“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She was Nature, simplicity. The goodness”. Salvatore narrows his eyes moist with emotion, fogged glass of a soul who has dedicated his life to football. Born in Salerno and in his heart, Neapolitan by adoption, Salvatore is not just any man. If it were a sticker from a soccer album, the name written in bold would look like this: Carmando Salvatore, born in 1943, the king of masseurs. It is the historical memory of football, indeed of the “ball”, the one played and experienced with the acrid smell of freshly cut grass. More than anything, Salvatore Carmando was the trusted masseur, the friend, the confidant of Diego Armando Maradona. Two years after the death of the world champion and eternal symbol of football in Naples – the stadium is named after him – the memory of the ‘pibe de oro’ resurfaces present in Carmando’s words. «I don’t want to talk about private things, we had a fraternal relationship. And there are such intimate memories that I prefer to keep for myself. I like to think that they are forever only mine and Diego’s». Carmando does not refer to the Argentine center forward by calling him by his last name. Almost as if for him Maradona was the athlete and Diego the man, the friend. «He was very devout, he prayed a lot. Even when we were in retreat he always had with him the statue of Our Lady of Lujàn, the patron saint of Argentina – Carmando recounts – and then he was very close to San Gennaro ».
Anyone who remembers Maradona’s years in Naples cannot fail to have an image imprinted in their minds. It is that of a curly-haired boy, with socks pulled down to his ankles, who before climbing the 15 steps that lead from the changing rooms to the Neapolitan playing field, makes two gestures. The first is to mark his chest with the cross, the second is to throw a kiss at the sacred image of San Gennaro posted along the walls of the stadium. “Actually there is also a third gesture: he grabbed me by the neck and kissed my head.” Carmando smiles, while he remembers the affection of Diego Armando Maradona. «He had not forgotten his humble origins and often had the typical purity of children in his gaze. Probably because he still felt like one or perhaps because for her, unfortunately for him, he had never been a child to the end ».
Memories of Salvatore Carmando chase each other like trains on the tracks, with a firm and docile voice, the historic masseur and physiotherapist underlines another ‘devotion’ of the Argentine champion. «He loved doing charity, but be careful: never done to seek notoriety or the spotlight. Were it up to him, every act of solidarity or help to others would have been done in secret. But in those years it was impossible for Diego to escape the nose of photographers and journalists. I remember that once he was very impressed by the story of a child from Acerra, a town in the Neapolitan hinterland. He needed facial surgery and the family had no money. Diego immediately told his companions: we have to organize something, we have to give the money to this family. And so the idea of the now legendary match in Acerra was born». A legendary event yes, because Diego Armando Maradona managed to involve the entire team in a charity match that was played on disastrous ground. «President Ferlaino was perplexed, he feared for the physical safety of the players, but Diego assumed responsibility. The match was a success, the entire proceeds were donated to the family and that child got the operation that changed his life”. From time to time Charmando takes a break. The superficial impression could suggest an attempt to better remember a detail, a word. The reality is that the heart beats faster when he talks about Diego. As happened to the ‘corazon’ of the Neapolitan people. «He loved Naples, he always told me ‘Salvatore how nice it is to live here’ because this city, these people gave him love. That’s how Diego was, he lived for love. To give and receive love.”
Salvatore Carmando’s golden hands also accompanied Maradona overseas. «It was said that I earned a lot with Diego, instead he wanted to give me gifts and money that I didn’t accept. With Diego we became friends practically immediately, in the summer retreat of Castel Del Piano. He watched me for some time while I worked, in silence. Then Maradona chose me: you will be my only masseur. He didn’t let himself be touched by others and to lie down on the massage table he waited for all his companions to have left the locker room. We stayed there, alone. For hours. Thus a personal, as well as professional, relationship was born. In the summer of 1986 Carmando flies to Mexico. The soccer World Championships are played, which have gone down in history precisely because of Maradona’s athletic performances. «Diego also wanted me with him at the World Cup in Mexico, I didn’t expect it. I made a very long plane trip with three stopovers to reach Diego following his national team. But he gave me the gift».
A special gift: the World Cup and the most beautiful goal in football history, the ride against England which consecrated Rosario’s little boy as ‘the son of the wind’. He sips the coffee, Carmando, while from time to time his gaze points towards the ‘Vestuto’ stadium in Salerno. «I was born right here, from home I could see the playing field. Mine is a family of masseurs and physiotherapists». A life dedicated to football. And the smiles. «I remember that during the celebration of the first Napoli championship, in 1987, Massimo Troisi said to Maradona: I’ll take this away from you, other than a masseur. He comes with me to be a comedian.’ He has many memories, Charmando. And also of dreams. “I dreamed about it twice, once we were in Mexico. In another he simply told me: I told you so and I did it. He was alluding to the impossible free-kick goal against Juventus, the one that surprised Stefano Tacconi ». The emptiness of a friendship that no longer exists can dig in, and the suffering of having lost first of all a friend and then a fellow football adventure wears out Salvatore Carmando, who takes his leave with a smile and a hope. «I’m sure, one day I’ll see him up there. And he will be playing with all the champions, making people smile. And once again he will kiss my head.’