This is a book that any lover of sport, not only football, should read. Not only because its an honest book about and by one of the greatest sport icon of the century but also because its about a time period in the sport of football when commercialization was creeping into every respect of the game and changing its very nature – from a people’s game to one of sponsors and big money.
Into this ferment of change was born one of the genius of the game – Diego Armando Maradona, a man who became a legend in his own time and whose clash with authority and whose very human failings both endeared him to people and led to his vilification. Indeed, when taken a vote, Maradona will even today win the best footballer of all time hands down. Pele will be known for his finesse and but he will be known as a diplomat who said and did the ‘right thing’ but Maradona would be remembered as the combative team player who stood up for what he believed in, was outspoken, allied himself to the common people and became a sort of Robin Hood for the fans of the game.
The book is written as ‘spoken’ by Diego to Daniel Arcucci and Ernesto Cherquis Bialo, journalists, who had a series of interviews and talks with him. The writers and the translator have tried their best to remain faithful to the manner of Diego’s speech including some of his self-invented terms – like ‘bronca’ (loosely translated as anger which gave him strength), ‘vaccinate’ (fuck both figuratively and literally – vaccinate a woman and vaccinate a goal) and so on…the terms are given at the start of the book. This is the first indication that the book’s manner of narrative is going to refreshingly different. The flow of the words in the book is as if Diego is himself talking and swearing at things that made his bronca rise!!! and that makes the book and the man much more accessible and ends up making the reader come close to the footballer and the man behind.
The language is honest. The first indication of this is when Diego starts off the book with his childhood which starts off in Villa Fiorito, a shanty town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. A lesser man than Diego would have tried to win the sympathy of the reader by dwelling on the poverty and the desperation that would have existed then, maybe going to the extent of glorying his rise but Diego takes it as a matter of course, commenting simply on the lack of even basic facilities but stating firmly that this was the best that his parents were able to give him with their meagre resources, for which he was forever grateful to them. He, instead, chooses to speak on the relationship with his father and mother – on their support and unconditional love throughout his stormy career.
This book is primarily about football, which was every inch his life and his place in it. He charts his rise from the local clubs, from his playing for Boca to quickly rising up the ladder due to his astonishing talents to become a part of the national team. His unhappiness at being left out of the 1978 squad, when he was sixteen, being a part of the 1982 squad where he made an impression on the world stage, His love-hate relationship with Napoli – his club, his stormy rise to captaincy and the struggle to hold together a talented but low on morale team that eventually won the 1986 world cup against all odds, the tragedy in 1990 finals and finally the greatest blow of all – the ban handed down in the 1994 world cup. Its all chronicled here with anecdotes in politically incorrect language where he does not mind taking potshots at important figures in the footballing world – from Pele to Havelange to Passarela to Platini to the military junta that ruled Argentina to the English (of the Hand of God fame). He is scathing in his attack on modern players who do not shown any sense of loyalty and go to the highest bidder without concentrating on improving the game – his comment on Ronaldo in the 98 world cup being a case in point. It is these parts that makes this book a joy to read.
Diego also talks in between about other issues close to his heart – player rights for which he was a vocal supporter, rights of fans to enjoy a non-commercialized game. He talks about his admiration for Fidel Castro (which is well known) and for Che, his views on some political issues close to his heart (Falklands war and Cuba for example). In all of these, he aligns himself firmly with the people around the world whom he felt he represented out on the field.
One of the most enjoyable passages in the book is of course the famous match against the English in 1986 world cup. Unlike other politically correct commentators, he firmly subscribes to the view that the match was much more than a game of football. It was literally a war with the English and a revenge for what the English did to the Argentineans in the Falklands war. He in fact dedicates the match to the fallen and the scarred youth of Argentina. He called the ‘Hand of God’ goal as pickpocketing the English and he revels in describing the incredible goal of the century in the same match.
This is not history book but is a personal chronicle and is thus subjective from the point of view of the one of the most temperamental player ever to grace the field. He lashes out angrily at all the injustice that he felt was meted out to him and defends his position as one of honour and dignity in the face of people who just wanted to use him for their needs. The reader would enjoy being taken down these passages of angry outburst and would find himself siding with him because of the innate honesty and because facts prove him right.
In the end, its a very honest account where the man they called as God himself does not shy away from describing the mistakes he made in his life and does not bother if the mistakes make him look all too human. For that alone, its an unique book. This is the footballing history from the unique perspective of the man who made most of that history.
There can be no better ending than the ending he himself dictates at the end of the book – “I am proud of having always been faithful to my convictions, my virtues and my defects. I can look everybody in the face. I haven't fucked anyone over except myself. I don't owe anybody anything except my family…Tome, it felt like I, El Diego , had been taken out of Villa Fiorito and given a kick in the arse that landed me on top of the world. But I was still wearing the same pair of trousers as always, my only ones, the ones that I wore in winters and in summers, that corduroy pair…I know I’m not one to change the world but I’m not going to let anybody into my world to tell me what to do. To dictate how my match is going to go, to dictate my life. Nobody will ever make me believe that my mistakes with drugs or in business have changed my feelings. Nothing. I am the same as always. I’m me, Maradona. I am El Diego.”
At the end, he can say as did his famous idol – “History will absolve me”…I believe in that…