It has been 33 years since the “Hand of God” incident involving Diego Armando Maradona in the 1986 World Cup, but the Argentine remains a controversial figure in England and beyond. Remembered for that infamous moment of cheating and his unrepentant attitude ever since, as well as many shocking instances of drug use, the former Napoli man is often disliked.
Yet his other goal in that quarter final highlighted the other side of this provocative figure, as he dispatched the Three Lions with typical speed, poise, balance and sheer skill. In the latest film director Asif Kapadia offers the theory that this match perfectly encapsulates the two sides to Maradona; the brilliance and the madness.
Perhaps there are some who would shy away from such a film, such is the vehement dislike for this ex-footballer. Those who saw Kapadia’s other BAFTA winning docufilm on the subject of Ayrton Senna will understand that this is a more in-depth feature on the personal story of Maradona, using a myriad of unseen and original footage.
It details his story right from the very beginning, describing exactly how impoverished his background was. He was raised in a large family in Villa Fiorito, essentially a shanty town near Buenos Aires. The footage of the player at a young age serves as a stark reminder that the fame he was about to experience was completely and utterly alien to a young man with this kind of upbringing, a factor that humanises the almost demonic figure we see today.
After some shameful violent behaviour in his final match for Barcelona, the film focuses on Maradona’s move to Napoli. Many football fans know the story of how the Argentina international was unwanted by clubs that matched his incredible ability due to his indiscipline, meaning that the Neapolitan club – a side who had never won the Scudetto and had been battling relegation – were able to snap him up in summer 1984.
Naples is an intense, crowded city, full of people who see their football team as an escape from their often turbulent lives. Kapadia has been able to depict the rabid hysteria of the supporters on Maradona’s arrival to the point this well-known tale has you on the edge of your seat, unable to take your eyes away from the action.
The player often looks bewildered and frightened as the crowds engulf him everywhere he goes, his privacy in this city non-existent, such is the unprecedented scale of hero-worship. The filmmaker does not seek to absolve the player of blame for his dramatic personal decline, however the mitigating factors are very clear to see on-screen.
His relationship with the Camorra must’ve seemed wonderful at first for Maradona, a man whose naivety was clear to see. As his slide into drug addiction took hold of him, Napoli and the unsuitable company was keeping dropped him like a stone as soon as the benefits of associating with him had dried up.
It is clear that this was an unusual situation, the world’s best player at a club who could never ever have dreamed of capturing his signature. The film serves as a fascinating reminder that Naples sucked him right in and then spat him out onto the pavement when his services were no longer needed.
Of course, just like many of his misdemeanours, Maradona was far from being the innocent party, but this two hours and 10 minutes of gripping action proves that there is another side to this story.
Those who love the game will revel in his moments of sheer genius on screen, and those who don’t can still enjoy this most interesting of life tales. For those who still haven’t forgiven “El Diego” for 1986, this might just be your chance to see the other side of the story.