Pope recalls meeting Maradona, says ‘he was a poet on field’

RomeUpdated: Jan 02, 2021, 10:39 PM IST

File photo: Pope Francis. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Pope Francis also shared memories of the makeshift footballs that sufficed to exhilarate him and his boyhood friends.

With a ball made from rags and surging adrenaline, the young Jorge Bergoglio and his friends pulled off "miracles" playing football in the street, Pope Francis recalled on Saturday.

Now 84, the Argentine pope remembered "the joy, the happiness on everyone's faces," after the 1946 victory of his Buenos Aires team, San Lorenzo, in a 31-page interview about sport published Saturday in Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport.

The first pope from Latin America called Diego Maradona a "poet" on the field, as he weighed in on the joys of sport.

Expounding on themes of hard work, sacrifice and camaraderie, Francis shared memories of the makeshift footballs that sufficed to exhilarate him and his boyhood friends.

"Leather cost too much and we were poor, rubber wasn't used so much yet, but for us all we needed was a ball of rags to amuse ourselves and to create miracles, almost, playing in the little square near home," Pope Francis said.

Acknowledging he was "not among the best" of the footballers, Bergoglio played goalkeeper, which he characterised as a good school for learning how to respond to "dangers that could arrive from anywhere".

The pontiff — described by the paper as "a pope of the people in the most noble sense of the term" — touched on the need for teamwork and working towards a shared goal.

"Either you play together, or you risk crashing. That's how small groups, capable of staying united, succeed in taking down bigger teams incapable of working together," he said.

The interview, which took place in early December at the Vatican, also saw the pope condemn doping in sport and stress the need to nurture talent through hard work.

"It's not only a cheat, a shortcut that revokes dignity, but it's also wanting to steal from God that spark which, through his mysterious ways, he gave to some in a special and greater form," he said.