Football was once dubbed the working man's ballet; never has there been a more apt description; particularly when Diego Maradona had the ball at his feet. Barely 5ft 5in, barrel chested with a low centre of gravity, he possessed a balletic grace that made him the most gifted player of his generation. Director Asif Kapadia already has two acclaimed documentaries in his canon. However, unlike the features on Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna this deals with a live subject. Wisely, Kapadia has dispensed with talking head interviews for more discreet voice overs. This allows more time for rare archive footage.
The film opens with a fascinating montage that neatly condenses his early years. Grainy black and white film of a kid from the slums of Villa Fiorito; his elevation to Boca Juniors' first team; international breakthrough and ill-fated transfer to Barcelona. The film presents two contrasting images of Diego; the deeply religious catholic boy who only wanted to buy a house for his parents. Then the very public idol consumed by adulation and expectation. Conversations with ex-wife Claudia Villafane are especially revealing. When it was just 'Diego' he was a loving, affectionate partner; but as 'Maradona' he became a commodity and always in somebody else's pocket.
When Maradona moved to Napoli it seemed a match made in heaven; the dirt poor native of Buenos Aires was now with his brethren. The people of Naples saw him as their saviour which heaped intolerable pressure on young shoulders. His tenure represented a career peak; the World Cup win in Mexico '86 and that incident against England; two Italian league titles and a UEFA Cup win wasn't a bad return.
To be touched by genius is both a blessing and a curse in equal measure. Those in possession of a gift often struggle to cope with the burden. Maradona was no exception as he was smothered by adulation. His return to Argentina after the World Cup win really said it all; just trying to get through airport arrivals he was crushed by fans anxious for a glimpse of their hero; the sense of claustrophobia was uncomfortable to watch.
He sought protection and found a sympathetic ear in Carmine Giuliano, head of the Camorra crime syndicate. He was told with a curious mix of friendship and menace 'your problems are now my problems'. The association fuelled his dependence on cocaine and a downward spiral that dimmed a unique talent to the point of extinction.
Diego Maradona is a stunning piece of filmmaking, although truncated to fit the 130 minute format. Consequently, it skips certain episodes in his career; for example his omission from the 1978 World Cup squad and infamous exit from USA 94. Nevertheless, we can learn something new about a man whose life has been scrutinised in minute detail. As an Englishman, I still haven't forgiven Diego for the hand of god. Not only because he cheated; but more for the mockery made of his genius with a playground trick. I now see him as a bundle of contradictions, but an altogether more human being, flawed like the rest of us. I am pleased he survived to tell the tale; so many of our heroes are not quite so durable?