It might seem odd to those who remember the excesses and the air rifles and everything that made Diego Maradona a flawed man, but the footballer most represents the purity of the game, a quality that has been tarnished ever further in recent years. Looking at the scenes across the world, from Buenos Aires to Beijing, there has been a collective outpouring of grief for the footballer, who often seemed more than that. Fans in China’s capital flocked to the Argentine embassy to pay their respects with a makeshift shrine to Maradona on the pavement outside. In nearby Tianjin, the Tianjin Tower was lit up with the image of a player who lit up the pitch and the hearts of many, as proven by the messages on social media in China and elsewhere. “He had such an incredible passion for the game,” former England striker Gary Lineker said of a player he has long been awed by. “I’ve never seen anyone have such a beautiful affection with a football.” That affection was infectious. When Maradona spurned Deng Xiaoping invite to play in China Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was a fan of Maradona to the point that he tried to get the Napoli player to visit China to play an exhibition game in 1987, as former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi told the Post in an interview last year. Maradona asked for a king’s ransom and it never happened. Deng, a keen football fan from his days as a student in Paris, still succeeded in bringing Maradona into Chinese homes with “reform and opening-up”. Italy’s Serie A, where Maradona played for Napoli from 1984 to 1991, was the first European domestic league to be broadcast on Chinese television. Maradona was also undoubtedly the star of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico – where the quarter-final against England saw him score his two most defining goals on the way to lifting the trophy – and the Italia 90 tournament, too, where Argentina finished runners-up in his adopted homeland. His death arguably symbolises the last of the global superstars before football was globalised. Football now is much more political than when Deng wanted to share Maradona with 600 million Chinese on TV, a desire that seemed rooted in a love of the game. When Diego Maradona lit up Hong Kong Stadium It makes you wonder just how much Xi Jinping, the man who sits in Deng’s seat now, actually loves football for all the media coverage . Xi famously watched Watford play an exhibition game in 1983 which supposedly kick-started his love affair with the game and his desire to see China shine. But if he loves football then why would he have turned down a ticket to the World Cup final between Argentina and Germany when he was on the way to Rio for a BRICS summit, as he did in 2014? Even the famous photo of Xi kicking a football from 2012 is not what most think or most media outlets actually reported – that is actually a Gaelic football he’s kicking at Dublin’s Croke Park, where soccer is considered a “foreign sport”. Football is always on the agenda, as when Xi was across the water on a trip to Britain in 2015. David Cameron, the Tory PM who hosted Xi on his visit, has shown how football is used to appeal to voters. He infamously appeared to forget which football team he supported back in 2015 with confusion between Aston Villa and West Ham United. Xi Jinping plays up football passion for political advantage at home and abroad Xi’s trip saw football’s soft power put in sharp focus. While Xi donated a cuju ball to the National Football Museum in Manchester, further enforcing China’s Fifa-backed claim to have invented the world game, he was there to witness Sun Jihai be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame – an entry which many viewed as overtly political. The infamous image of the tour is one of Xi, Cameron and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero – who coincidentally was once Maradona’s son-in-law – sharing a selfie at the club’s training ground. A day later it was announced that a Chinese company – Beijing’s China Media Capital – had paid US$400 million for 13 per cent of City Football Group. China’s long-standing football goals are not necessarily about football at all. Hosting a World Cup is definitely a power play; Xi’s meeting with Gianni Infantino in Beijing in 2017 was another. That was when Xi told Infantino that he hoped China would hold a World Cup in the future. It was interesting that he did not travel to Russia when they held the World Cup the following summer, despite the huge investment by Chinese sponsors. Under Xi, here has been lots of investment into football in China and overseas, though some of that cash into foreign clubs has since been stopped. China’s soccer-mad President Xi Jinping’s passion for ‘the beautiful game’ sparked while a child The World Cup 2022 qualifiers – currently on pause for the Covid-19 pandemic – will be a yardstick of where China is with Xi’s “three dreams” and its investment but make no mistake they will be hosting a World Cup in the future. Whatever that says about modern football and its motives, it’s still a shame that Maradona won’t be there to see it.