By Javier Castro Bugarin
Buenos Aires, Jan 11 (EFE).- Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona was never one to go unnoticed.
Wherever he went, the mythical captain of Argentina’s national team was a magnet who drew people of all walks of life – and even non-soccer fans – into his orbit, many of whom wanted a visual keepsake of their encounter with this diminutive yet larger-than-life figure.
Maradona appeared in countless photos throughout his life, and now those widely dispersed images are being compiled for the “Proyecto Pelusa” (Pelusa Project), an initiative launched in 2020 with the ambitious goal of reconstructing the late Argentine superstar’s life through the thousands of snapshots people around the world took with him over the years.
“We’ve seen Diego’s life 200,000 times. We saw his goals, his good things, his bad things. Everyone has their own interpretation. This is not a project where we’re going to discover new things from that standpoint, but rather to look for all the color that lies behind,” Damian Cukierkorn, creator of this initiative, told Efe.
“Proyecto Pelusa” gained steam in 2020 when Sebastian Schor, a film producer and childhood friend of Cukierkorn’s, joined the initiative.
Interest then soared after Maradona’s death on Nov. 25 of that year, with the project being transformed into a “popular and collaborative homage” to one of Argentina’s greatest sporting heroes.
Cukierkorn and Schor have compiled roughly 2,800 photos of Maradona to date, some of which appear in the like-named book (“Proyecto Pelusa”) they published last year.
Even so, they are still far from their ultimate goal of obtaining one image per day of the mythical “El Pelusa” (The Fuzz) or “Pibe de Oro” (Golden Boy) – from his professional debut at age 15 with Argentinos Juniors on Oct. 20, 1976, to his death at age 60 in Duque Lujan, Argentina.
“That’s 16,107 days, of which we’re convinced there’s at least one photo per day, so we’re looking for 16,107 photos,” said Cukierkorn, who noted that the photos included in the project are a mixture of everything from film stock images to selfies taken with smartphones.
Images are most abundant from Maradona’s stints as a player at Argentinos Juniors (1976-1980) and Boca Juniors (1981-1982 and 1995-1997), as well as from his last coaching assignment at Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata, the Argentine club he was managing at the time of his death.
“We’ve received photos from 50 countries from virtually all of the Americas, from Europe, from Asia, from Africa …,” Cukierkorn said, though lamenting that the language barrier has prevented the project from taking hold in Italy, where Maradona enjoyed great success in the late 1980s at Napoli.
Cukierkorn said he was surprised for various reasons by many of the photos and their accompanying stories, whether because they were taken in remarkable settings, because Maradona struck a crazy or eccentric pose or because the person who obtained the coveted snapshot did something out of the ordinary to get it.
“One that really struck me was a 60-something woman from Kuwait who went to Dubai for the express purpose of meeting Maradona and taking a photo with him. The photo is very nice because she’s giving him a kiss on the cheek, but what stood out for me is that an older woman from Kuwait would travel especially to see him,” he recalled.
He said his favorite stories are those in which “there was no need” for Maradona to be the subject of a photo, like one occasion in which he visited a “very modest” family from the western Argentine province of Mendoza and enjoyed a barbecue with them.
“When he went, the lady of the house said: ‘I’m sorry, Diego, if we couldn’t be very good hosts. We’re very poor.’ And Diego’s response was, ‘that’s why I came.’ There are a ton of things baked into that response,” Cukierkorn said.
The collection of images also reveals the eclectic and free-spirited life of an athlete who could play a match on Tuesday in Chile, dine in Buenos Aires on Wednesday and meet the band members of the Rolling Stones on Thursday.
That unique, chaotic and indomitable existence made Maradona a figure who transcended his sport and the bounds of what is generally perceived as normal, a characteristic that earned him the love and admiration of people who never saw him kick a soccer ball.
“(Lionel) Messi, (Kylian) Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s not possible for the figures of today to do these things because there are marketing agencies behind them who tell them ‘no.’ Diego was very anarchic, he did what he wanted all the time, and it was another era. It’s impossible to compare that era with today,” Cukierkorn said.
Many of the stories can be found on the website and the book devoted to “Proyecto Pelusa,” whose organizers are now eager to bring the real story of Diego Maradona to life in a documentary. EFE