Asif Kapadia’s elegiac telling of the rise and fall of Argentine football star Diego Maradona looks set to match his multiple award-winning triumph ‘Senna’, the story of the life and death of the racing driver Ayrton Senna.
The bargain-basement recruitment of the wayward Barcelona vagabond by troubled Napoli, perpetually battling relegation from Italy’s Serie A, was the greatest piece of transfer business in football history, but only for the club not for Maradona.
All told by Kapadia through masterful editing of hundreds of hours of footage and sparse commentary. Maradona never appears on screen except in archive, even his few words spoken almost indecipherably as befitting the complete physical and psychological wreck he has become.
I saw him as a teenager at Hampden Park, Glasgow in 1979 where as a substitute he came out to warm-up at half time. He certainly warmed us up. He played ‘keepy-uppies’ with the ball in the middle of the park literally hundreds of times without the ball touching the ground. When he came on in the second half no one was in any doubt that a star was born.
The veteran Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen, tasked with keeping tabs on him, described afterwards the state of his own “twisted legs” by the end of the game and how he couldn’t sleep that night without the light on so total had been the humiliation.
Kapadia shows in the archive the sewer from which the young Maradona emerged. Except there were no sewers or roads or pavements in the wooden shack shanty in which the large Maradona family grew up on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. No world-famous multi-millionaire in history can have been born and raised in such squalor.
Many were surprised in later life when Maradona was often seen with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. If they’d known of his origin there would’ve been no surprise at all.
Barcelona and the big-time didn’t work out for Maradona, he spent too much time and energy on wine, women and song. In a way, Napoli offered redemption and the only way was up, professionally. The team could only get better.
As the Argentine drove Napoli to greater and greater success, beating them regularly, winning their first ever championships and cups he grew to be as hated in the rest of Italy as he was loved, in fact revered, by the Neapolitans, Religious imagery of Maradona multiplied, he was on his way to becoming a God. But his feet of clay were soon able to be glimpsed.
Wine turned not into water but into cocaine. Dancing partners soon became prostitutes. Drinking partners soon became the killers and extortioners of the Camorra – the Naples mafia. Soon he was in their vice-like grip. And hopelessly addicted to the adulation but more to the narcotics.
The end when it comes is truly tragic, almost unbearably so. This bundle of effervescent genius becomes a grotesque parody of himself. The “hand of God” he once wielded at such cost to England was replaced by the deadly grasp of the devil. As a morality tale Asif Kapadia’s Maradona the film simply could not be bettered. Shakespeare himself could not have written it.