A gripping movie for football fans

Muscat: In spring of 2014, I went to Dubai with my parents for a short holiday. While having lunch with my mother in a café in Deira City Centre that faces the escalator, I saw a middle-aged short stout man coming up accompanied by two other younger men.

He looked like an Arab and a familiar one too. I stared at him while munching my tuna sandwich trying to figure out who he was. His shifty gaze confirmed my suspicion that he was familiar to being in the spotlight. Was he the Egyptian actor Mahmood El Jundi? Impossible! He looked taller and slimmer on screen! Could he be a supporting actor that I can’t recall his name? Noticing that no one was really paying him any heed, the short man put his sunglasses on and quickened his pace- as if someone was chasing him- while covering half of his face and looking around him (obviously seeking attention!). I was astonished by the so-uncalled-for-move as I was still racking my brain for a name when someone suddenly shouted “Maradona!”

I could see instant relief on his face as he was finally recognised. He stood steps away from us, posing for pictures with young passers-by before moving away with his company. I learned later that he was shooting a football reality show called the Victorious where he gets to pick junior Arab players based on their talents. These memories of my funny encounter with Maradona flooded back while watching a documentary called: “Diego Maradona” directed by British filmmaker Asif Kapadia. I was never a Maradona fan.

The image I had of him was built on what I read in the English tabloids: a former drug addict with marital and weight issues, who either looked bored or was nodding off while attending different football matches at the World Cup. But watching the documentary made me form a new image of a more humane Maradona who was – like many other international sport figures- a victim of too much publicity that led to substance abuse.

The movie starts with the emerging star of Maradona from the slums of Argentina at the age of fifteen to his short stay in Barcelona team before moving to Napoli where his career flourished and ended dramatically between 1984 and 1991. Kapadia uses 500 hours of never-before-seen archival footage that was shot by Maradona’s first agent Jorge Cyterszpiler. The footage was stashed for thirty years in a trunk in Maradona’s ex-wife house in Buenos Aires before being used by the director. It covers all aspects of Maradona’s life in Napoli: his personal life including family and children, his training, different football matches played and parties that he’d attended.

Kapadia only uses the voice of the interviewees to deliver the story along with different footage, as if not to distract the viewers from the main focus of the movie: Maradona. He also relies heavily on Maradona’s facial expressions to paint a picture of different emotional states at certain points of his career to match the narrative.

Maradona was considered Napoli’s own paladin and his pictures were placed in churches after securing their two Italian league titles in 86-87 and 89-90, the first ever in their history. He also led his home team to win the World Cup title in 1986, the year of the infamous Mano de Dios goal in England’s net. But how did he change from being the Golden Boy to the most controversial football player of our time? Kapadia answers these questions and many more in an insightful, well-paced, gripping movie that is made for football fans.