Maradona sends Indian fans into frenzy
Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona's visit to the Indian city of Calcutta set off mass hysteria among soccer-crazy fans there. He came to participate in a variety of activities which had been arranged prior to his appointment as head coach of the national team.
More than 100,000 people turned up to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic star at the local Salt Lake Stadium and he was mobbed wherever he went during his 48-hour trip.
Security arrangements were unusually heavy for Maradona from the time he arrived at midnight on Friday with his girlfriend Veronica and some other friends to the time he left for Argentina early on Monday.
"The security arrangements collapsed in most places because the crowds were huge and uncontrollable," said Sports Minister Subhas Chakrabarty. He blamed the media for "creating chaos in most places".
Police baton-charged journalists and members of the public on Sunday at the residence of former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, a few minutes before Maradona arrived on a courtesy call to Bengal's ailing communist patriarch.
Just before that, frenzied crowds broke the police cordon when Maradona visited the "Mother House", headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa.
"The crowds surged past the barricades and we had to use force to stop them," said one officer, Manoranjan Das.
Inside the Mother House, Maradona prayed with the nuns for a while, picked up books on the life of the late Mother Teresa and shook hands with orphans brought up by the Missionaries of Charity.
"I have heard about the great deeds of Mother Teresa," Maradona told a press conference after his arrival.
"I never knew people have so much love for me. After the reception I got in Napoli (the club he represented at the Italian Series from 1984-1991), this is the second biggest reception in my entire life," Maradona said in an interview to a private television channel Kolkata TV, the electronic media partner for his two-day visit to the city.
During the felicitation, attended by over 80,000 frenzied soccer fans, Maradona also watched an exhibition game where leading players of Kolkata clubs took part. And he felt that many things need to be improved.
"There are many many things which need to be improved. Its like a diamond without shine," said the Argentinian, adjudged FIFA's best player of the 20th century jointly with Brazilian great Pele.
Maradona reiterated his willingness to guide and develop Indian football provided he was given a specific project.
"It will be a very good thing to coach them, train them, and give advice to them. Tactically, mentally in many ways I can help the players through my experience," he said.