REBEL YELL: ‘Diego Maradona’, Rebel, Cheat, Hero, God – By David Alm

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  • “…He revered his Argentinian compatriot and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara. He also befriended Fidel Castro and proudly called the Cuban leader as his “second father”. He was an outspoken supporter of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He denounced American wars in the Middle East and would say that in his heart “he was Palestinian”

Diego Maradona Scored Politics in Sports… That’s Why He Was So Loved

Football legend Diego Maradona who died this week aged 60 will be remembered by billions of sports fans around the world for not only his almost-divine prowess on the field but also his fearless solidarity for oppressed people.

He was a working-class hero in the positive sense. Born dirt-poor in a barrio outside Buenos Aires, Maradona rose to become a soccer legend whose skill on the ball awed the world. Commentators remarked that the ball seemed to be “sewn to his feet” such was his balletic dexterity.

Maradona played in four World Cup tournaments but it was the 1986 games in Mexico where he shone like a god at the age of 25. As team captain and striking midfielder wearing the number 10 shirt, Maradona was the catalyst for Argentina winning that tournament. In a series of matches of breathtaking performances, he took the side to victory in the final against West Germany.

But it was the earlier quarter-final match against England which immortalized the kid from the barrio. Memories of the 1981-82 Falklands War were still raw when the Argentines were defeated by Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. Maradona exacted sweet revenge, routing the England side like second-raters and outshining them with sheer Latino brilliance. Yes, he did infamously cheat with his first goal, flicking the ball past the England keeper in a feint for a header. The goal stood, however, because the referee didn’t see the foul, despite protests from the England team. Then four minutes later, the Argentine dynamo demolished his critics with a second goal that many believe to be the best-ever in football history. He took the ball from deep in his own half and dribbled past at least five England defenders over a 70-meter run, shimmying past the goalkeeper and whipping the ball into an empty net. With characteristic cheek, Maradona later said the first goal was due to the “hand of God”. Few would object.

At only 1.65m (5ft 5in) in height, and despite his magical weaving skills, Maradona incurred debilitating injuries from repeated rough tackles. This was before the modern-day practice of protective refereeing. Those injuries led to a dependence on painkiller drugs which Maradona also enhanced with excesses of alcohol and cocaine. He was a footballing deity after all and was living on top of a pedestal. After his 1986 World Cup success he went on to achieve stunning victories for Italian club Napoli. In was during this period, it is said the legend got involved with narcotics and other inner demons.

But the beautiful thing about him was he never forgot his roots in grinding poverty. As one of eight children he grew up in slums with no running water or electricity. In his later life, despite his fame, he always identified with the world’s poor and oppressed. It was the reason why the poor south of Italy Napoli supporters adored him for his brotherly appreciation and, of course, for taking them to victory against the rich clubs in the north.

Maradona once said: “I hate everything that comes from the United States. I hate it with all my strength.”

He revered his Argentinian compatriot and the revolutionary leader Che Guevara. He also befriended Fidel Castro and proudly called the Cuban leader as his “second father”. He lived in Cuba for extended periods and received crucial medical treatment to alleviate his ailments.

Maradona championed other socialist causes too. He was an outspoken supporter of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. He denounced American wars in the Middle East and would say that in his heart “he was Palestinian”.

He consciously used his worldwide football fame to highlight the cause for justice against the crimes of the Yankee empire. One supposes that his heroic struggle on the field was a reflection of his own conviction about the wider struggle for human liberation from oppression. His passion and inspiration was an extension of the fight for justice.

Maradona fought the good fight with the heart of a lion. But that brave heart gave out this week. He had suffered from health complications over many years and the battles eventually took their toll. Argentina has announced three days of national mourning and around the world this week there will be a minute’s silence before all games.

Football fans of all stripes place the Argentinian maestro first among equals in the sporting stars: Johan Cruyff, Pelé, Garrincha, George Best among others. Modern-day luminaries Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo offered their heartfelt condolences and respect for their hero.

If football is the reputed universal “game of the people” then Diego Maradona is the sport’s fitting icon. He was a man of, and for, the people. To those hypocrites who piously admonish that politics should be kept out of sports (while using every opportunity to score political points against opponents when convenient) Maradona was fearless in keeping politics in the game through his courageous solidarity with victims of oppression. He never flinched from using his exquisite skills for the cause of justice and peace. That’s why above all the other sporting stars, he is loved by so many billions around the world.

Diego Maradona Scored Politics in Sports… That’s Why He Was So Loved — Strategic Culture (


Diego Maradona: Rebel, Cheat, Hero, God

By David Alm

Diego Maradona being arrested for drug possession in Argentina, 1991
Diego Maradona being arrested for drug possession in Argentina, 1991 AFP/GETTY IMAGES

People who know Diego Armando Maradona, the Argentinian footballer who found fame, riches and disgrace playing for S.S.C. Napoli in the 1980s and early ‘90s, intimately say he was always two different people. “Diego” was a humble man from an impoverished shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, as generous as he was insecure. “Maradona” was the myth he created, a cocksure showman whose sense of invincibility on the pitch made him one of the greatest and most feared football players of all time, but also a veritable tornado in his private life.

An eponymous new film, Diego Maradona, from Academy Award-winning director Asif Kapadia (AmySenna) examines both versions of the famed athlete in a riveting documentary constructed entirely of archival footage dating all the way to Maradona’s childhood in the 1960s. The majority, though, comes from his “club” years with Napoli, from 1984, when he arrived in Naples, to 1991, when he was arrested for soliciting drugs and prostitution. In between, there were enough victories, setbacks, controversies and scandals to fill countless tabloids. Diego Maradona wasn’t just a great footballer, but also an A-list celebrity, an icon and a tragedy.

In the early ‘80s, when Maradona played for Barcelona, he developed a taste for partying and cocaine, which followed him to Naples and through his peak years as an athlete. It would also, unfortunately, wreak havoc on his life. He spawned an illegitimate son in 1986 and refused to acknowledge that he was the father until 2003. He got cozy with the Camorra, one of Italy’s oldest organized crime syndicates, and was often photographed with its members at nightclubs, wearing expensive jewelry and fur coats. Rumors about his extracurricular life abounded, and yet, through it all, Diego Maradona was treated like a god–literally. He might as well have had a panel on the Sistine Chapel.

And then, in 1990, when Maradona led Argentina’s national team to victory in a World Cup semifinals match against his own club, on its home turf at the San Paolo stadium in Naples no less, Italy turned on him. Any protections and allowances Maradona enjoyed in that infamously dangerous, mafia-run city vanished overnight. The god became the devil.

Kapadia says he chose to focus on Maradona’s time with Napoli because it’s a chapter of the footballer’s career that doesn’t get as much attention as when he captained Argentina’s national team in the 1986, ‘90 and ‘94 World Cups. But it was with S.S.C. Napoli that Maradona became the greatest footballer in the world, combining impeccable instincts with a toughness borne on the streets of Villa Fiorito. It’s also where Maradona’s personal problems began in force, making those seven years in Naples “the story of Maradona’s life,” as one commentator in the film puts it.

Kapadia made the film with Maradona’s full support, drawing mostly from the athlete’s personal archives of more than 500 hours of footage. Any contemporary interviews are done in voiceover, which creates a palpable tension between the grainy images on screen, of Maradona in his prime, and the reflections of those who knew him best during those exhilarating and turbulent years. Among those interviewed is Maradona himself, now in his late 50s, offering wizened, often regretful insights into his younger self.

This gives Diego Maradona, by the end, the feel of a redemption story. Unlike the subjects of Kapadia’s other two films, the singer Amy Winehouse and the Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna, Maradona is still alive. He may have survived chronic hepatitis and had two gastric bypass surgeries–at one point post-retirement, the 5-foot-5-inch Maradona ballooned to 260 pounds–but he’s still in the game.

In an interview on CNN World Sports this week, Don Riddell asked Kapadia how he thinks Maradona’s story will end, based on all the footage he’s seen and the story he’s researched. “I think the interesting thing about Diego Maradona is that he’s actually died a few times, and then he comes back again,” Kapadia replied. “That’s the story. It’s death and resurrection.”

Diego Maradona will be released in select theaters on September 20th and on HBO on October 1st

Diego Maradona: Rebel, Cheat, Hero, God (

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