On being invited to watch the latest, ‘new’ Maradona documentary ‘Maradona: The Fall’, I couldn’t help but feel indifference. Off the back of 2019’s impressive ‘Diego Maradona’ film and the reels of tributes following the great man’s death, I thought there was little left to tell in regards to one of football's most talked about personalities.
Oh how wrong I was.
Because after sitting through ninety minutes of tightly crafted entertainment and insight I realised that Maradona really is a gift that keeps on giving, and ‘The Fall’ is well, well worth any self respecting football fan’s time.
It’s well researched, and perhaps unlike Asif Kapadia’s earlier documentary, briskly paced with frequent injections of humour that make it as fun as it is educational. A difficult balancing act pulled off with aplomb.
A large part of this is down to some extensive archive footage research that throws up some absolute gems, many of us won’t have come across before. A stand out being the World Cup ‘94 draw that was held live in Las Vegas in front of a packed arena and with help from special guests such as Robin Williams, Tom Seleck and er, David sodding Hasselhoff. Only in America. The footage is grainy, dated and all the better for it, shedding new light on a World Cup that was hosted by a country that, at the time, barely had a clue what ‘soccer’ even was. (Not that it mattered, as our guests kept pointing out - America knows how to do ‘Big Events’ and the World Cup sure was one of those).
What also helps ground such entertaining snippets of footage such as this, is a highly impressive set of talking heads. Some with flowing golden locks and chiselled cheekbones like Claudio Canniggia, others with speckled bald heads and creepy white dentures like, well… Sepp Blatter, but none less than enthusiastic and insightful when talking about their subject.
Of course we know that Canniggia and Maradona were close on and off the pitch, what was more revelatory was the relationship between the Argentine and Sepp Blatter. Whilst it was more one sided than anything (it’s hard to tell how much Maradona knew about Blatter’s involvement in this period of his career) it’s no less interesting to see how devoted Blatter - one of football's greatest villains, was to making sure Diego kept playing into his thirties. But of all the great soundbites and stories told here, hearing what Blatter thought about being repeatedly and deliberately called ‘Sepp Bladder’ by Robin Williams tops them all.
Other speakers include Diego’s personal trainer, lawyer, manager and team-mates of the time including the likes of a still goatee’d Gabby Batistuta, all of whom were close enough to the great man to shed fresh light on a shadowy part of his life and career. And that’s where ‘The Fall’ really excels - in focussing on, and telling us more about a period in Maradona’s story that still remains shrouded in mystery. This is ‘end of his career, last throw of the dice’ Maradona. The Maradona that was rescued from oblivion by Seville for a mullet clad, overweight year and a half after his ‘91 drug shame. It’s a stage of his career seldom talked about, but utterly captivating.
As is his rehabilitation and recall to the Argentine national team, a moment that went on to have such wide reaching implications, and one that was also carefully choreographed by everyone around him, all desperate to have the games biggest name, play on the biggest stage, in one of the biggest continents on the planet one more time. The extent people went to, to make this happen (convincing FIFA to relax doping laws for the World Cup qualifiers??!!) is truly fascinating, and the fall out from it even more so. Forget what you thought you knew about Diego’s wide eyed celebration down the face of the camera, this - as the films director Angus Macqueen said in his Q&A afterwards, was the first time this story had been properly told, by people who were actually there and actually cared.
Alas the filming and creation of this documentary were suggested by Maradona soon before his death. It was a project which was then all but discarded as a result, before being revived when it became apparent that having Diego’s involvement himself wouldn’t be entirely necessary, and - as Macqueen succinctly put it, ‘he wasn’t going to be the best interviewee by that late stage of his life’ anyway.
And they were right. After all - there is always enough footage of Maradona to go around, so unlike the equally brilliant ‘The Phenomenon: Ronaldo’ documentary on Ronaldo Nazario (both films are part of a three film series created by the same team for the World Cup) this one doesn't feel any lesser for not having it’s protagonist in front of the microphone.
On exiting the theatre one thing leaves a lasting impression; The sheer influence the World Cup had on people and their decision making in that time. Both this and ‘The Phenomenon’ focus on South American icons who lived and trained for the World Cup, who saw club football as important but a mere exercise in preparation for the real event. Both documentaries also hone in on the four years between defining World Cups for these men. Four years that for each involved minimal playing of football and maximum controversy, rumour and rehabilitation.
The director earned Diego’s trust and admiration while working with him on Netflix’s 2019 series ‘Maradona in Mexico’, and since noted that the Argentine’s life seemed to work in identical cycles; Glory > scandal > rehabilitation > repeat.
It’s true, and why this great addition to the football documentary cannon could equally have been called ‘The Rise’. But let’s face it, this is Maradona we’re talking about and the controversy is what makes him such an enduring subject.
Either way, ‘The Fall’ is a fascinating watch, well worth seeking out.
Words by Paul Kocur