Film review: Diego Maradona by Asif Kapadia

Having been unable to watch Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona documentary at the cinema last summer I took the first opportunity I had watch it now it is available for purchase and it is fair to say it not disappoint.

I sat down, a product of my era, believing that Diego Armando Maradona is the second greatest football player ever to have walked the earth after his countryman Lionel Messi. My argument for this had always been that although Maradona succeeded where Messi (barring an unlikely Argentina triumph in Qatar in 2022) failed, he never had the club career that the Barcelona number ten has had and in terms of numbers this is correct. Maradona’s still exceptional career strike rate is slightly better than a goal every other game, Messi’s is close to a goal per game, however this documentary which focuses primarily on Maradona’s trophy-littered spell at Napoli, showed me just how wrong I was about Maradona’s supposedly inferior club career.

Through a combination of highly intimate footage and forthright subtitled interviews Kapadia tells the story of boy from the slums of Buenos Aires whose genius with a football supported his family from the age of 15, carried an unfancied national team World Cup glory and dragged Napoli from the perpetual doldrums into the most decorated period in their history.

The man we see rise to deity-like status in Argentina and Naples in much of the footage is a far cry from the apparently drug-addled maniac who we saw making obscene gestures at spectators from the stands during the 2018 World Cup. Young Diego is a man of the people with a zest for life and above of all, his football, who seems to revel in using his superior abilities to transform the fortunes of mediocre teams. At points throughout the film it appears that Maradona is less man and more superhero who having been circling the world at a thousand miles an hour heard the distant cry of Neapolitan people and touched down in Southern Italy ready to embark on his biggest mission yet. Napoli’s answer to Superman’s kryptonites become steadily more apparent as the documentary progressive however as the most talented player of his generation succumbs to temptation and excess along his path to glory. The documentary attempts to explain away these chapters in the story as the result of Argentine’s alter ego ‘Maradona’ whose brashness and tendency to take the law into his own hands threatens to eclipse the boy Diego’s pure-hearted attempts to bring joy to all those who follow Argentina and Napoli.

He succeeds on both fronts and although the fallout in the years that follow often makes for uncomfortable viewing, Maradona is undeniably a hero to both Argentina and Napoli combining unparalleled genius with a passion and dedication to bring glory to these two overlooked teams that is stirring to watch.

While we have at times seen stress born into the countenance of Lionel Messi when the weight of Argentinean expectation is on his shoulders, Maradona welcomes the pressure with open arms, embraces it warmly and walks out for the 1986 World Cup Final as an even mightier footballing behemoth than he was in the previous rounds.

True, Maradona did not have the strike rate at club level that Lionel Messi had, but what Maradona did at Napoli is akin to Lionel Messi in his prime turning up at Everton and refusing to leave the club until they are the dominant force in English football.

It is fairly certain to say that Messi’s powers will never be tested to this degree and that is why as brilliant as the current Argentina number ten is, I believe Maradona’s club career, at a closer glance, trumps him. For all the trophies, records and personal accolades Messi has racked up he is yet one more example of an exceptional player spending his career playing in exceptional teams, Maradona by contrast, did not do this, choosing instead to use his powers to liberate a fanatically-followed yet underachieving team from a deprived area to glory beyond its wildest dreams. Maybe I’m merely a fool who is too easily swayed by a well-made documentary, but in my opinion, it is Maradona’s decision to apply his greatness to raise up those around him who would have otherwise probably never had their day in the sun, that makes him still, the best football player ever to have walked the earth.

Rating: 4.5/5 – At times beautiful, at times disturbing, a fascinating and moving insight into the life of a troubled genius.