live with to this day and I will have to live with it until the day I die.

[Aneris]: The diagnosis was manic depressive syndrome, also known as bipolar disorder. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. It can be related to biological and genetic factors, and can be triggered by psychological factors. Environmental conditions also play an important role. Traumatic events in life or situations that generate a lot of stress can act as triggers.

[Mariano]: According to my psychiatrist, one of the triggers was precisely that time I spent with people who rejected me for having been with Maradona.

 [Aneris]: Mariano also believes that it could be one of the triggers.

[Mariano]: Not one of the causes, because this is something people confuse, it wasn’t the cause which made me end up as a diagnosed patient, but it was a trigger. Maybe I already had that. But what officially activated it was precisely having gone through that situation.

 [Aneris]: He didn’t reach that conclusion in the first session. It took several years of therapy before he was able to talk about the subject again and give it another explanation . . . From a different place and a wider perspective. Reexamining his moment of fame first, the criticism later, and finally his denial. A denial that led him not to want to do castings or appear on television again.        

 [Mariano]: I closed many doors because of that. I mean, my dream died with that.

[Aneris]: It wasn’t until the age of 18 that, with the help of his psychiatrist, the adult Mariano understood he had to forgive.

[Mariano]: Not just the people who made me feel bad in the past, but myself. To be able to forgive myself for having missed those opportunities or for having denied everything. I mean, I made my peace with the Mariano of the past and that moment, you know?

 [Aneris]: I asked Mariano how he feels today, more than fifteen years later, when he sees that video. And he said he has seen it so many times that he no longer feels anything. And not feeling anything makes him happy, because he no longer feels ashamed.

The first time I spoke with Mariano was two months before Maradona died. And after the news broke, we spoke again. He said it wasn’t until that day that he assimilated what had happened, when he saw his mother crying in the kitchen. He went to hug her, but he held back his own tears. Mariano no longer likes to cry in front of others. Soon after, when he was alone in the dining room, he broke down. A while later, he received a phone call. It was Dady Brieva, the “Agrandadytos” host, who interviewed him on his radio show, and they recalled his first meeting with Maradona. They hadn’t spoken since.

That day, Mariano exchanged messages with his friends from the Maradonian Church, of which he continues to be a part. They promised to keep up the Church.

In the media, meanwhile, the tributes and also the questions were starting. But Mariano wanted no part in the discussions that were generated after his death, about what his life had been like. He had never wanted to. In recent years, dragged by his latest addiction, alcohol, Maradona’s image had taken on a darker dimension, after the accusations of violence made by one of his last partners.

But Mariano’s memories were not of that Maradona, but of a different one, earlier, the one who had shown him affection. He preferred not to say anything. He just went for a walk in Rosario. Downtown, he crossed several people with empty looks and tears in their eyes.

[Mariano]: There was like a veil of sadness over the city. And I don’t doubt that it was the same in many parts of Argentina.

 [Aneris]: In Buenos Aires, for example, this happened . . .


[Songs]: Diego, my darling, you’re the joy of my heart.

 [Aneris]: On the day of his burial, there was a line ten blocks long. Thousands of people, under the sun, waiting to enter the Casa Rosada, the Government Palace, hoping with luck to be able to stand in front of the coffin a few seconds and get a chance to say goodbye.

 Maradona’s death sparked a heated discussion on social media. It was debated whether or not it was legitimate to cry over his death. And also, about who Maradona really was. Was it the soccer genius, the violent man, the poor boy who never forgot his origins, the drug addict, the one who generated love or the one who generated hate? Or was it all those things at the same time, rolled up in a complex and extraordinary life, with more facets than any other?

In a way, it was like a large-scale replica of what Mariano had experienced fifteen years before, for having cried on television over an idol who was already beginning to show some darkness.

[Daniel]: After studying to be an English translator, Mariano found his true calling in journalism. Today he works at the program “Pura Pasión” on Radio La Red, talking about the club of his life, Newell’s Old Boys. In this way, he fulfilled the dream he had postponed for so long—being in the media and being able to talk, among other things, about his great sports idol.

Aneris Casassus is a producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Buenos Aires. This episode was edited by Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso and me. Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri.

The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Lisette Arévalo, Victoria Estrada, Jorge Caraballo, Xochitl Fabián, Fernanda Guzmán, Remy Lozano, Miranda Mazariegos, Barbara Sawhill, Hans-Gernot Schenk, David Trujillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.

Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.

Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, and it’s produced and mixed on the program Hindenburg PRO.

Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.


Aneris Casassus

Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso y Daniel Alarcón

Andrés Azpiri

Andrés Azpiri

Desirée Yépez

Laura Pérez