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‘The nephew of God’ – Meet the Maradona relative starring for River Plate

3:30 AM IST 13/04/19
Hernan Lopez Marcelo Gallardo River
Hernan Lopez grabbed all the headlines after marking his Millonarios debut with a goal - and also earned the praise of his Boca-supporting great-uncle

Over the years Diego Maradona has forged and broken a bewildering array of friendships, relationships and animosities. In the Argentine football legend's world there is never more than a short jump between love and hatred, with public conflicts and reconciliation an almost daily occurrence.

Throughout his volatile life story, however, there has always been one constant: his love for Boca Juniors. One can only imagine, then, what Diego must feel upon seeing a member of his huge extended family lining up for the enemy.

Hernan Lopez, 18, made his bow for River Plate at the weekend and immediately endeared himself to fans with a late goal off the bench against Tigre. But Lopez is not just any old teenage hopeful: he is the 1986 World Cup winner's great-nephew and the latest in the Maradona dynasty to try and make his mark in the football world.

The similarities between Lopez and his great-uncle are uncanny. Like Maradona the teenager feels most comfortable in the enganche position, a classic Argentine No. 10; a conduit between midfield and attack personified by the likes of Diego, Juan Roman Riquelme and Lionel Messi prior to his moving further up the field. It almost goes without saying, moreover, that he favours his left foot.

Like Diego, Lopez also shows an encouraging resilience on the field. It took just 10 minutes for him to experience the darker side of Argentine football; after wriggling away from Lucas Menossi in the middle of the pitch with a distinctly Maradona-esque shake of the hips, Lopez was chopped down from behind by the Tigre hardman, who earned a yellow card.

Lopez, however, clambered straight back up and with five minutes remaining was in the right place at the right time to slam home a rebound and mark his first professional goal, pulling Tigre back to 2-2. Minutes later he turned provider with an inch-perfect pass to fellow youngster Lucas Beltran, who squandered the chance to put River ahead as his effort was saved.

Tigre may have gone on to take all three points in the Monumental – a result that failed to save them from relegation due to results elsewhere – but all eyes in River's final Superliga fixture of the season were on their latest gem. One famous on-looker was particularly impressed.

“Diego was very happy and afterwards he sent his best wishes to Hernan,” Daniel Lopez Maradona, Hernan's father and son of Maradona's sister Ana – and also his current assistant coach in Mexico at Dorados – explained to Jogo Bonito. “He is always watching his videos and he was happy, in spite of the shirt!”

Indeed, in 2018 Maradona made overtures to bring his great-nephew to Belarus, where he acted as coach and president of Dinamo Brest for little more than two months before taking the Dorados post.

“He spoke with my father to find out if I was of age and could move there, since he had five foreigner spots,” Lopez revealed to Infobae in a 2018 interview. Ultimately though he decided his development would be best served at River, where he is now working under one of Diego's old foes. Coach Marcelo Gallardo lined up on the opposite side of the pitch in Maradona's final Superclasico in 1997, a game which ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw and with the great man in tears as he was substituted by a teenage talent by the name of Riquelme.

No mean playmaker himself during a distinguished career that took in spells at River, Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and the national team, Gallardo is now helping his latest prospect to make the grade. “He told me that I have to move less predictably so that my marker doesn't know what I'm going to do and that before moving I have to try and throw him off so I can receive the ball unmarked,” a beaming Lopez told Radio y Punto after the game.

“It is great to know someone who played your position is the coach. It is amazing to hear him giving directions.”

Lopez is following in a long line of Maradonas to make their name in football. Two of the stars brothers, Hugo and Raul, played professionally, the former joining Diego in Napoli in 1986 before making his name as a prolific scorer in Japan's J-League.

Hernan's father, Daniel, also carved out a pro career at Maradona's first club Argentinos Juniors and a variety of other sides across South America, while Diego Maradona Jr, the idol's illegitimate son by Italian national Cristiana Sinagra, trained in the Napoli youth divisions and even appeared for the Italy Under-17 team as a teenager.

Now 32, Diego Jr found more luck in beach soccer, where he picked up several caps for the Azzurri and even scored in their 2008 World Cup final defeat at the hands of Brazil. Further down the line, all eyes will be trained on Benjamin, Maradona's grandson and the offspring of daughter Giannina and ex-son-in-law, Manchester City goal machine Sergio Aguero.

It is fair to say that young Lopez has a lot to live up to. The road from talented prospect to accomplished professional is a long, hard one, moreover: a cursory look at the players touted as the 'New Maradona' since the original's retirement, from Carlos Marinelli to Riquelme and even Gallardo at one point shows that there are no guarantees of making the grade.

Still, with Maradona on one side and Gallardo on the other Hernan is perfectly placed to follow through on his outstanding potential. If he does make the grade you can be sure that nobody will be prouder than his distinguished great-uncle – even if it is to the benefit of his arch-rivals at the Monumental.