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Thursday, September 26, 2019 4:52:35 PM

Attila Kun Soccer can be something you photograph on a local level, using a telephoto zoom lens say mm. You may also cover a professional game in a big stadium with a powerful mm lens.

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For those unacquainted with the tradition, testimonials are tribute games, played for adoring, nostalgic fans, in which friends of the honored player jog leisurely around the pitch, allowing him one more moment of glory.

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In his prime, Maradona could flit past defenders with sublime ease, but now, at forty-one, he was overweight, with bad knees and bad ankles, and had been fighting drug addiction for nearly two decades. The opposing players indulged him, stepping aside as he lumbered by. Each time the ball hit the back of the net, Higuita and Maradona locked in an embrace.

For casual fans, it made for uncomfortable viewing.

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This, unfortunately, is how we often treat our heroes: with a kind of transactional love. We use them up. A few days later, in Lima, Peru, I visited a cousin of mine. My cousin was in medical school at the time. The first, an audacious handball, is brazen, opportunistic cheating—which somehow worked.

His second, scored minutes later, is known simply as the Goal of the Century: a dazzling, mazy seventy-yard sprint with the ball glued improbably to his left foot, as English defenders flail helplessly to the side. Maradona grew up in Villa Fiorito, a slum on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Raised in poverty, he signed his first professional contract at age fifteen, and supported his family from that day forward.

At twenty-one, he joined F. Barcelona, for what was then a world-record fee. It was the final of the Copa del Rey, played before the King of Spain, though these sporting details hardly matter.

He seems not to notice them. The documentary really begins in July, , when Barcelona sold Maradona to Napoli for another world-record fee , and eighty-five thousand fans packed the Stadio San Paolo to welcome him.

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The illogic is hinted at in the first press conference, when an impudent journalist dares to ask what many must have wondered: Did the local Mafia have anything to do with financing this deal?

Maradona, young and handsome, dissembles for a moment, before the president of the club, Corrado Ferlaino, steps in to reject the notion with full-throated anger. In spite of these denials, the spectre of the Camorra haunts the film, always present, dark and seductive.

The vitriol directed at Napoli and its fans was an expression of a national divide between the North and South. Victims of the earthquake! You never washed with soap!

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Napoli shit! Napoli cholera!

Later in the film, we see him at home with his young daughter, still in diapers. This scene approaches the essence of his gift. To be famous is to be condemned to a unique variety of loneliness.

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As the fame wears on him, he puts on a little weight. We see him with a local mafioso, going out for the night.

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He describes his routine: after the weekly game, on Sunday, he parties until Wednesday, with cocaine provided by his Mafia friends; he takes a few days to dry out; he plays again; he repeats.

It all seems so joyless.

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After leading Napoli to its first and, for now, only European club title, in , Maradona asks to be transferred. He is spent, and descending into full-blown addiction. The defining moment came during the World Cup, in Italy.

Maradona, playing for Argentina and already hated by most Italian fans because of his association with a despised club, was booed everywhere he played.

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For Maradona, it was a kind of homecoming to a city ridiculed by the rest of Italy, so he invited local fans to support Argentina instead. This was perceived by many as disrespect, and, when Argentina eliminated Italy, Maradona became the most hated man in the country.

Now unloved, his partying spun out of control. Soon afterward, he was caught in a doping-and-prostitution scandal, the league banned him from the game for more than a year, and he returned to Argentina in disgrace.

Watching the film, we get a sense of what might have been if this supremely gifted athlete had been protected, just a bit, from the demands of fame, and from himself. The day of his testimonial, Maradona took the microphone and stood before the crowd, arms folded across his chest, as they sang his name.

The entire stadium roared back its forgiveness, and he paused for a second, before continuing.

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