Diego Maradona: Piece of cinematic art captures glory days

Film examines Argentinian’s successful years with Napoli despite his drug habit

A messianic narrative overwhelms this piece of cinematic art about Diego Maradona’s seven years in Naples.

Take the epilogue. One of the never-ending journalists who prod Maradona with a microphone suggests he is “greater than the pope”.

Diego shrugs: “That isn’t saying much.”

Chaos floods the screen during Asif Kapadia's epic, which contains harrowing strains of his previous films about Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna, in both style and substance.


The obvious difference being survival. Barely.

Even at the zenith of Napoli's glory years – capturing a second Scudetto at San Paulo (the stadium itself becomes a character) in 1990 – the Maradona contradiction is visible. Amidst the euphoria he takes a side swipe at Luis Menotti excluding his teenage self from the 1978 World Cup squad. It meant he never won the World Cup in Argentina so winning the league "in my home" becomes the greatest moment of his career. Or so he claimed. The words are a salute to a city and its local Camorra who protect him from urine tests, tax inspectors and an obsessed public.

Concrete jungle

The fickleness of this bond is intimately revealed by Kapadia.

Strong temptation to vomit the entire contents of Wednesday morning’s Light House screening on to the page will be resisted for two reasons: nobody should ruin this experience for the uninitiated and not since Zidane – A 21st Century Portrait has music and sport collided so magnificently.

The story begins inside a train of Fiats charging through a concrete jungle to the soundtrack of 1980s electro funk. We are told that “the poorest club in Italy buys the most expensive player in the world”.

How and why is subtly laid bare. It takes one hour 14 minutes before the chilling spectre of Carmine Giuliano appears (the mafia boss turned police informant in 2002). Maradona discusses his initial interactions with the Camorra without delving into this Faustian pact.

But it’s all there in subtext as we soak up the Napoli miracle intertwined with technicolor of Mexico ‘86 and darker shades of Italia ‘90.

The Fiats drag us and Diego into the belly of San Paolo for his first press conference. Question one is about "Camorra money being everywhere". The 23-year-old, having survived two ankle-crushing seasons at Barcelona, looks stunned as club president Corrado Ferlaino expels the journalist from the smoke-filled room.

"Napoli seemed a very strange choice at that time for Maradona," explains football historian John Foot. "Serie A was the richest, most powerful league in the world. All the best players came to Italy, particularly to northern giants Milan and Juventus. Napoli had never won the championship. It was not a successful team. It was not a team that was looking like being successful."

That was July 1984. Within three years this child of Fiorito slums delivers the Scudetto. Also, in the summer of 1986, he did something Messi has been unable to achieve in delivering a World Cup. That’s why for so many of a certain age this documentary will cement their belief that one number 10 forever soars above any other. Maradona speaks about evolving to survive the savagery of Italian stud merchants. Pace and technique was not enough; he developed a mystical element to avoid the slicing tackles of his era.

Italia '90 – there's a Jimmy Magee cameo – begins his demise with each sordid addictive problem exposed.


Kapadia’s previous films echo. Amy, in that he seemed destined to be fatally consumed by cocaine. Senna, in that rare genius and pure will find a way to topple the elite northern classes.

“Napoli cholera! Napoli peasants!” screamed Juve fans. “Sell your asses for Maradona! Vesuvio wash them with fire!”

The Light House surround sound almost deafens. The volume also cranks up to emphasis the unbridled joy Maradona gifts a squalid city by turning what seemed impossible into reality. Twice. All the while existing on a staple diet of white powder Sunday through Wednesday.

Like Winehouse and Senna, Maradona also cried out for help. On the pitch in Stuttgart after the 1989 Uefa Cup trophy was captured, thanks to his brilliant headed assist, he asked Ferlaino to sell him in order to escape Napoli’s suffocating vices. Ferlaino refuses.

The World Cup semi-final at San Paolo provides a twist to grace any thriller. For those who don’t know or can’t remember what happened resist youtubing a lesser production. Await this masterclass in movie-making instead.

Witness Diego Armando Maradona in all his glory.

Diego Maradona – in cinemas June 14th.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent