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20 May 2008 13:37
Diego Maradona, the Argentinian soccer genius notorious for the “Hand of God” goal and a post-football descent into drugs, hits the big screen in Cannes on Tuesday in a documentary that also shows him as a staunch critic of the United States.
Maradona, by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, gets its premiere just days after another sporting “bad boy”, boxer Mike Tyson, turned up on the French Riviera to watch a film on his own rise from the mean streets to global notoriety.
Maradona, who was set to walk up the red carpet later on Tuesday to attend the premiere, is revered as a god-like figure in his home country.
He is especially known as for his role in knocking England out of the World Cup in 1986 in a famous 2-1 victory. Maradona scored both goals—one with a little help from his hand, and a second solo effort that ranks among the greatest ever scored.
Kusturica, who has twice won the Palme d’Or top prize at Cannes for When Father Was Away on Business and Underground, has said he was “one of millions of people across the world who jumped for joy” at England’s defeat.
The result, he said in interviews about his new film, was a victory for countries like Argentina and Serbia, which he sees as victims of Western imperialism.
Kusturica said he plans to show three different Maradonas in his 90-minute film: the football teacher, the family man and the critic of US foreign policy.
Maradona, who after he retired in 1997 became addicted to drink and drugs and saw his weight balloon, has befriended Cuba’s former leader, Fidel Castro, and Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s left-wing president, while deriding the US.
Despite his excesses, Diego Armando Maradona, born in 1960 in Buenos Aires, continues to enjoy the adulation of millions of Argentinians and embodies the legend of the “diez”, the number-ten shirt he always wore after bursting on to the international scene while still a teenager.
His extraordinary talents, as evidenced by his slaloming run through the England defence in the 1986 quarterfinal to net the winner after his controversial “Hand of God” opener, put him on a level with Pele, the Brazilian widely accepted until then as the best player ever.
Maradona continually courted controversy, with his drug use leading to a pair of bans.
He started playing professionally days before his 16th birthday with Argentinos Junior, but switched in 1981 to Boca Juniors, where he would stay barely a year before heading to Europe and joining Barcelona.
Three years later he switched to Napoli and won two league titles before the drugs controversies overwhelmed him, though he would have a short spell with Spain’s Sevilla before heading back to Argentina and winding down his playing days in 1997.
For Argentines he was and remains the Pibe de Oro, the Golden Child, who made good after an upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks.
But the wheel of fortune turned against him as his drug and weight problems mounted.
In 2004, a heart attack saw him come within an ace of death.
He has been to the Communist Caribbean state of Cuba several times for treatment.
But he has still managed to have successful stints as a television presenter.
In March, 2007, Maradona was readmitted to an Argentine hospital for treatment for hepatitis and the effects of alcohol abuse, then released and re-admitted.
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