Director Asif Kapadia On ‘Diego Maradona’ And Why The Iconic Footballer Is So Special

There’s a moment about 20 minutes into Diego Maradona that serves as the film’s de facto thesis statement. Clips of Maradona, the diminutive giant of a footballer whose peak during the 1980s is perhaps the greatest in the history of the sport, working out before joining Napoli feature a voiceover from his trainer, Fernando Signorini.

Maradona’s story is not unique — ever person experiences highs and lows, triumph and tragedy — but what makes it so gripping is the heights to which he climbed and the lows to which he fell. A god one day and a pariah the next, there has never been (and, assuredly, never can be) another person quite like Maradona. This, in part, is because of Signorini’s belief that two people could live within Maradona’s 5’5 frame that still managed to stand shoulder for shoulder with the game’s giants.

“I learned that there was Diego and there was Maradona,” Signorini says. “Diego was a kid who had insecurities, a wonderful boy. Maradona was the character he had to come up with in order to face the demands of the football business and the media. Maradona couldn’t show any weakness. One day I told him that with Diego I would go to the end of the world, but with Maradona, I wouldn’t take a step.”

This conflict between Diego and Maradona is central to the documentary, which will be released on Sunday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. EST on HBO. The latest film from acclaimed director Asif Kapadia, Diego Maradona looks at the life of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever live, with the lion’s share of the film revolving around his time with Italian side Napoli. Maradona reached the highest of highs with club and country, two things that we come to learn were not necessarily compatible with one another.

But Kapadia doesn’t just lionize Maradona’s greatness, because the Argentinian hero is as controversial as he was brilliant. Like his previous two documentaries, Senna and Amy, which tell the stories of Formula One icon Ayrton Senna and renowned singer Amy Winehouse, Kapadia uses archived footage to paint a comprehensive portrait of his subject. Inadvertently, he found, Maradona sits at the intersection of his previous two films.

“Maradona is part Senna because he’s a Latin American sporting hero, but he’s also part Amy because he’s very vulnerable and he suffers and he ends up seeking kind of to lose himself almost in addiction,” Kapadia told Uproxx. “So I think they became linked. And also they’re kind of about child stars. They’re brilliant people who somehow succeed, but also, the price of fame is really heavy on them.”

While Maradona’s life has played out in the public eye for decades, more than 500 hours worth of footage and a series of interviews — including conversations that Kapadia had with Maradona himself — are weaved together in a tour de force of a film worthy of the man, the footballer, and the mythology that surrounds him. In fact, those close to Maradona have told him they enjoyed the film, praising it for being “tough, but it’s honest.” This is necessary because its subject still has not seen it.

“He’s heard about the film,” Kapadia says. “Maybe that’s enough for him? Maybe that’s it? I do think at some point it will be on and privately he’ll watch it, and you’ll know about it because he’ll be on Instagram 15 minutes after the film is over saying what he thinks.”