Pelé or Maradona? Most football fans will come down on one side or the other when it comes to which is the best player in the world… ever! The director of Senna and Amy (for which he won an Oscar) Asif Kapadia, like most people of a certain age, remembers seeing Maradona playing in the World Cup in the 1980s and 90s. He knew he was watching a phenomenal talent, but he had no idea how extraordinary the little Argentinian’s story was. When he discovered that there were thousands of hours of unseen footage of Maradona from his early career – thanks to his manager at the time, who reckoned the young footballer was so good, he would make a feature film about him and break America – Asif knew he had the makings of his third documentary feature film.
“You’ve got to imagine this is in 1981, this is, like, before YouTube , this is before this idea of making documentaries of people like that. So his agent was very clever and forward-thinking.”
The agent hired two Argentinian cameramen to film Maradona on and off the pitch, so they can cut it together into the Citizen Kane of football documentaries. It didn’t quite turn out like that, though. Asif has seen a rough cut:
“It looks like a very early YouTube video with kind of Kenny Everett-type graphic and Orson Welles voiceover. It wasn’t very good.”
But the footage – thousands of hours of – was out there and once Asif’s team of researchers got their hands on it, the new film started to come together. And, unlike Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, the subjects of his previous films, Diego Maradona is alive and willing to talk. As is his first wife, Claudia Villafañe, despite bitterness between them.
“Right now, Claudia and Diego do not get along. They’re suing each other in court. I come along saying, ‘I’m making this film about Diego Maradona. Can I interview you?’ That was not easy.”
Maggie tells Asif that she doesn’t know much about football but still found the film riveting and emotional. He maintains that the film is not just for football fans, it’s for people interested in humanity and characters and the surprising details of Maradona’s life:
“He’s a child in many ways. He’s a lost, vulnerable child who becomes well-known, he’s trying to do it for his family, he’s trying to take them out of a shanty town. He wants his mum and dad to have a home. But then he gets taken away. That’s what he has to sacrifice.”
Asif tells Maggie that Maradona covers his feelings of loneliness and vulnerability by putting on the facade of the tough, macho Latino guy, and hiding his real feelings leads him to lying, to cheating – on and off the pitch – to covering up. And in the end, he’s just hurting himself.
“So to cover over the pain he starts doing drugs, he starts drinking, he starts doing all this other stuff. You know, you’re hiding through addictions because there are issues that have not been dealt with.”
Maradona’s life has been remarkable by any metric: he may just be the greatest footballer who ever lived. He’s captained his country to World Cup glory – although some might say he cheated along the way – and he’s won Serie A with Napoli. He’s been box office. And if Senna and Amy are anything to go by, Asif Kapadia’s film about Maradona will be just as exciting as its subject.
Diego Maradona hits cinemas this Friday. You can hear Maggie’s full interview with Asif, as well as the rest of the The Ryan Tubridy Show here:
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