It was the summer of ’86 and this particular reviewer sat down in the box room of the family home to watch the final of that year’s world cup on the tiny portable colour TV that was the norm then. I was just getting into football and my father, (who normally hates football), to his credit watched along with me.
These were the days before you could watch the world’s best players on pay per view networks and even before you seeing them play every week in the Champions League seemed like second nature.
Maradona is the third in a trilogy of celebrity documentaries following the award winning Senna and Amy. Although to call it a trilogy seems a bit of a stretch considering none of the subjects are connected in any apparent way.
Maradona starts more like a gangster movie with a car chase through the streets of Naples. This is the birth of a superstar. The highly talented but as yet relatively unknown Diego Armando Maradona has just signed for a then world record fee of just under £7 míllion having already set a new world record fee of £5 million. What we came to know as the brash outlandish Maradona didn’t exist then, instead what the audience sees is something more akin to a rabbit caught in headlights in front of the cameras at a hastily arranged and secretive press conference held in what resembles an underground bunker.
Seeing this shy bewildered version of Diego, as his personal trainer comments there are two versions of the one man, there is Diego, the shy, quiet, bewildered child of the back streets of Buenos Aires, and then there is Maradona, the bullish competitive, gifted athlete who is willing to do whatever it takes to win.
To understand Maradona you have to understand the club with which he became most famous. Napoli, a club routed in the south of Italy was, at the time of signing Maradona, one of the poorest clubs in one of the richest leagues in the world. Having never before won the Italian championship and having only ever won the Copa Italia twice before Maradona joined the team.
As the film progresses you see the disappearance of one version of the iconic 80’s player and the emergence of another. His skill on the pitch there for everyone to see. Interlaced in between Maradona’s successes the viewer is introduced to his family, Diego being the first boy among six children, his father Don Diego and his mother Dolma who, like any other mother dotes upon her son.
Maradona’s infamous downfall is never far away however. For years even when he was with Barcelona there were rumours of Maradona’s drug taking. With his move to Napoli however it grew when he was taken under the wing of the local mafia boss. Maradona himself perhaps knew this when he pleaded with the owners of Napoli to sell him, but they refused. In fact at one point the owner of Napoli declares solemnly, “I was Maradona’s jailer’ It is testimony to how much the star had become thought of by the Napoli fans that his downfall came the way it did. On the eve of a world cup semi-final against hosts Italy, due to be played at Napoli’s home ground, the Stadio San Paolo, Maradona urges locals to support Argentina because the rest of Italy does not think of them as Italians. The backlash is enormous.
Fans of all teams tart displaying banners baring the words, ‘Maradona is the devil’, his club Napoli, having basically forced him to stay, shun him. Most importantly of all the loses the support of the cities crime bosses and soon his past comes back to haunt him.
Diego Maradona does not seek to glorify nor vilify the former Argentine footballing hero, it merely lays bare, often with commentary provided by Maradona himself, the ups and downs of a sporting icon with a shadowy life. What results is truly captivating.