This interview with Asif Kapadia took place in October 2019, following the release of his documentary Diego Maradona', and was first featured in the second issue of Champions Journal'.
Oscar-winning director Asif Kapadia gives an incredible insight into Napoli's golden age in his documentary Diego Maradona. Here she tells Rebecca Hopkins what it was like to interview and make a movie about one of football's greatest players.
Visit Naples today and it's impossible to escape the grip that Diego Maradona still holds over the city. More than 30 years have passed since he led them to their first Serie A title and European Cup in 1987-#39, but his image still graces buildings all over the city. A giant mural in the San Giovanni a Teduccio area is called Dios Umano: God of Man.
The celebrations lasted for two months, it was the passion of the fans to clinch this first title. Twice Napoli won Scudetto during Maradona's time at the club and in the UEFA Cup '. This unprecedented period in the team's history comes into sharp focus in director Asif Kapadia''s latest film, Diego Maradona'. Exciting, shocking and deeply touching, the documentary uses never-before-seen footage to show the extraordinary ups and downs of Maradona's magic in the city. A roller coaster tale to rival anything imagined in Hollywood provides unique insights into how an insecure boy named Diego achieves an almost godlike status in Naples - only to see him unravel that eulogy in a dramatic way. Kapadia's previous documentaries on Formula 1 world champion Ayrton Senna and singer Amy Winehouse won him an Oscar and a bag of BAFTAs, and his latest work on a complex genius has already garnered accolades and critical acclaim. A football fan and Liverpool fan since childhood, Kapadia discusses the outcome of Diego Maradona''s three-year journey into his life here.
Was this your passion project?
I love football, I watch football, I play football. Besides filmmaking, there was football before filmmaking and before relationships or anything. There was always football. We grew up watching and loving him in my home. I'm one of the Liverpool fans from the 70's who stuck with them. You have to do. Even though I'm in North London and my family is mostly Arsenal.
You've made documentaries about Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse, but as a football fan, was there any extra pressure in doing so?
I think it's different. This is a character I grew up with. This is a man I am aware of. I remember Diego' at 82'. I remember watching '86'[World Cup quarter-final] against England' – the tournament where it stood out. I guess this movie was about trying to reveal who Maradona' was as a club player. And what was football like back then – old football. That period of our movie is the place where the Champions League' Very different. When you look at the struggles that used to go on, it's almost football from another planet.
You started by making a movie about his whole life and then you landed it in Napoli. Why was it?
Diego's life is visually like a series of circles. He's going somewhere, there's a lot of hope, everyone loves him, he's doing something great. Then he will get into an argument, start a fight, something will go wrong; It ends badly, leaves, moves on to the next team. It's the same story repeated, repeated, repeated. But the biggest story was Napoli'. He was the best football player in the world back then; no one touched him. He won the World Cup' and he won the championship with a team that had never won before and had never won since.
Maradona's first visit to Stadio San Paolo' after signing from Barcelona' looked like something from the movie before you even got your hands on it.
I think he is the first person to see this kind of incident when he comes to a new team. There were 80,000 people to meet him. That was the true passion of the fans to have an incredible star actor. Now, almost every player, that's what they're trying to copy. It's the norm now, but it wasn't the norm back then. And you have to remember that they were almost relegated a year before Napoli arrived. They only saved in the last game of the season. This is a little crazy. Players don't do this now. The best players want to be at the top, guaranteed to win. They want to be surrounded by superstars. They have to be in the richest clubs. Maradona went to the poorest club and in three years won probably the toughest championship ever.
He looked vulnerable for most of the movie. This is something that is rarely seen.
You know, when you think of Diego Maradona, especially Maradona on day two, you don't think of someone quite lonely, lost or vulnerable. You think of a macho man who creates chaos and says controversial things. But actually, what I find interesting about this kind of storytelling is that I look at a young Diego#39 coming to Naples. I look at him: "I can see a child." So he's a defenseless child. He is alone, afraid, and looks frightened when surrounded by people and crowds. You can see on his face when he is unhappy and when he is happy. That's what I love about the movie: we were able to show simple raw emotions. I don't need to tell you how you feel; you can see it in her eyes. His eyes never lie. And it was something really important to Senna and Amy, too. These three smart people are really great characters, but with all of them you can see the weight and pressure on their shoulders, how their faces change, how their body shapes change as the pressure on them increases. And the way for them to be free and express themselves is to do what they love. Diego is in control when he's on the field. Everything is fine, he knows what he is doing. Anything off-site that is difficult to operate and manage.
Did his off-court problems affect his gameplay?
Maradona's definitely had his problems off the field, but on the field he was loved by his teammates. He was always very supportive, making everyone play better. The interesting thing is frankly – part of his character – he had an enormous ego. But he was a team man on the field, it wasn't all about him. He was very clever. He could see: "They're pointing at me, I have two players – I'm going to dig deeper, this will give the other players more space." I think the interesting thing is that he knew how to read the game, how to play the game, how to be there for the fans, how to be there for the people.
Would things have gone differently for Maradona if he had moved to a different club, to a different location? Or is it something to do with the combination of Maradona and Napoli'?
I guess that's the story. Not very good as a business. So it didn't really work in Barcelona. He felt much more comfortable being in the city of Naples. Her mother's legacy comes from southern Italy and that part of the world. They needed a hero, they needed someone who looked like him, spoke like him, acted like him. And she needed a place to love him, respect him, let him play – but then leave him alone. Don't tell him what to do off the field. So there was a connection, a perfect harmony, a perfect synergy. And if it had gone to other big names and big teams in the north, I don't think it would fit. They expect their players to act a certain way. Maybe he could have had a longer career.
Did you go to a match in Napoli?
I played a few matches in Napoli's stadium. No work has been done on it since Diego's time. Little bit angry. It's miles from the field. Everyone looks small because it's one of those concrete bowls with a running track, so you're a long way off. But the fans are great. Great atmosphere.
What kind of reactions did you give to the movie?
Really good, really positive. People in Napoli' are laughing and crying. I showed this in Buenos Aires' – Argentines get very emotional. It means something to them in a way that is very difficult for us to understand in England. Because when you come from a country that has suffered economically, has dictators, and has been through such hard times for too long, heroes mean so much more. Especially the people who make them successful on the global stage.
And Maradona? Did he see it?
To be honest, I'm guessing because it's now airing in Argentina, you may have seen it. But he and I haven't spoken, so I don't know the official answer. It may seem strange that he hasn't seen it, but he is a very stubborn character.
Finally, is it true that you touched Maradona's left foot during an interview?
So the microphone is on a stand and I'm sitting next to it. I'm actually sitting on the floor at Diego Maradona's feet - it's kind of weird but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get the interview. And as she answers a question of mine, I look at her and look at her legs. She wears shorts – she always wears shorts – and she has great hips. I look at his legs and I think: "These legs are great, he still has them." And then I realized that literally 20 centimeters away from me is Diego Maradona's left foot. And I've been very lucky over the years because of the job I'm in. I met lots of movie stars, met lots of rock stars, met famous people – but never had the urge to touch someone like in that moment. Literally, I was thinking to myself: "Do you mind if I touch your left foot? Will it bother him?" The madness took over me. So as she answered, I looked at her, grabbed her left ankle and said, "Is this the foot that [Andoni Goikoetxea] broke?"
Maradona doesn't like to be touched - his life has been influenced by people he doesn't know - so he pushes me away. I fall a little, bang on the table, knock the microphone over. This is all very strange and unprofessional at all. But you know what? I could not help myself. I literally had the urge to touch it. I don't think it was, but it did. And I haven't washed since. And that was three years ago.
There are a lot of great actors out there, a lot of great artists and actors, but not everyone has charisma. There's something about Maradona' And I remember thinking it would be great to be in his close circle in Napoli in the 80' You can't imagine what life would be like – it would be incredible to have spent one night on that earth.
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