[Ed's note: This is a new soccer column on ESPNTheMag.Com. To see a previous example, take a gander at this. ]
Update on the Iraq soccer situation can be found here.
A new documentary about Diego Maradona debuted at the Cannes film festival last week, depicting the legendary Argentinian soccer player as a rebellious political icon. "If he hadn't been a footballer," the director Emir Kusturica narrates, "he would have been a revolutionary."
Maradona does have some conspicuous items on his "revolutionary" resume: he sports tattoos of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara; he campaigns for Hugo Chavez; and he calls President Bush a "piece of human garbage." The movie also finds radical content in Maradona's play, portraying the 1986's "Hand of God" goal as a revolutionary symbol—a kind of middle finger to Western imperialism.
Whatever you might think of this muckraking, Maradona's life and antics certainly provide enough fodder for a movie, maybe several movies. Maradona has had so many falls from grace and comebacks that he seems to be living in an extended VH1 special. An admitted cocaine addict, he's been to rehab and spent time in a psychiatric hospital ("They were all crazy in there!" Maradona said, "One said he was Napoleon, and they didn't believe him. I said I was Maradona and they didn't believe me either!")
He had two life-threatening heart attacks and a stomach-stapling operation. In 1991, he lost a paternity suit (one of many accusations), and in 2006 he had two Rolexes confiscated by Italian police for unpaid taxes ( The $13,000 watches barely put a dent in the $38.5 million bill.) The other day in Cannes, he said he would cut off his hand—the hand of God, he reminded us—to be with Julia Roberts.
Through each of his episodes, though, Maradona remains as popular as ever. In the new movie, you can see followers of the "Maradonian Church" singing a "Maradona" version of "Ave Maria," and building shrines to the great one. In 2005 Maradona hosted a television show. In it he interviewed celebrities like Antonio Bandereas, Fidel Castro and Mike Tyson (Tyson incidentally also debuted a new doc at Cannes, and he too has a "Che" tattoo) , but Maradona did most of the talking. Once he even interviewed himself. The show was a huge hit.
"In Argentina," a psychologist said, "we are addicted to discussing Maradona. He is our drug. It is not him who is ill, it is us."
This illness may explain Maradona's ego-mania. He has excused his own flaws by saying. "If Jesus stumbled, then why shouldn't I as well?" On meeting Pope John Paul II, he complained the pontiff showed him a "total lack of respect."
(Some early critics of the documentary—we've only seen the trailer— find the braggadocio of both the soccer player and the director grating.
Maradona's life might have also been presented in different kind of film, one more like "Zidane: a 21st-Century Portrait," a hypnotic art movie that debuted at Cannes two years ago. It focused 17 cameras on French midfielder Zinadine Zidane through one full match (Spike Lee announced a month ago that he is going to give the same treatment to Kobe Bryant). Such a movie might remind us that Maradona was the greatest soccer player ever. He was an acrobat who could see the whole field without ever lifting his head. He'd burst through a space, pop the ball up in the air, flick it this way and that, and finally deposit it at a teammate's feet or in the net.
If you couldn't make it to Cannes, watch instead:
The Greatest Goal In World Cup History (according to some); this happened in the same game as "Hand of God."
Iran has been suspended from international competition.
Religious figures face politicians in a soccer match.
Spainards prefer soccer to sex.
Bayern Munich is trying to sell soccer to the millions of cricket fans in India.
Washington D.C. is going to spend 150 million on a new soccer stadium, possibly.
There will be ads about the horrors of forced prostitution during Euro 2008.