“It’s like taking a diabetic to a candy store,” says one fan on a radio phone-in programme in the city of Culiacan.
It is true that the decision to invite Diego Maradona to manage a club in the drug capital of Mexico might go down as one of the most recklessly high-risk calls ever made in football. But it also makes for one of the most compelling pieces of TV we’ve ever seen, so if you’ve not watched the Netflix series ‘Maradona in Mexico’ yet, we suggest you make the most of whatever tier of local lockdown you’re experiencing and get straight on it.
The documentary is everything you would expect from the Golden Boy and much, much more, and we have Jose Antonio Nunez to thank. Nunez is the president of Dorados de Sinaloa and the man who thought it was a good idea to have football’s wildest wild child come to work in such a setting. At the time, Dorados were bottom of the Mexican second division and in need of inspiration, but the appointment of Maradona came as a bolt out of the blue.
Nunez admits it took courage to take Diego on after he had offset his initial excitement of potentially employing one of football’s all-time great players, with the reality of the drug-addicted nomad of his coaching career. The temptations of the city were a concern too, but Nunez was determined to change the way his area is viewed.
“Before the arrival of Maradona the biggest news out of Sinaloa state was the escape of [Mexican drug lord] ‘El Chapo’ Guzman,” the president explains. “I can’t help that El Chapo was born here, what I can do is make people change how they think of us.”
And there is a change in the football straight off the bat as Maradona begins to work his magic. It’s clear that morale forms the large part of his managerial style. Maradona was never going to run his players through the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation, and he admits from the off that it is the morale and togetherness that he believes he can cultivate the most. I mean, who wouldn’t love one of the greatest players of all time telling you how much he believes in you?
Despite the best player at the club being the overweight late-50s cocaine addict with arthritic knees who has been airlifted in to manage them, Dorados are inspired to win a string of games, which lift them off the foot of the table and push them towards the top-eight play-offs.
The great run of results buys the new boss significant favour with the supporters. Fan club member Luis Miguel reasons, “If he came here to get high, that’s his business. We don’t care what he does in his personal life, as long as he gets results. If he makes us champions, I’ll get him all the coke he wants.”
Not that it’s all plain sailing for Diego. One night he falls out of bed and causes a deep gash on his shin, meaning a trip to the club physio. There’s a lot of that. He seems to be on the medical table more than the players, with his arthritis and various other physical ailments reducing his mobility. He probably shouldn’t be dancing around after every victory – friendlies included, but it is a regular sight as his powers of motivation breed togetherness in the dressing room. A sing-song gets everyone motivated, right?
There’s a lot of charging around the touchline too. Unsurprisingly, Maradona doesn’t come across as a referee’s best friend, with a couple of extraordinary examples of him retaining that hot-headed nature.
After a 0-0 play-off draw at home to local rivals Mineros he openly encourages the Dorados fans to insult the officials. All this despite the fact one of his strikers missed an open goal from one yard, no less. His continued protestations ensure he is reprimanded by the referee and suspended from the second leg. The local media’s overwhelming response is that Nunez and Dorados should have expected nothing less when they appointed Diego, but the man himself insists to his players that they were just unlucky and had been stung out of the win.
In another episode, he is sent off for a further display of dissent against the officials. As he heads for the tunnel in the corner of the field, the Dorados fans give him a standing ovation, with Maradona all the while raising his arms to invite further acclaim. Never change, Diego.
We won’t spoil the ending, save to say that it doesn’t last long – Maradona is the manager of Gimnasia de la Plata in his native Argentina these days – but this gem of a series just goes to prove how box office every move Diego makes continues to be.
Get it watched, if only for Maradona’s inspirational team talks… “Go out and play football. Play football. For fuck’s sake, let’s go.” If that doesn’t make you want to run through brick walls, we don’t know what will.