The devotion to Maradona and his religious following have much to do with the Argentinian identity, and the way in which football encompasses and defines the way of life in Argentina. In much of Latin America, football is not just a game, but also the glue that holds together the identity of the nation through patriotism and loyalty. Fans invest significant amounts of their emotion and identity into the sport. Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano summarised this phenomenon best when he said, “When the ball turns, the world turns” (1998), showing the links between football’s effect on society and that of religion.
Maradona, as interpreted by his Argentinian fans, is the epitome of a pibe, a culturally significant term throughout the country referring to a young and reckless boy who plays football without teaching or supervision, usually in a restless and undisciplined manner (Brach 2012, p. 419). This runs into the daily life of a pibe, where, according to Archetti, disorder is expected and chaotic behavior is the norm (1999, p. 184). This relates strongly to Maradona’s life, one riddled with controversy and drug use, and helps to explain the Argentinian captivation with his life. While this may seem contradictory to his heroic status, this chaos is one of the reasons Argentinians love him so much. According to Brach, “the more fuss Maradona makes around him, the more naturally he becomes the embodiment of a pibe” (2012, p. 421). On top of this, it adds the myth and legend surrounding Maradona himself. For many, including the members of the Iglesia Maradoniana, Maradona is much more than a great player. He is a vox populi, who has been transformed into a contemporary mythical hero (Brach 2012, p. 424).