Barasat (West Bengal): "I am here for football," were Diego Maradona's first words on arrival at a private sports academy at Kadambagachi here on Tuesday. He spoke for some more time before walking the talk by spending thirty minutes with school children, about 60 of them, showing glimpses of his dribbling skills, silken left-footed touches and even humming two Spanish songs after it was all over.
The venue, about 35 kilometres from Kolkata, was perhaps not the ideal one to welcome the Argentine legend, with poor organisation and shoddy reception forcing the 1986 World Cup hero to opt out of the 'Match for Unity' against former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly. But the time he spent with the budding footballers, imparting his ocean of knowledge about the game and also showing how it's done, was one to savour. "I'm here for football. It is a big step, that we take with the minister -- to uplift football in India," he said about his three-day private trip.
"India really has good players and a football school of boys. Your minister and I must stop this notion that football wants India and India wants football. Together with the minister and the people we will bring football. I have always been very well received in India. Thanks and kisses!" the 57-year-old added. Maradona was so involved with the children that he even crouched low to sit down on the field for photographs with them.
The Napoli great was seen playing short passes with them and teeing them up to take penalties. The 6,000 odd crowd were enthralled by his presence and looked awestruck. Cheers of "Diego Diego" reverberated across the venue as shutterbugs filled their cameras with the diminutive legend's pictures. Braving an unusually sultry December afternoon, proceedings began around 1.15 p.m. with the adjoining area wearing a festive look with flags of various nations adorning the streets.
Maradona entered ten minutes later as a shower of confetti welcomed the legend to the pitch. He spoke for sometime while the boys and girls waited patiently to interact with him in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After spending half an hour with them and the fans in the galleries, Maradona went inside the dugout and when everyone thought that it was over, he came out wearing a blue jersey this time. He took the microphone from Kochi-based singer Charles Anthony to croon a couple of songs, egged on by the crowd. This is Maradona's second visit to the 'City of Joy' after December 2008. (IANS)