For those of us of a certain generation there are just three words needed to make you get misty-eyed about football. Asked for the greatest player you have ever seen, you just blurt them out without any hesitation: Diego Armando Maradona.
From the grainy footage of his boyhood skills to lifting the World Cup with Argentina, we followed his every step in awe. His skills were audacious and carried out at a time when defenders were allowed much more freedom to test out your shin guards than they are nowadays. Even his pre-match warm-up was a spectacle in itself.
By the time he got to Italy, via Barcelona, he was at the peak of his powers and the welcome he received in Naples hinted at the scale of the talent they knew they had just purchased. In return for their adulation he helped to deliver a string of trophies to the Stadio San Paolo which the club has never seen before or since. At a time when Serie A was the undisputed king of European leagues, he took a side without Scudetti and gave them two in the space of a few seasons. His legend was complete.
It is hard to do justice to what a whirlwind he was for the Italian game. He took on the traditional power-bases of the north and regularly brought them to their knees. And all of it was done with the swagger of the street kid that he always remained.
It is probably just as well he played in the days before the internet and social media took hold or he would surely have caused systems to crash on a regular basis. His showreel of great skills and goals could have filled YouTube for a fortnight. Some of the greatest defenders of the day are still in therapy for the torment he inflicted upon them.
Yes, he was a colourful character, that goes without saying. His off-the-field antics risked overshadowing his playing ability – especially at the end of his time in Italy and the twilight of his career – but they could surely never completely eclipse his sublime style. He was crystal clear class in just four syllables. Ma-ra-do-na.
And what a team Napoli put together around him. Along with Bruno Giordano and Antonio Careca he formed the Ma-Gi-Ca attacking trident that sent shivers down the spine of Serie A. Diego could cut you apart himself but then, if the mood took him, he could set up one of his talented teammates. The more you tried to eliminate his threat, the more he seemed to enjoy it.
There are such a string of iconic images and actions associated with his career that it is hard to single out just a few. A line of Belgian defenders watching him mesmerised, a ridiculous free-kick against Juventus seeming to defy the laws of gravity and that dribbling goal against England in the game of the Hand of God are some that spring to mind. But that is just the tip of an astounding iceberg of amazing moments.
Life after playing football was not so straightforward but at every anniversary of a Neapolitan Scudetto or his birthday we wallowed in memories of his tremendous talent. It felt like when he set off running towards goal there was nothing and nobody that was going to stop him. You knocked him down and he got back up again to attack you once more.
The news that he was gone came through on a cold November afternoon and only made it feel more bleak. He had dribbled round him a few times, but he had found an opponent he could no longer elude. Napoli in particular, but Italian football in general, will mourn his loss.
We can have the debate about the greatest of all-time some other day but his name will surely always be part of that discussion. He wasn’t perfect – who is? – but his gift for the game of football will live long in the mind even now that he is no longer with us. Serie A got to see him in his pomp and that is something for which we should all be grateful. Now all we have left are the memories - but what memories they are. The goals and the glory, the magic and the madness, the controversy and the class all made him something so special that we are unlikely to ever see again. It adds up to one of the saddest farewells our favourite sport has ever had to say. Addio Diego.