Players have bought into feeling of being part of something huge in Brazil

The true heir to Maradona arrived at this World Cup in São Paulo last Thursday night – Luis Suarez

 Luis Suarez: did something against England that superficially resembled Maradona’s immortal feat in 1986.

Luis Suarez: did something against England that superficially resembled Maradona’s immortal feat in 1986.

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 08:00

It might come as a surprise to those who automatically associate the word “Fifa” with bland corporate mediocrity to hear that the official Fifa movie of the 1986 World Cup is actually a fine piece of work. Narrated by Michael Caine and featuring a weirdly beautiful synthesiser score by Rick Wakeman, the movie is called Hero, and it pursues an individualistic agenda in keeping with the Me Decade.

Hero tells the story of Mexico 86 by tracing the paths of the star players through the tournament. Most of the shots are tightly focused on an individual player – the screen filled with images of Michael Laudrup dribbling, Enzo Francescoli getting kicked, Michel Platini rearranging his thinning hair. You often can’t see the game context or most of the other players. Instead, you see some other things that aren’t so apparent from the wider angle.

Hero is mostly about Diego Maradona and the real star of the movie is Maradona’s face. Few players have lived the emotions of the game as intensely as Maradona and over the course of the film we see him experience the whole gamut, from operatic anguish to incredulous joy.

When you watch this movie you understand why Maradona was more than just the best player in the world. He remained the world’s favourite footballer for years after he had retired because his face was as expressive as his feet. He had an instinctive understanding of what it meant to be a hero. He knew how to channel the emotion of the crowd and reflect it back at them. Football doesn’t matter without the audience and Maradona played the audience as well as he played the game.

This is probably the reason why Lionel Messi has never managed to supplant Maradona in Argentina’s affections. It’s nothing to do with Messi’s talent, which is as great as Maradona’s – greater, if you like to measure these things by counting goals and medals. It has to do with how he expresses himself.

Messi plays the game in a sort of imperturbable trance, he appears impassive, even cold. Sometimes he betrays flashes of irritation or amusement, but he only lets go at really big moments. When he scored against Bosnia last week he allowed himself an eruption of exultant relief, and you could see in that instant how deeply he had felt the misery of failing to score in South Africa last time. But from minute to normal minute of the game, Messi’s face tells us little about how he’s feeling. Maradona’s face told us everything, so we could feel like we were living every second of it with him.

Immortal feat

The true heir to Maradona arrived at this World Cup in São Paulo last Thursday night. It wasn’t just that by scoring two goals against England to condemn them to World Cup elimination, Luis Suarez had done something that superficially resembled Maradona’s immortal feat in 1986. It’s that Suarez does these incredible things in such an expressive way that he allows us in to his experience. As he cried tears of amazement after his second goal we all knew for a moment what it feels like to hurl the little streets upon the great.

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