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Despite the pandemic taking a huge toll around the world, 330 boys and children and adolescents from the most disadvantaged communities in the Indian city of Anantapur are continuing to enjoy and learn from the values of football. This is thanks to the collaboration agreement between LaLiga, the LaLiga Foundation and the Vicente Ferrer Foundation for the fifth consecutive year to support the sports program developed by the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA).

Due to the organisers’ efforts it has been possible to adapt the different activities planned within the framework of the 2020/2021 season agreement and organize a training programme for 29 young people from the area. Through this, ASA coaches have shared experiences, promoted the exchange of ideas on training, methodologies and knowledge necessary for playing the best possible football, in addition to conveying the positive values associated with sport in general and football in particular.

As for the sporting aspect of the initiative, several mixed-sex football competitions were held in January, in which there were a total of 274 participants from U-7 and U-9 age groups, all complying with current health regulations. Likewise, as part of the activities included within the non-residential academy, 36 boys and girls were selected to play in different leagues, in addition to participating in training sessions given by the academy and skills coaches that will promote their personal development in their everyday lives off-the-pitch.

Integrating and breaking down barriers through sport

Sport has become one of the main tools for youth development and for the social integration of the less privileged and marginalized classes of rural India. For this reason, the Anantapur Sports Academy was launched in 2000 with the aim of promoting the values and habits associated with playing sport, and since then 9,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 7 and 16 have participated in this project. It is supported by the Vicente Ferrer Foundation and has active involvement from LaLiga and its Foundation, which in turn are contributing to the increase in the number of athletes in the region, breaking down barriers that these youngsters currently face in rural communities.

For Sai Krishna, the director of the Anantapur Sports Academy, “the most difficult challenge has been integrating girls into sports activities,” he remarked. “In Anantapur nobody played sports, yet right now 45% of the participants are girls. We are seeing a paradigm shift and a change in mentality necessary to achieve a culture of peace and equality.”

Uma Devi, who is a participant in the non-residential girls’ academy, believes that “many parents don’t allow their daughters to play football, but my parents have. I would love to inspire other girls in my town and I want to be an example for them.” She added that “I have been selected for the fifth time to participate in the Anantapur Sports Academy non-residential camp, and since I’ve arrived here, my skills have improved. We work on discipline and teamwork. Football is a team game, and each person on the team has a purpose and they are all important.”

The world of football was dealt a huge blow on Wednesday with the news of Diego Maradona’s passing at the age of 60. In Spain, there was particular sadness as so many of those currently at the heart of Spanish football knew the Argentine or were touched by him from his time in LaLiga.

It was in LaLiga that Maradona took his first steps in European football, joining Barcelona for a then-world-record fee of $7.6million after starring in his home country for Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors. Joan Gaspart, who was the vice-president at Barcelona at the time, later revealed in interviews that the Barça directors who went to Argentina to work on the signing had to travel in a tank because the Argentine authorities feared for their safety.

Prizing Maradona away from his loyal fans in Buenos Aires was tough, but it was worth it. Barcelona had acquired an elite player. Injury and illness meant Maradona didn’t play as many games for the Blaugrana as the club had hoped, but when he did take to the pitch of Europe’s biggest stadium it was quite a spectacle.

Even at the Bernabéu, the home of Barcelona’s eternal rivals Real Madrid, Maradona impressed. In one match, he was even applauded by the fans of the capital city side, with white handkerchiefs waved respectfully in the air after Maradona performed a graceful sidestep right next to the goal line to leave right-back Juan José flying into the post as the No.10 rolled the ball into the net.

“I remember our early training sessions with him, where the rest of the team were so amazed that they just stood and watched him,” Lobo Carrasco, one of the other Barcelona squad members at that time, recalled when looking back to that era.

After leaving Barcelona to embark on his iconic adventure with Napoli in 1984, Maradona returned to Spain in 1992. This time he signed with Sevilla FC and reunited with Carlos Bilardo, who’d been the coach as Argentina won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with Maradona as the star of the show.

It was only one season, but that 1992/93 campaign was one that all Sevillistas from that time still remember. In his first home game at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, Maradona scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Real Zaragoza. Who else?

It wasn’t peak Maradona at Sevilla and he’d been out of the game for the year before his arrival, but his mere presence made an impact across the club. Fans would arrive at the stadium early just to watch his famous warm-ups, while the forward made an impact on the young players in that squad, players such as Diego Simeone or current Sevilla Sporting Director Monchi. “He helped me in a spectacular way at Sevilla,” Simeone remembered. Monchi, meanwhile, has often told a story that sums up Maradona’s generosity: “I was walking with Maradona one day and he saw that I had a Rolex, which I admitted to him was a fake one. Then, after training one day, he told me to wait behind and he gifted me a Cartier so that I’d never have to wear a fake watch again.”

Maradona intended to stay at Sevilla for some time, bringing several of his favourite cars to the city. But he departed at the end of the 1992/93 season, returning to Argentina.

It wasn’t only at Barcelona and Sevilla that Maradona left an impact in Spain, though. He also impressed fans in Barcelona and Alicante, the cities where Argentina played during the 1982 World Cup. And, in 1987, Maradona even featured for Granada in a friendly match against Swedish side Malmö, doing so alongside his brothers Hugo and Lalo, who had just signed for the Andalusian club, at the old Estadio de Los Cármenes. That game remains to this day the only game in which the three brothers lined up on the same side.

Despite spending just a few years of his legendary career in Spain, Maradona made a huge impact, netting 27 goals in 62 games and winning the Copa del Rey, the Copa de la Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. His legacy will never be forgotten in Barcelona, Seville… or anywhere.