In the early 1980s, Diego Maradona played some sublime football for Boca Juniors in their world famous Bombonera stadium. He has spent more time there as a fanatical supporter, taking his shirt off in his own private box, swirling it around his head and leading the chants. And on Saturday night, as coach of Gimnasia, Maradona went back to the Bombonera hoping to prevent Boca from winning the Argentine Superliga.
The last round of the league was almost too dramatic to bear. The title was between the old Buenos Aires rivals, Boca and River Plate. The advantage was with River. But approaching the finishing line brings pressures of its own. Last November, River were just a couple of minutes away from lifting the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. They managed to let the trophy slip away, conceding two late goals to Flamengo -- and the defeat may have left a trauma.
In last weekend's penultimate round of the league campaign, their run of victories was interrupted by a nervy 1-1 draw at home to Defensa y Justicia. It left them a point ahead of Boca. They made the long trip north to face Atletico Tucuman, a team that had gone nine games without a win. A River victory would bring them the title. Any other result would give Boca the chance to overtake them with a win over Maradona's Gimnasia. The stage was set.
There was no chance that Gimnasia would roll over, and not just because Maradona has fallen out with the Boca administration. The club are fighting ferociously against relegation, which is decided in Argentina on an average of points accumulated over three years. Gimnasia are in dire straits. But they had won their two previous matches, and have shown improved form away from home since Maradona took over.
On many of his trips around the country with Gimnasia, Maradona has received extraordinary tributes, a sign of the esteem in which he is held. Some home clubs have even given him a throne to sit in and watch the game from the sidelines. Boca were reluctant to do so -- there is bad blood between Maradona and another club idol, Juan Roman Riquelme, who now has a role in running the club. But in the preceding weeks Boca's fans made their opinion clear, essentially shaming their club into making a fuss of their former star. A presentation was made before the game. But as soon as the whistle blew, there was only one thought on the mind of Boca supporters -- cheer their team on to victory and hope that River would slip up.
Even louder than the cheers for Maradona was the noise in the stadium greeting the news that Tucuman had taken the lead. At this point, with River losing and Boca drawing, the teams would finish level on points. This would lead to a playoff between the two clubs on a neutral ground. Bearing in mind all of the problems surrounding the final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores final, when the second leg had to be moved across the Atlantic to Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, it is probably just as well that this did not happen. River soon levelled. But undermined by nerves, hampered by the fear of coming so close only to fail once more, there was no more scoring. And so it all came down to whether Boca could score.
So much of the build-up to the Boca-Gimnasia game had focused on the feud between Maradona and Riquelme, who made a point of not coming down to the pitch for the prematch presentation. In the event, though, the hero was a Boca idol of the next generation. The only goal of the game, the moment which won the 2019-20 title, was crashed furiously home from the edge of the area by Carlos Tevez.
There is a bond between Tevez and Maradona, forged in a shared background in the poor periphery of Buenos Aires. Before the kick-off, Tevez came across to the Gimnasia bench and gave Maradona a kiss on the lips. And then he scored the goal that brought his side the title, and made relegation more probable for Maradona's club.
Tevez, 36, has been revitalised this year. At times in 2019 he appeared a busted flush, too sluggish to tip the balance. A change of coach has done him good. Miguel Angel Russo, who took Boca to their last Libertadores title in 2007, has returned, and the team are more attacking as a result, with a pair of wingers to open up the pitch and make space for Tevez to exploit. The player looks fitter and thinner for some time, and has found form just at the right time. The match was inside the last 20 minutes when he struck.
And so the final round of Argentina's 2019-20 season started with the spotlight on Maradona -- and ends with the focus and the glory going to Tevez.