Such genuine grief was displayed at the death, on November 25, of Diego Maradona that it seems churlish to cavil about the reductive commentary that has taken root in much of the English-language press about the two sides he represented, Maradona the cheat and Maradona the greatest footballer ever; or Maradona, the cocaine-sniffing, whore-mongering, Mafia plaything and Maradona, the working-class hero. The thing is, though, Maradona was no Jekyll-and-Hyde character, not so much at war with himself as unable to be anything but himself, to always be true to the defiance that seemed so intrinsical to his character. It’s why the “hand of God” goal was of a piece with his wondrous second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal rather than a symbol of the dark chicanery of which he was capable. Both goals were characteristic of his impish, carnivalesque nature. It’s why he took such delight in inspiring Napoli to the Serie A title (twice), defeating the sneering aristocrats of Juventus, Milan and Internazionale. We celebrated Maradona when his contempt for authority was confined to the pitch but vilified him for refusing to follow the rules of polite society. He was a Rabelaisian figure on and off the field, beloved by those with no power because they could always count on him to embarrass those who did. The films in this list are a reminder of his irrepressible personality.
Asif Kapadia’s documentary, released last year, and available on YouTube, begins in 1984, when the unfashionable southern Italian club had just signed Diego Maradona, the most famous player in the world, whose career needed rebuilding after the disappointments of the 1982 World Cup and his time at Barcelona blighted by the injuries caused by wild and incessant fouling. In Naples, the film shows, Maradona found redemption, glory and excess. Who could cope with such adulation?
This splendidly batty documentary by the Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, a two-time Palm d’Or winner at Cannes, is a paean to Maradona’s cultural significance. Kusturica, who has a bloated ego, sees much of himself in Maradona and effectively captures the latter’s antic appeal. As the singer Manu Chao notes in a song he writes about Maradona, if the man in the stands could live like Maradona, he would live everything at a thousand miles an hour.
This recap of the extraordinary 1986 World Cup in Mexico shows Maradona at the summit of his immense powers. In a World Cup replete with superb footballers, as the title suggests, Maradona stood out. He turned a good, if not outstanding, Argentina side into world champions through force of personality alone.
When Lineker Met Maradona
You can find this 45-minute BBC documentary on YouTube. Lineker was one of the aforementioned overshadowed ‘heroes’ of the 1986 World Cup. More importantly, he played for England, the country’s resentment at being ‘cheated’ out of the World Cup is reflected in the choice of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman to play over the opening credits. Of course, that it was England on the receiving end, is what made that goal so delicious in the eyes of so many across what was once called the global south.
Maradona in Mexico
A Netflix documentary series that captures how Maradona, long after his glory days were over, after he had become a husk of himself, reduced by his vices, by failure on the field and in life, to managing a small-time team in the unheralded Mexican second division, remained compelling, charismatic and so easy to love.