Maradona's football gifts were the stuff of dreams: Leonard Thomas
Even with all his flaws, kids would want to play like Argentina's greatest sorcerer
For a long few seconds we just looked at one another blankly, four Argentinians and a Singaporean at a restaurant in Johannesburg seemingly unable to overcome the language barrier.
Instinctively, I muttered Maradona and gave a thumbs up, and all their faces lit up as one of them said back, "Maradona", before letting out a long whistle of awe, his hands weaving in and out like a slaloming alpine skier, easily describing his countryman's astonishing dribbling skills.
Together at a Fifa lunch that winter's afternoon at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, our improbable group understood.
My longtime friend Kenneth understood, recalling how much joy Diego Armando Maradona brought us all when we spoke yesterday, minutes after the sad news started to filter through of the 60-year-old's death.
When any child kicks a football, dreaming of showing off dizzying body feints, expert heading, adroit flicks, menacing passes, deadly free-kicks, strength, speed and balletic balance, unerring ball control, otherworldly dribbling skills and a remarkable eye for goal, they would want to be Maradona.
Manchester City's Pep Guardiola and Liverpool's Juergen Klopp would have understood why, as the two managers paid tribute to the Argentinian hours later after their teams' exertions in the Champions League.
Even if Maradona was an unremarkable 1.65m tall and was capable of using only his left foot.
Remarkably, he painted masterpieces on green almost weekly for his clubs in Argentina, Spain and Italy, and in arenas around the world wearing the uniform of his nation, thrilling us with outrageous skills, a boyhood dream come to life in front of our eyes.
We went to stadiums to watch him, we turned on the TV to catch him in action no matter the hour, we videotaped his matches confident they would turn into collectors' items, we bought newspapers and magazines hungry to swallow the latest on him, and youngsters adorned their bedroom walls with posters of him to stare at in wonder.
Maradona's story of rags to riches to untimely death is inevitably compelling, his numerous failings a constant warning and a sharp tool used by his detractors.
His death is not a surprise after a life of churning excess, where constant parties, drugs, alcohol, late nights and good-for-nothing hangers-on made merry together and ravaged a body that had already taken a brutal beating for so long from defenders with a clear intent to maim, to try and stop him.
Indeed, many believe the kind of policing he suffered from opponents was a primary reason the game outlawed the tackle from behind and the sport, and the talent that came after him, will forever be in his debt.
HAND OF GOD
The "Hand of God" goal elicited loud cries of "cheat" and it has trailed Maradona ever since.
The goal that followed in that fateful World Cup quarter-final clash against England in 1986 will forever be football's most beautiful advertisement, when he slalomed his way more than half the length of the field at the Azteca Stadium, leaving five Englishmen in his wake.
Those who saw it at the time would have immediately known they had just witnessed the greatest goal in history, anyone who has caught it since would have no argument.
Inevitably, there will be the comparisons with Pele and the debate of who is better will go on; the Brazilian the only player who can show off three World Cup winner's medals, the Argentinian the only one who can legitimately say he single-handedly carried a country to football's Everest.
In Mexico in 1986, a capable Argentina side went on a magic ride as they reached the sport's summit led by a genie wearing No. 10, who hypnotised us all by producing a collection of individual performances over seven games that is recognised as the greatest in the tournament's history.
I often go back to that afternoon lunch in Johannesburg where I met the four Argentinian journalists a day before Spain and Holland battled in the World Cup final.
We hardly spoke, but I stayed with them for a little over an hour, enraptured, as they whistled, grunted and used their hands expertly to tell me their story of Maradona.
They clapped and whooped and also put their finger to their head to describe his years at Napoli, when there was so much joy and also where so much of the excess set in.
We had all watched from our stadium booths in cities across South Africa as he careened wildly through the tournament until Argentina were outclassed by Germany in the quarter-finals, and the five of us were united with the thumbs down in his abilities as coach.
Their hands measured up to their neck for Maradona the player, and only to their waist for Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.
Grey and grizzled, these fellow football scribes described how mercurial he was when he burst onto the scene as a teenager in Buenos Aires at Argentinos Juniors, and then when he starred at Boca Juniors.
One of them pointed to a child and said all young boys in Argentina dreamt of playing like Diego.
And his hands weaved in and out like a slaloming alpine skier.