Diego Maradona: A man that conquered the world but was destroyed by a city
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The excellent documentary arrives in cinemas this week.
On 5th July 1984, Diego Maradona arrived in Naples for a world-record fee. For seven years, all hell broke loose.
The world’s most controversial football player and the most passionate but dangerous city in Europe were a perfect match for each other.
Given the extraordinary feats and stories that have dominated Maradona's career, it's possible to make a five-hour documentary on Maradona and still have questions to ask.
However, in Asif Kapadia's (Senna, Amy) new film about the Argentinian genius, the decision to document Maradona's time in Naples was very deliberate.
Why? Well, it was in the south of Italy where Maradona would win the World Cup and become the greatest player on the planet. However, it also nearly destroyed him.
On the pitch, Diego Maradona was a genius. Off the pitch, he was treated like a God.
And yet his personal life was plagued by domestic disputes, cocaine addiction and dealings with shady, underworld characters in the Naples mob. Wherever he goes, drama follows.
"Having researched his life and all of the different periods - from when he's young in Argentina, all the way through to the latter part of his life - it all came back to the point where he became the most famous footballer in the world, Naples. It's also where all of his problems became problems. It all happened in the seven years that he spent there," said Kapadia when speaking with JOE.
The documentary constantly addresses and challenges the dualities and contradictions of Maradona's persona.
In narrative terms, the film hinges on one quote that Maradona's former trainer, Fernando Signorini, gave to the director: "For Diego, I would go to the end of the world... But with Maradona, I wouldn't take a step."
To appreciate the documentary, it's necessary to understand both facets of the Argentinian's personality.
There's Diego, the boy from the slums of Villa Fiorito that always had a point to prove. Tenacious, brave, and loyal to his family, Diego never shirked away from a challenge and it's his unbreakable love of football that would elevate him to the status of the world's best player.
On the opposite end, there's Maradona. The godlike persona that carried Argentina's hopes on his shoulders, turned a tiny club like Napoli into Italian champions, and ultimately imploded in a haze of drugs, scandals, and self-destructive behaviour.
Both are equally important to the overall man. Both are equally dependent on each other. Both are equally doomed.
"If there's no tension or conflict, he creates it. That's where the Diego versus Maradona idea came from. Whatever happens, nobody tells him what to do. He decides what to do, whether it's good, bad, a piece of genius, or a bit of cheating. All of that comes from within him," said Kapadia.
This duality is a constant theme throughout the documentary.
Naples was one of the poorest cities in Italy, but they still went and signed the world's most expensive footballer. Maradona clearly loves his family, and yet, he cheated on his partner and disowned one of his children.
During his time at Napoli, he won the World Cup and two Italian championships. At this point, Maradona is the most famous person in the world with people hanging off of him, however, he's incredibly lonely and terrified to leave because he knows that the Mafia can charge a heavy price.
Of course, this was also a prison of his own making because he leaned heavily on the Camorra for drugs, but there are moments in the documentary that are absolutely terrifying and claustrophobic.
As he has done with his previous films, Kapadia gets incredible access to his interviewees but he doesn't use the traditional 'talking heads' format, because all of the audio from the interviews are played over unseen archive footage.
In terms of what Kapadia's team have unearthed, some of the footage is extraordinary as we get a glimpse into the pandemonium and anarchy that follows Maradona.
During one of the film's most haunting moments, we see the superstar being filmed at the Napoli Christmas party, his eyes staring a million miles into the abyss. He might have the world at his feet, but he is resigned to defeat.
Even after pleading with the club to sell him, the Argentinian knows that any chance of a 'quieter' life is gone.
Diego and Maradona, both lost.
"This is the story of a man that seemingly has everything. He's rich, brilliant, has won everything in football, and everyone wants to be around him and touch him. Yet, he's quite lonely and vulnerable. It's quite sad seeing him like that. It's a very powerful and cinematic moment," said Kapadia.
Months later, Italia '90 kicks off and as fate would have it, Italy meet Argentina in the semi-finals. The stadium? The Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
After Italy are defeated, the city that idolised Maradona quickly begin to tear him down.
"If you talk to the people who know him, that young and vulnerable kid that arrived in Naples, maybe he's not around anymore. He's put his body through so much and so much time has passed. Once you've been through these experiences, you can't go back," said Kapadia.
You can listen to JOE's full interview with director Kapadia right here:
Diego Maradona is released in Irish cinemas on 14 June.
Clip via Altitude Films
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