By Peter Alegi | October 14th, 2009 1 Comment
Argentina’s 1-0 win in Montevideo ended the qualification telenovela. El Pibe’s charges earned their ticket to South Africa on the sacred ground of Centenario stadium, where Uruguay defeated Argentina in the inaugural World Cup final in 1930. So Maradona, with all his contradictions and flaws, got the job done. Improvisation can work. In South Africa, Diego hopes to realize his dream of meeting Nelson Mandela.
When I was growing up in Italy as a Juve fan (long story), I had no time for El Pibe. My idol was Michel Platini. After I moved to America, my view of Diego slowly began to change. Not only had he won the ‘86 World Cup almost single-HANDedly, but he then delivered Napoli’s first Italian titles (scudetti) while Platini bowed out of the game.
When I was in college in the late 1980s Italian football was difficult to find on TV. But I was lucky to be a few blocks from a small local station in Hartford (Conn.) that catered to a large Italian-American community. The transmitter had a range of only a few miles, but it got the RAI feed from New York! As a result, I got to delight in Diego’s magical, illuminating inventions, a sometimes perfect synthesis of creativity and pragmatism (i.e., goals, assists, wins). Of course, I was livid when his Argentina beat us in Naples on penalties at Italia ‘90 — the only Italy match I did not attend — but time has healed that painful wound.
Ultimately, as we know, Maradona’s injuries, drug use, and other off-the-field problems undermined his ability to do what he did best — play. His flaws and contradictions, regrettably, sank him lower and lower. Yet I remember that as the tide began to turn against Maradona in Italy (after the 1990 World Cup), he had the audacity and sincerity to go on national TV and say what no Italian dared to say. When the anchor asked him whether he was taking drugs, “Maracoca” shot back: “I am not doing anything captains of industry aren’t doing.” Maybe not the smartest thing to say, but absolutely true.
I have not yet seen Kusturica’s film, but here’s a clip of Maradona that inspired me back in the “good ol’ days”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJXqFGYenRY