WEAVING his fleet-footed way through the ranks of England players, Diego Maradona looked the epitome of footballing genius when he scored the Goal Of The Century in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final.
But the Argentinian — remembered equally for his cheating Hand of God goal in the same match — hid a dark secret.
For he had been in the grip of a cocaine addiction in the run-up to that tournament in Mexico.
A new documentary by British director Asif Kapadia reveals the depths of Maradona’s drug problems and examines how he was used by the Italian Mafia, which supplied the cocaine and prostitutes he relied on.
Titled simply Diego Maradona, the film contains never-before-seen footage of the player at the height of his fame during his years with Napoli.
From parties to car chases through the streets of Naples, to dressing room celebrations and games of tennis with his girlfriend, it’s an intimate look at the world’s most controversial footballer.
It was in the Italian city that he would take drugs for half the week, having left the field after playing on a Sunday afternoon for Napoli.
In an interview with Asif — who made the award-winning Amy and Senna documentaries — Maradona, 58, reveals: “Sunday to Wednesday I was partying on cocaine. I would come home high on drugs.
“When I saw my daughter I would be afraid and lock myself in the bathroom.”
Somehow he would stay clean for the three days before a big game, training hard and getting himself back into shape.
He did the same for the World Cup in 1986, which Argentina won in a shock result that surprised even pundits in his homeland.
Before heading to Mexico he found the willpower to stay off the white powder long enough to evade the mandatory drug testing.
Although, according to Napoli FC president Corrado Ferlaino, Maradona might have discovered a way round the checks when he was playing club football.
Ferlaino — who has admitted giving players who were about to be tested a small bottle with a dripper on the end containing drug-free urine — said: “Probably someone else peed for him.”
Indeed, Maradona is known to have used a fake plastic penis to pass drug tests, which was later given to a museum in Buenos Aires.
He would fill it with other people’s clean urine before pretending to provide a genuine sample.
Problems started for the super-gifted player when he joined Spanish giants Barcelona in a then record £5million transfer in 1982.
For a 21-year-old who grew up in one of the worst slums in Argentine capital Buenos Aires, the lure of riches was hard to resist.
He hit the nightclubs of Barcelona, danced with beautiful women and got in trouble with his club for staying up too late.
He also experimented with cocaine for the first time.
But it was two years later, after he signed for Naples — where the Camorra crime cartels hold sway — that he got hooked on the drug.
He was quickly befriended by the powerful and violent Giuliano clan, posing for photos with family members and receiving a Rolex watch every time he turned up for one of their events.
It was even rumoured that the Camorra had funded Maradona’s near £7million transfer to Napoli, something strenuously denied by the club’s president.
Their star player partied at the Giuliano complex in the Forcella district, which they controlled, and he was friendly with brothers Luigi and Carmine “The Lion” Giuliano.
Carmine told him: “Any problem you have is also my problem.”
And they made sure he never had a problem getting hold of cocaine. Maradona once said: “In Napoli, drugs were everywhere. They practically brought them to me on a tray.”
By 1987 Maradona seemed untouchable. Not only had he won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, he had also helped Napoli to their first Serie A league title.
He was treated like a god in the city, where fans celebrated for weeks and painted saintly images of him on the sides of churches.
But Asif’s film tells how it all came apart at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when Maradona slotted home a penalty for Argentina which helped to knock out the host nation in the semi-final.
After that, he was dubbed the Devil in the Italian press and less than a year later his “protection” in post-match drug tests ended.
Following a game for Napoli against Bari in March 1991, traces of cocaine were found in Maradona’s urine sample and he was banned from playing for 15 months.
Around that time, Italian police had secretly been tapping his phone in a drugs and prostitution probe.
Those calls revealed Maradona had offered drugs to a woman selling sex and he was charged with trafficking illegal substances.
Thanks to a plea bargain, he was given a suspended sentence and quit Italy.
However, getting away from the Camorra did not help to solve his problems, and two weeks later he was arrested in a Buenos Aires flat with 1.5g of cocaine.
In the months before the 1994 World Cup, he was struggling for form and fitness and was being hounded by the press.
So he fired an air rifle at journalists outside his home, injuring four. He was given a suspended jail term of two years and ten months.
To add to his woes he was sent home from the World Cup in the United States after testing positive for the stimulant ephedrine.
During last year’s World Cup there were astonishing scenes when Maradona celebrated Marcos Rojo’s late winner against Nigeria by flipping the bird to the world.
Sometimes animated, sometimes asleep, he drew attention in the stands throughout the game and celebrated both Argentina’s goals with gusto.
But after the game he collapsed and needed treating by paramedics.
He now manages Mexican second-division club Dorados in Sinaloa state — home to one of the country’s most powerful drug cartels and an area flooded with cheap and plentiful cocaine.
In another bizarre twist, Maradona credits Cuban leader Fidel Castro for saving his life after he moved to Cuba in 2000 to treat his life-threatening drug addiction.
Castro saw the PR opportunity for the Cuban health service — which had more qualified doctors than all of Africa — and he made a clinic available for his friend’s use.
Asif thinks Maradona’s messy personal life was significant in his downfall. Just before the player was due to head out for the 1986 World Cup he discovered that his mistress Cristiana Sinagra was pregnant.
When she gave birth to his son Diego Junior that September, Maradona insisted the boy was not his.
The problem was magnified by the fact that Maradona’s wife Claudia Villafañe was also pregnant by the time Cristiana had gone public about the explosive paternity issue.
Only in 2007, three years after he had divorced Claudia, did Maradona finally recognise Diego Jnr as his son. Asif says: “He is brilliant and yet self-destructive.” The love life of Maradona, who is also dad to daughters Dalma, 32, and Gianinna, 30, is still in turmoil.
Just last week he was reportedly arrested in Argentina in order to be served with legal documents linked to a court case filed by his former fiancée Rocio Oliva, 29 years his junior. She is said to be claiming £5million in compensation.
Maradona has not supported the documentary’s release and did not attend its glitzy premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this month.
He complained about how he is portrayed, without seeing it, objecting to the poster’s tagline “Diego Maradona: Rebel. Hero. Hustler. God.” He said: “I didn’t hustle anyone. I don’t like the title. I’m not going to like the film. Don’t see it.”
But the documentary is largely sympathetic to its subject — and anyone with an interest in the controversial star should see it.
Star's highs and lows
- Diego Maradona is in cinemas from June 14.
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