The Return Of El Diego

He's back, but he's not changed much.  Jeff Livingstone considers the latest offering from Casa Maradona.

When the call came from HIS people, my first reaction was to panic.  “Do you want me to change the name?  In bed with Maradona not appropriate? Should this be In bed with Pelé? or Messi? or.....erm……Derek Mountfield?”

I’d blurted most of this out before the nice lady at the other end of the line had introduced herself.  “We… just…. wanted to know if you’d like to read his book?” she offered, quite bewildered by my ‘I’ll confess everything’ outburst.  “A book? really? no legal action? oh, but of course, I’d be delighted!” I replied, like an excited schoolboy.  An excited schoolboy that would clearly cough all at so much as eye contact with anyone in authority.

This week, Diego Maradona releases an updated version of his life story, ‘Maradona – the autobiography of soccer’s greatest and most controversial star’. Diego’s new book is very similar to his old book, in as far as ‘Maradona’ is a tweaked ‘El Diego’, his 2004 autobiography, which is, you’ll not be surprised to hear, a long standing favourite at the house of IBWM.

The timing of this release, on the face of things, has granted Diego a chance to reflect on the trials and tribulations he’s faced in recent years. Divorce, drug addiction, obesity and death (three times at the last count) have all transpired since his book was originally put together in the late 90’s.  Ample opportunity also to review what went right and what went wrong during a brief but eventful tenure as national coach.

Although a newly penned epilogue by Mark Weinstein is an excellent addition, it’s only a brief narrative of the last few years and doesn’t originate from the man himself.  That there isn’t any new material from Maradona will leave those that have already thumbed the pages of ‘El Diego’ somewhat disappointed.

That’s where criticism ends though.  If you are new to this book, ‘Maradona’ is a window into the El Diego mindset.  Not just an open window mind you, more a department store sized pane smashed with a bulldozer, leaving the contents - some pretty, some not – scattered across a dirty carpet.   No punches are pulled, one or two are thrown and the book retains an aura of un-put-down-ability.

Diego’s love for his family, his parents, his (now ex) wife and children shine through, as does an unwavering dedication to his beloved Argentina.  Maradona’s upbringing in the slums of Fiorito is vibrant in detail, and the early chapters of the book are particularly inspiring.  The determination that took him to the very top is unmistakable from page one.  He retains god like status at Boca and his early years in Italy must have felt like the second coming for Neapolitans, downtrodden by decades of Northern dominance.  While eyebrows were raised at the time of his transfer, Maradona’s account highlights exactly why he was such a perfect fit in the Mezzogiorno.  Diego’s best years were at Napoli.  His best years anywhere.

Inspirational in guiding two functional Argentina sides to successive World Cup Finals emphasise Maradona’s spellbinding appeal and mercurial talent.  Unsurprisingly entire chapters are devoted to Mexico ‘86 and Italia ‘90. Messi, Tevez and Aguero are deities of Futebol Argentina now, but Brown, Burruchaga and Valdano hold World Cup winners medals.  El Diego played a big part in that.

Only a penalty from a well drilled West Germany side in 1990 halted Maradona’s charge to a second World Cup, by which time, as he explains, he was very much running on empty.  Even USA ‘94 may have ultimately proved productive for Argentina.  The South Americans had a superior set of players compared with previous tournaments, including the new talents of Ortega and Batistuta.  The 34 year old Maradona was establishing a pied piper role once again, but a failed drug test proved his, and Argentina's, ultimate undoing.  You can make your own judgement on which planet Diego was on from viewing footage of the Greece game, but you really need to hear his side of things too.

A strong supporting cast thread throughout the book including Cesar Menotti, Joao Havelange, Sepp Blatter and Julio Grondona, chair of the Argentine FA since the 17th century and  Moriarty to Maradona’s Holmes for most of Diego’s adult life.  A prickly relationship with Daniel Passarella is recalled as is a Boca bromance with Claudio Caniggia.  That move to Sheffield United is discussed, as are Bernard Tapie’s flirtatious glances from early 90’s Marseille.

Maradona’s football career ultimately degenerated into a mix of injuries, injustice and, finally, retirement.  His days as a player ended with a whimper rather than a bang and it would be a sad reflection to let his book follow a similar path.  Thankfully, Diego devotes the excellent closing chapters to his own thoughts and opinions on football, politics and life in general.  His critique of 100 great players is an absolute joy and incredibly good fun.  Maradona on God, Guevara and Gary Lineker - what’s not to love?

Conceited, self important and suffering from a ‘centre of the universe complex’ are all very appropriate.  Diego visualises himself as a champion of the underdog, a righter of wrongs.  That he never took to the field riding a white horse while wearing a mask and cape remains a surprise.  Maybe he did.  It’s just not on YouTube.

But let’s just consider who we are talking about here.  This is not the autobiography of a journeyman midfielder narrating drunken folly and dressing room fumbles with page three girls, this is a heartfelt and emotional voyage of discovery at the side of the most talented player of all time.  I think we can indulge him.

Regularly ill informed, adept at bad decisions and maintaining a selective view of events are trademarks of Maradona the man, but Diego never professed to be perfect as a man.  He was perfect as a footballer and - in this context - that is all that matters.

This is his story, and history; without exception the most important football autobiography available.

Standout paragraph (on Pope John Paul II):

So yes, I fell out with the Pope.  I went to the Vatican and I saw that the ceilings were made of gold.  And I heard the Pope saying the church takes care of poor children, but if so, sell the ceiling, tiger.  Do something! You’ve got nothing going for you.  You were only a goalkeeper.

Verdict: Endearing and engaging, every page glows with warmth and honesty.  Your decision should not be if you buy this book, but when.

You can buy 'Maradona – the autobiography of soccer’s greatest and most controversial star’ from Amazon.

Jeff is site editor for IBWM and you can follow him on Twitter @Inbedwimaradona and @IBWM_ED (which he never updates, make sure you tell him off).