If Academy Award-winning director Asif Kapadia’s film, Diego Maradona, on the Argentine legend only showed what a dominant player Maradona was, it would be plenty compelling.
If it was just a two-hour highlight reel of the most ridiculous moments from the virtually never-ending bender that was Maradona’s time in Naples, it would have been worth watching.
But what we fortunately get, instead — in the latest apparent hit from Amy and Senna director Kapadia — is a revealing answer to a confounding question. How and why did Maradona go from a very good player at Boca Juniors and Barcelona to a legend who experienced ups and downs of mythological proportions when he moved to Napoli in 1984??
Below are five reasons to check out the premier of this documentary on HBO Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Eastern.
1. Breathtaking on-field footage of a player many consider the G.O.A.T.
Maradona is undeniably one of the greatest soccer players of all time, and the extensive field-level clips of him in action* are something to behold. Everyone who has seen Lionel Messi weave through defenders marvels at the way the ball stays attached to his foot, and Maradona had the same unfathomable control.
It was even more impressive and notable because of what Maradona’s opponents in Serie A were able to get away with. If you’re ever wondered why it was possible to lead a domestic league with 15 or 20 goals in the ‘80s, when top scorers today sometimes find the net 30-plus times in a season, here’s your answer. Serie A looked more like the NFL in the 1980’s than the product it is today.
*Kapadia sifted through endless (500 hours!) archival footage shot by two personal photographers whom Maradona’s ex-agent hired to make a movie about him. That never came to fruition, but years later, a trove of footage became available to Kapadia, who made the most of it.
2. An unbelievable story with an incredible level of detail/perspective
To call Maradona in Naples a fascinating character in a fascinating city would be to drastically understate this period of the Argentine’s life. Under no circumstances today would a player’s introductory press conference feature a question about the mob’s relationship with his new team. But that’s exactly what greeted Maradona on one of his first days in Italy.
In addition to being a compelling sports story and character study, this movie has enough crime drama to satisfy a Scorsese buff. It also covers a National Lampoon-esque level of debauchery (but it’s mostly just stories of that nature — as opposed to racy footage — as the film stays about as family-friendly as something with this type of subject matter could). It also helps that Kapadia’s interviews with those closest to Maradona are illuminating and insightful. We learn about not only what Diego was up to, but why.
3. The historical context surrounding the 1986 World Cup
Maradona’s two-goal effort to help Argentina beat England 2-1 in the semis of the 1986 World Cup included one of the most controversial goals of all time (the infamous “Hand of God”). And his second goal that day was merely one of the best displays of individual brilliance in World Cup history.
But how many fans realize Argentina was meeting England just four years after the Falklands War? That aspect of the classic at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca will likely come as news to younger viewers of this film.
4. The passion of Italian soccer fans
The extent to which Maradona was deified by his own fans, and seemingly all of southern Italy, defies belief. Yes, top athletes are idolized in 2019. But there was a truly unhinged quality about the way Napoli fans revered Maradona.
The film successfully unpacks why fans adored him the way they did, for better or worse. We also get a good look at the intensity of the mutual disdain between supporters of Napoli and their rivals. Some of the vile chants at Serie A crowds today are tame in comparison to the vitriol in this film (but still completely reprehensible, for the record).
5. Don’t you want to see what all the fuss is about?
Virtually every major soccer media outlet in the U.S. and Europe has already gushed about this movie. And a number, including High Press Soccer, got to speak with Kapadia.
Do yourself a favor and go see what we’re all talking about. I can promise it won’t disappoint, regardless of your level of soccer fandom or familiarity with Maradona.