What Killed Maradona on Discovery+ is an anthropological dive into footballer's mythologised life

What killed Maradona, is a more serious look at the contributing factors to the decline and ultimately death of a mercurial talent.

Manik Sharma January 21, 2021 11:38:12 IST
What Killed Maradona on Discovery+ is an anthropological dive into footballer's mythologised life

One of the most endearing images of the 2018 World Cup is of an evidently high Diego Maradona, arms crossed, hysterically thanking the heavens for a wonderfully taken Lionel Messi goal. Maradona’s charm, his magnetism can be evaluated by the fact that even in his late fifties he was one of the most enigmatic and appealing personalities in football. In November, last year, the Argentine legend breathed his last after decades of drug abuse and a life lived on the side of the ship that hit the rocks. Asif Kapadia’s Maradona (2019) that predated the star’s death, looked at the socio-cultural backstory of an iconic footballer who inspired in people as much hate as his talents inspired love. A new documentary on Discovery Plus titled What Killed Maradona tackles the science behind player’s early death, and the somewhat mortifying effects of being in possession of the inhuman.

Because it is more anthropological in its outlook, the documentary dives into hard facts that a more romantic view of Maradona’s life would miss. That Diego, quite literally played his way out of malnourishment, that his poor family immediately became dependant on his talent and that his roots made it impossible for him to forget where he had come from, are all valuable insights into an otherwise mythologised life. That Maradona was precociously talented, even ordained should you withstand the religiousness of the thought, is a given. But what is often overlooked is the role these early hardships played in honing skills that simply do not appear in coaching manuals. In a Match of the Day broadcast on the day of his death, the England striker Gary Linekar described sharing a training session with the player for an all-star charity event. “He would kick the ball up high, with all his force and juggle it in the centre circle. We all tried it and couldn’t do more than two or three. You don’t coach that. That is something you’re born with,” he said.

What killed Maradona, is a more serious look at the contributing factors to the decline and ultimately death of a mercurial talent. Diego, because he was only 5 feet 5 inches tall, overawed and teased players of a lesser ilk. Naturally, he invited the ire of those who were lesser gifted. Opponents lashed out because the only way to stop Maradona was to ‘break him’. Thus began player’s extended use of painkillers and subsequently, hard drugs. “They kicked the nonsense out of him. It’s a miracle he could walk out of the stadium”, says his former agent. Only a couple of weeks ago, Lionel Messi, the player Maradona is often compared to, received his first red card of a glittering Barcelona career. After almost two decades of having been on the receiving end of cynical fouls and beatings, the diminutive Argentinian finally snapped. “Painkillers and injections were a part of his life,” says Maradona’s former press officer. The documentary thus raises the question of protecting talents who even though they live amongst us, seem otherworldly.

Maradona’s move to the city of Naples proved pivotal to both Diego the person, and Maradona the player. It would become the city that would immortalise the footballer and excavate the vulnerable human in him. While Maradona chased glory on the pitch he scoured escape off it, like a ‘man seeking oblivion’. Hooked on cocaine, the player often mixed it with alcohol, something the documentary explains, is a deadly combination for the health of your heart. While Maradona powered through his football on the back of injections, he did ultimately, do so at the expense of his good health and life.

Most sportspersons only have to contend with the journey between winning and losing, the numerical outcomes of the time and energy they give to the sport. For someone with as complex a personality as Maradona’s, as difficult a childhood as his, they are external compared to the living and the not living, between battle and survival. To that effect Maradona’s first significant accomplishment would have been to live through his malnourished childhood, to live up to become the cause of the world’s footballing envy. That the player slipped and fell, while he was flying, is perhaps symbolic of relationship the public court of fame has with the individual. One day you are the king but the next day they could demand your head on a pike.

What Killed Maradona, is an important, less dramatic addendum to the Maradona afterlife and the long drawn attempt to understand the genius of man whose touch seemed as inexplicable as his personality seemed elusive. Modern football is now overawed by the possibility of tactics and the sophistication of technology. It seduces you through its complexity and white-collar professionalism alone. Maradona, however, as the documentary suggests, came from a different world, where he was no less genius for being flawed, no less human for being godly.

What Killed Maradona is now streaming on Discovery Plus.

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