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Maradona scores again

14 June, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Diego Maradona

Directed by Asif Kapadia
Certificate 12a

THE story of footballing magician Diego Maradona is given the big-screen treatment in this well-crafted biography of the Argentine maestro.

We follow him from Buenos Aires to the glitz of Barcelona – and then, after a torrid two years in the Catalan city, off to the unfancied Napoli, apparently the only club in Europe who were prepared to take a gamble on the maverick.

Using interviews and reams of archive footage – seeing him on a pitch with the ball at his feet is mesmerising – we are not given much insight into what made him who he was, but rather the effect his extraordinary ability had on thousands of people. There is no cod psychoanalysis – just a straightforward retelling of what created a man who was called the heir to Pele.

It also considers what makes a footballer: short and stocky, he had horrible upper body strength and a low centre of gravity. He also had an unconscious ability to do the unexpected. He says football is all about the feint – sending your opponents in another direction from the one you intend to travel. The only comparable footballer of the time with such a skill set was surely Paul Gascoigne, and it remains an eternal shame that we were robbed of seeing the two best midfielders of their generation, both with the same barrel-chested attributes, going at it in the 1990 World Cup final.

As we march alongside Maradona’s story, one is struck by the collective insanity that football has the ability to create. The response of the Neapolitans to him – and the way he subsequently dragged a team that had never scooped the Scudetto before into champions – is almost too much to believe.

The collective mania he inspired is fascinating. It feels like this Catholic city, poverty stricken, aware of its role in modern Italy as the upstart peasants from the poor south, were looking for some kind of Christ-like saviour.

It came in the form of an Argentine bad boy who found a natural home in a place where his own religion fitted neatly in with those on the terraces, and whose background also meant he could relate to the conditions he saw around him, and also perhaps offered a sense of hope to every poor kid growing up in a Naples tenement.

Interviews drop in and out, but above all we get a sense of how Maradona’s firecracker skills were lit and tossed into a box of equally explosive football fanatics.

The success he brought with him is heartwarming – but his downfall is terrifying.

He got involved with the Camorra, the crime gangs linked by families who ruled the city, and became addicted to cocaine.

The usual claustrophobia of the famous pales into insignificance here – Kapadia shows just how hard it must have been for Maradona: the scrum surrounding him became, after three years, too much and then when Argentina met Italy in the 1990 World Cup semi finals, and the game was set to be played in the Napoli stadium, poor Maradona had the devil’s alternative – he was duty bound to win the game for his country, but in the home of his adopted family.

Kapadia made the celebrated doc on Ayrton Senna, and also Amy – about Camden Town’s Amy Winehouse. Senna worked, Amy less so (her tragic story just did not feel quite ready to be told). Diego Maradona is a splendidly realised tale.


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