“There is Diego, then there is Maradona”
A legend, enigma, a Football God, that reached the heights of popularity through the simple game. I always say Football is a religious concept, my love for the game testament to the statement, and Asif Kapadia presents an enthralling documentary that compounds the entirety of the Footballing experience but through the heights of Diego Maradona, the Argentinian legend. It is a religious concept insofar as it not only builds the players respect, a clubs greatness, but makes societal changes and at times political statements. A man can truly be given the praise and leeway of a God, and it never ends well. Kapadia is an experienced filmmaker, other documentaries including Senna (2010), which Maradona reminded me of a lot by its shots and placement of interviews, Ronaldo (2015) and Amy (2015) – all which suggests to me he has an adoration for talent, infamous periods and controversy. Though Maradona is hailed as one of the greatest ever, a never-ending discussion in Football that today we have the privilege of extending onto Messi and Ronaldo, and the tragedy of his career remains in aged fans speaking of his fragmented tail. In brief, the drugs, crazed antics, sexual deviancy – though absolutely incredible with a ball at his feet. His football legacy fizzled out and as an avid fan, I never got to understand why. Luckily this documentary covers the whole picture of the phenomenon that is Maradona, and it entertains the statement – “There is Diego, then there is Maradona”
A car chase ushers you into the new Naples setting of Maradona’s life. The beat grounds you in an 80s movielike sound. The intense energetic beat amounts into pressure, and Maradona enters the scene like a mob boss. The opening scene for Maradona is like a lifelong trailer, a 10-minute intensifying insight to Maradona so far. This documentary fascinated me, insofar as it begins at the start of his Napoli career. Before the car arrives and he enters the San Paolo images of a young Diego never seen, with family, dancing, training, his wonderful skill as a player, his horrifying ankle break at Barcelona and much more that presents a full picture of him.
This was Maradona the player, carrying his heart on his tough shins, starring in the middle of the 70s to late 80s as a phenomenon in a wild game. That first scene alone with the vivid detail and editing of the old pictures, the powerful sounds that built a fuller scene from the clattering of boots to snaps of bones, press announcements and descriptions of him by those the closest to him. The opening scene ends at Maradona’s arrival in Naples, after a controversial final match at Barcelona where he started a mass brawl after receiving xenophobic taunts from the Bilbao crowd and being personally attacked by Miguel Sola. Leaving in disgrace he would arrive at Napoli and start a marriage with the club that is probably greater than any I have ever seen. It is at this point you realize this documentary is about his rise, downfall, and the compilation of moments that lead to the phenomenon that is Diego Maradona.
Though implications often build a way for you to perceive someone, considering the English press they are very biased and orientated to a certain perspective. Nowhere near comparable, but as we are seeing with Paul Pogba today. He reports for training and facial expression he makes becomes the point of discussion for a week. You would think the World hates him, but it is just a perception of a bad attitude carried by media. Agendas, and the usual English documentaries or reports on such figures are ridden with agendas. When I have seen coverage of Maradona it is associated with his Hand Of God moment – the drugs and his media lapped up behaviours. The hilarity of him, as opposed to the suffering. As we see with the occasional Gascgoine article. Despite that Hand Of God moment, and the wonderful scenes of English fans taunting cameras and shedding animosity, Maradona’s Goal Of The Century was truly bewildering. I have never seen the goal so clear before, and feel the English media strategically buried that moment and have been fixated on the Hand Of God. That run itself overshadows the “cheat” in him, some sort of Suarez like passion with the skill of Lionel Messi, the English would make blood sacrifices for a talent like this.
Scenes of his untouchable skill are cut short, he had incredible vision and God-like technique which was jaded by the distaste of him as a man, and the madness that slipped into his career. The beginning of the documentary sinks you into the footballing culture, a then petite club called Napoli in Naples, one of my favourite teams by their culture, a place mocked as the “Africans” of Italy – a statement made in the film which was sickening, but not surprising. The documentary depicted the discrimination a lot of the Neopolitans faced by the rest of Italy, it reminded me of the racism still evident in their Football today. With scenes of Maradona’s exciting career, unseen footage of his life, injuries, rehabilitation, training, reactions to his stardom and moments in his career that he is infamous for lull you into the documentary before starting right alongside him at the beginning of his Napoli career – when Diego the man became Maradona the God.
The transition of popularity never seen before in this game is understandable, Maradona was truly the best in the World at a point and Napoli somewhat a castaway destination. They were not a famed team, they had a powerful crowd and received so much stigma from the entirety of Italy. It was incredible for me as a Football fan to see how Napoli built up to what it is today, competing for the Serie A and other titles alongside the prestigious Juventus, who also were shown to be xenophobic within the film. It shows how he raised them from a relegation battling side to compete against the Milans, Juventus, and eventually become champions of Italy and UEFA Cup winners, but most importantly his lifestyle alongside it and how the transition from Diego to Maradona began. After his first several games the crowd started to build, he started to make the impossible possible. With his post-match interviews amounting how the belief and drive of the club change, you could see Maradona’s status rise. You can see it in the interviews, the way people spoke and referred to him and suffocated him with fame. A key interview was a moment a reporter referred to him as a God, and Diego the humble man denied the claim saying what is done is owed to God but he himself wasn’t that.
The honour and respect they gave him, which then turned into power and necessity the club and city needed to keep. After winning the World Cup, cementing his place as the best in the World, Maradona returned to win Napoli the Serie A and Coppa Italia in the 1986/1987 season, Some years later after winning the Serie A again he wanted to leave. It was this summer that changed the entirety of his projection and image in Naples and Italy. The club President refused and kept him close as if he was a deck of cards. Alongside the Camorrista mobsters, who controlled the underworld of Naples, and fed his building addiction to cocaine in return for a show of face. The pressure of being essentially kidnapped every now and then by Mobsters to make them appear better, with expensive Rolex’s as honorary gifts, easy women and allegations of having children, the totality of destruction that fame could invite started to degrade his lifestyle. It reaches a point Maradona details his own livelihood, of playing Football on Sundays, being drunk and high from Monday to Wednesday, then sobering from Thursday to Saturday, to repeat on Sunday. That alone showed me this was a man battling addiction and the controversy of his surroundings. And when he was the media darling and the soul of the club he was untouchable, everyone knew of his downward spiral but instead rather looked straight through him to the Footballing God.
At this point, my heart was on the floor, as I recall at a midpoint of the film it takes you back to scenes of the slums of Villa Fiorito where Diego was born. He truly came from nothing, and all I saw was mud and not much material. A football and stringy boy attached to it, with hardworking parents and a passion for greatness. He was shy, reserved, and a breadwinner at an early age. Beginning his career at Argentinos Juniors at the age of 15, a midpoint in the film throws you back to his humble beginnings. To have something from nothing is commendable enough, but to be the best and injected with a hubris is frightening. His adoration for family, his aspirations and playing style – Diego recounts it all. I loved the scenes of his ecstatic father, following him and the team around the camp at the 1986 World Cup, never too old to help out he says as he sorts out some handiwork. Maradona goes in depth about how he had to adapt his style coming to Europe, to sell players to a movement, to concentrate on the touches he makes and how he could retain his style in a harsher environment. The documentary really hails his work ethic, even his rehabilitation from injuries, but the flushing out and different drives he had around these moments.
What spelled the end of his career in my eyes was his game against Italy at the 1990 World Cup, a Semi-Final where Italy was expected to win – and controversially he asked the fans of Napoli to support Argentina against their home nation. Some said Italy came first, others supported Naples and their icon Maradona. With a 1-1 draw and a Maradona penalty dumping Italy out, the fascination immediately ended and Maradona was no longer welcome. The press and footballing authorities intensified the stigma around his drug use and cheating, he was trapped in a contract, had legal battles which resulted in a ban from football and him leaving him a disgrace. I couldn’t help but think if he left after the second title, his entire trajectory could have changed. And like the opening scene, the ending scene spread out the wilderness that is Maradona and his antics following his departure from Napoli. His infamous drug-fuelled celebrations, memes of his hilarious moments in crowds, the worrying downfalls and moments he broke down in interviews and more. In whole at the end of the documentary, you understand him, there is a new empathy for the man and I feel Kapadia pieced together a wonderful documentary for his career. It is just a shame we did not to get to see the Footballing God of Naples reignite his specialness after his sour ending at the San Paolo.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Runtime: 2H 10M
Director: Asid Kapadia
Production Company: Film4 Productions