Take it from me: Diego Maradona was unlike any other footballer and unlike any other person we have ever dealt with. It’s true, he was at times difficult, tempestuous and unreliable but he was also unquestionably charismatic, astonishing and unique.
From first contact to the present day, as we launch our ultimate and exclusive range of Maradona signed memorabilia, this is just part of the extraordinary story of our relationship with the man, the myth and the legend that is Diego Armando Maradona.
I first met Diego in Buenos Aires in May 2010. Those at the company who had previous with him knew we needed to give him about a week to get around to doing a signing session – and even then nothing was guaranteed. In fact, there was one time our team had flown from the UK to Argentina with hundreds of items in tow only to find Diego had left town, without word, for a nine-day holiday.
So you could say I knew I would need to be on my toes for this trip. How much? Well, there we were, the Icons signing team, out drinking past midnight in the fashionable Palermo district of one of the world’s most exciting cities, enjoying what we thought was a night off. The phone rang. ‘Diego will see you now.’
We raced back to the hotel, grabbed as many items as we could carry and jumped in a cab to, of all places, Diego Maradona’s mum’s house. We entered a darkly-lit front room – not exactly the most bizarre setting for a signing but certainly up there – when all of a sudden he emerged, like the human deity he was.
Once he’d figured out who we were, he was as charismatic as you’d expect, posing for photos and generally loving being the centre of attention. The signing went smoothly and even included a special request for a dedication for a certain Mr Wayne Rooney. This was mid 2010 and Diego was the manager of Argentina, shouldering hopes of leading Lionel Messi and his teammates to FIFA World Cup glory in South Africa. Sadly for both Diego and Lionel – and Wayne, too – that wasn’t quite to be.
Even back then Icons had a worldwide-exclusive signing contract with Diego and with him we conducted a further two sessions after he’d moved to Dubai. It would be nice to say that signings with Diego were always hassle-free but this blog is about the truth of our relationship.
On one occasion it took a full week to get our items signed as he had fired all his team and suddenly wasn’t taking any visitors. A couple of years after we’d completed our two-session contract we tried to re-engage with him and were given the green light to buy stock in readiness for another signing only for the phone lines to go cold. For three years we were left with boxes and boxes of unsigned shirts, boots and photos, obliged also to return payments to our pre-order customers.
After that we waited. And so did you.
Fast forward to 2018 and Diego is managing Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico. So I reach out to a good friend of ours, Emilio, who is a top commercial agent in Mexico City. And so begun a 20-month-long negotiation to get Diego to come back and be an Icon again.
The phone rang. ‘Diego will see you now.’
I was sure we had it done in the spring of 2019. He was all due to sign a contract that was sat on his desk but first, and very reasonably, he had to concentrate on his side’s promotion campaign, the highs and eventual lows of which can be seen in painstaking detail on Netflix. Too tired and emotional after (spoiler alert!) losing in the final, he left Mexico entirely, returning to Argentina for urgent hip-replacement surgery.
The trail had gone cold again.
Sometimes in our line of work the most effective solutions are the simplest and most obvious. So, in May last year, that torrid excuse for a year we call 2020, we gave up on nuanced negotiations and just asked plain and simple: ‘Diego… what’s your price?’
By now the world had all but closed down due to Covid-19. And while we usually attend all our private signing sessions, we had to adapt to the difficult circumstances around us. We had a signed and agreed contract so we were able to send the shirts, photos, boots and balls directly to Diego via shipping agents – all in all they took about a month to arrive.
Finally, on August 5th 2020 we had what we were all waiting for: confirmation. It came in the form of a gallery of photos and videos of Diego putting pen to product. He even signed Icons.com and A1 Sporting Memorabilia boards, which we now hang proudly in our office.
True to form, Diego signed our products while smoking a big fat cigar and listening to boisterous Latin music. He even managed to send back a shirt with a hole in it that had been singed by that very cigar. “Well, you can’t argue that’s not authentic!” our warehouse team said.
The first shipment made it all back in one piece and we were able to fulfil all the pre-orders we had sold both on our site and to our wholesale customers around the world.
The second shipment was sent out to Argentina in September and they remained mostly unsigned until after Diego’s brain surgery. To his eternal credit, he spent part of his rehabilitation in the days that followed signing the remainder of our products. What a legend.
He even managed to send back a shirt with a hole in it that had been singed by that very cigar.
We were working on shipping them back, approaching the end of another successful signing, when we heard the awful news of his tragic and untimely death.
In the difficult moments that followed for our staff who, along with so many around the world, were only just processing the very sad news, we knew we had to make a number of quick and ultimately respectful decisions.
We took down all pre-order products but kept the other items we had live on the site. We decided not to change the prices, not to remove unframed items and not to block any of the discounts codes we’d issued to our loyal customers to what was then the run-up to Black Friday. As such we sold out of every Diego signed item we still had within 29 minutes of the news breaking.
As you can imagine it has been a slow, difficult and expensive operation to secure, package and return all the signed items in our second shipment. Dr Matias Morla, one of Diego’s lawyers, has been very helpful throughout and it’s testament to the long-term relationship we have with Diego and his team that we were able to work closely with them even in those dreadful weeks after his passing.
The items finally left Argentina in the week before Christmas and we were eagerly awaiting their arrival when we got the news from our shipping agent that all the boxes had been lost at Heathrow Airport.
After a sharp intake of breath we sent a polite request to please, please, please go back and check again. This was precious cargo of the highest order. The boxes were found then the van sending them to our warehouse broke down. It was Christmas Eve and quite frankly, we were feeling very done with 2020 on the whole.
The reason I wanted to illustrate all this is to try to explain the lengths we go to in bringing our loyal audience the world’s best signed products. Sometimes the job we do is easy and glamorous and takes a week or two from start to finish. Sometimes it takes twenty-one years.
Today, on Monday the 1st of February 2021 we will be proud and excited – and yes, mournful too – to launch our ultimate range of authentic and official Diego Maradona signed products.
We have ensured all our pre-order customers have their orders fulfilled, and we are putting the framed items we took down on the day of his death back up at the original prices. We are also introducing a whole new range of Maradona products, with our signed Puma King boots, signed retro FC Barcelona shirts, signed photos and classic signed 1986 Argentina shirts. We’ve also been working with our partners at Getty Images, Llewellyn Illustrations, Toffs and Opus to add yet more items to that core range.
Icons is the only place to buy genuine products hand-signed by Diego. As our agent Sport & Life commented: “We must be proud that it was the last contract he signed, and that he worked on it to the end.”
We will miss working with our friend Diego. Through it all and to the end he was iconic in every way.