Pope considers Maradona a frail poet; he decries doping corruption.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport published on Saturday, Francis remembered his own days as a boy playing soccer.

Pope Francis praised fellow Argentinian Diego Maradona as a “poet” on the pitch, but he also noted his frailty away from the sport.

In a wide-ranging interview with Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport published on Saturday, Francis remembered his own days playing soccer as a kid with a ball made of rags and bare his disdain for doping cheats.Francis is a huge soccer fan, and he met Maradona, who died in November, several times since becoming pope in 2013.

“On the field he was a poet, a great champion who gave joy to millions of people, in Argentina as in Naples. He was also a very fragile man,” Francis said.

Maradona starred for Napoli, winning two Series A titles and the UEFA Cup from 1984 to 1991. He captained the Argentinian team in 1986 to win the World Cup.

In spite of his passion for the game, Francis said that he was living in Germany at the time and did not see the final in Mexico against West Germany. He only noticed the finding the next day when a classmate wrote “Viva Argentina” on the blackboard during a language lesson.

“I personally remember it as a victory of loneliness because I had no one to share the joy of that sporting victory with,” he said.

Francis said he himself had no talent for the sport and was forced by his companions to play in goal.

“But being a goalkeeper was a great school of life for me. The goalkeeper must be ready to respond to dangers that can come from all sides,” he said.

Being poor, he recalled how he and his friends could not afford a proper ball, so had to improvise: “All we needed was a ball made of rags to have fun and perform.”

While extolling the virtues of sport, Francis took aim at athletes who took performance enhancing drugs.

“Doping in sport is not only cheating, it is a shortcut that destroys dignity,” he said. “Better a clean defeat than a dirty victory. I wish this for the whole world, not just the world of sport.”

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