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Episode
146

Diego Maradona

Apr 2, 2021
Arts & Culture
-
23
minutes
Football
Sports
Argentina
Naples
Italy
The Mafia
Crime

He is considered by many to have been the greatest footballer to have ever lived, yet off the pitch his life was full of tragedy.

Learn about the fascinating history of this amazing man, and discover why he arrived in Naples as a hero and left as the most hated man in Italy.

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Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Diego Maradona, considered by many to be the best footballer that has ever lived.

[00:00:32] His is an amazing story, taking us from the slums of Buenos Aires through to winning the World Cup, and scoring the best goal of the 20th century.

[00:00:44] But, while there are plenty of highs in the story of Maradona, it is also full of tragedy and highs of a different kind, from a cripplying drug addiction to being banned from playing the game he loved, from being labelled the most hated man in Italy to his premature death at just 60 years old.

[00:01:05] Although it is in many ways a tragedy, it is fascinating, so, I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.

[00:01:12] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way.. 

[00:01:37] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:44] OK then, Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:01:48] It’s often said that the body of Diego Maradona contained two opposing characters. 

[00:01:55] Diego, the sweet, loving, caring boy with a naughty sense of humour and a deep love for his family. 

[00:02:03] And Maradona, the larger-than-life character he played on the football pitch.

[00:02:10] Our story starts with Diego.

[00:02:13] He was born in one of the poorests slums on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

[00:02:20] Growing up he had no running water, no electricity, and his father would get up at 4am every morning to go out to work, coming home and collapsing from exhaustion in front of his children.

[00:02:35] Diego was the fifth of seven children, and the first boy, arriving after four older sisters.

[00:02:43] From a young age, his footballing talents were apparent

[00:02:48] He has this amazing ability to control the ball, almost as if it were an extension of his body.

[00:02:57] After being spotted by a talent scout when he was a mere 8 years old, his life became dominated by football. 

[00:03:07] When he was only 15, he was signed as a professional player by a club called Argentinos Juniors, which also gave him an apartment to live in.

[00:03:17] From that day onwards he became the main breadwinner for his family, moving everyone into the apartment with him, and with his entire family becoming reliant on the young Diego.

[00:03:32] For him, it must have been the most amazing feeling, of being able to care for your family, to take them out of a terrible situation of absolute poverty and provide them with a nice roof over their heads, and regular food on the table - two things that they had not known before.

[00:03:53] Aged 20, he signed for Boca Juniors, the club of his boyhood dreams, rejecting higher-paying offers at other clubs.

[00:04:04] And just a year and a half later he transferred to Barcelona, for the then-record fee of £5 million, today’s equivalent of around €22 million.

[00:04:17] From a footballing perspective, he did quite well at Barcelona, helping the club win the Copa Del Rey, and scoring an impressive 38 goals in 58 matches. 

[00:04:30] But he later said that he never felt quite at home at Barcelona, it wasn’t the right club, and it wasn’t the right city for him.

[00:04:39] This was a theme throughout Maradona’s life - he had chosen to go to Boca Juniors, instead of River Plate. Boca was the club that he had always wanted to play for, and it was the more working class team. River Plate wasn’t right.

[00:04:57] And neither was Barcelona, it was too clean, they had already been champions multiple times - it wasn’t really an atmosphere that Maradona felt comfortable with. He had grown up struggling, he had grown up as an underdog, and to be suddenly catapulted into the elite didn’t feel quite right.

[00:05:20] The decision to leave Barcelona was actually made for him after a match with Athletico Bilbao, where Maradona was the ringleader of a huge physical fight between the two teams. 

[00:05:34] Naturally, everything was being broadcast to the nation, it was on TV, but the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I was also at the stadium. 

[00:05:44] It was too much for Barcelona to be seen to be employing a street-fighter from the slums of Buenos Aires, and it was clear that Maradona needed to go.

[00:05:56] By this time, he was considered by many to be the best football player in the world. 

[00:06:02] So the club he went to next was, from a footballing perspective at least, surprising, but when one thinks about the kind of club and place that Maradona felt comfortable in, it was completely unsurprising.

[00:06:19] In June of 1984 he was transferred to Naples, for a then record-breaking fee of 7 million pounds, today’s equivalent of something like €25 million.

[00:06:33] Naples wasn’t an obvious choice for the world’s best footballer. 

[00:06:38] The team had never won the Serie A, Italy’s version of the premier league, and they often languished in the bottom half of the table.

[00:06:48] What’s more, the club wasn’t rich, and there were question marks about where the club had actually got the money to buy Maradona.

[00:06:59] Italian football had historically been dominated by clubs from the north - AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Roma.

[00:07:08] Naples was in the south of Italy, and there was–and still is I should say–a certain sense that some people from the richer north of Italy look down at people from the poorer south.

[00:07:23] And football fans, Italian football fans in particular, are not known for being particularly politically correct, or for holding back.

[00:07:33] There are clips of opposing fans singing chants about Neapolitans suffering from cholera, suggesting that they should all be killed by the fire of nearby Mt Vesuvius, and that they are so dirty that they need a wash.

[00:07:50] Naples at this time was a very poor city. 

[00:07:53] It has suffered a terrible earthquake in 1980, it was in the grip of organised crime, and it was chaotic compared to many other northern Italian cities.

[00:08:06] I should say, very quickly, that if you would like to learn more about Naples, and about a particular aspect of the city, the Camorra, then there is an entire episode just on that, it’s Episode 75, you’ll find that exclusively on the website.

[00:08:22] OK, going back to Naples, the football club was not doing too well, the city was poor, it was hated by its richer northern neighbours.

[00:08:33] But Maradona immediately felt at home. 

[00:08:37] He knew what it was like to be looked down upon by the rich, he knew what it was like to be judged because of who you were, he relished the challenge of being the underdog.

[00:08:50] When he arrived in Naples he was paraded around the stadium to 85,000 adoring fans

[00:08:58] He loved the attention, and the fans loved him.

[00:09:02] There was a feeling that he had come to save the club, that he was there to help Naples regain its rightful place, and to teach its northern rivals a thing or two.

[00:09:15] In his first season at the club they finished 8th. Not a remarkable position, but a sign of things to come.

[00:09:23] The year after, they finished third, and the next year, the 1986-87 season, Naples were crowned champions for the first time, with Maradona as their captain.

[00:09:37] He was already a hero in the city, but leading the club to victory against the arrogant northern rivals propelled him to a status of a demi-god

[00:09:49] There were murals all over the city, he was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere he went.

[00:09:57] As well as being a hero to the people of Naples, he was a national hero in Argentina after having led the national side to glory at the World Cup in 1986.

[00:10:10] It was to be in this tournament, and within the course of 5 minutes, in the England vs. Argentina quarter final, that the world saw two of the most famous goals by Maradona.

[00:10:23] The first, in the 51st minute, was what’s now called the Hand of God goal. 

[00:10:31] I imagine you will have seen this, but just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Maradona jumped up and hit the ball into the goal with his hand, which you are obviously not allowed to do in football.

[00:10:44] Then, just 5 minutes later, Maradona scored what has since been voted the best goal in the twentieth century, running half the way up the pitch, past four England players before shooting the ball past the England goalkeeper.

[00:11:00] This five minutes summarised what people love, and what people loathe, about Diego Maradona.

[00:11:08] On the one hand, he was a cheat, the first goal shouldn’t have counted, it shouldn’t have been allowed.

[00:11:15] But on the other hand he was an incredibly talented football player, capable of absolute magic, and there is no denying how fantastically skillful he was.

[00:11:27] The next World Cup, in 1990, four years later, was held in Italy. 

[00:11:33] By this time, Maradona had a complicated relationship with Italy, or rather, Italians had a complicated relationship with Maradona.

[00:11:42] People from Naples worshipped the ground he walked on, they absolutely loved him.

[00:11:49] For many people who weren’t from Naples, they hated him, because they considered him an arrogant pseudo-Neapolitan

[00:11:57] Although he wasn’t from Naples, he was a fierce defender of the city, and was almost an adopted son.

[00:12:06] So, during the World Cup when Argentina were playing in other Italian cities, the Argentine national team were booed, they were taunted, because of Maradona.

[00:12:19] Maradona even recalled how, when Argentina played Cameroon at the San Siro stadium in Milan, the northern Italian fans supported Cameroon.

[00:12:31] Maradona joked that he had cured Italians of racism, as this was the first time that they had ever supported a team from Africa.

[00:12:41] Both Argentina and Italy progressed in the tournament, and they were to play each other at the San Paolo stadium the Naples stadium in the semi finals.

[00:12:53] This put many Neapolitan fans in a tough position.

[00:12:59] Were they to support the national team, Italy, even though they perhaps felt more allegiance to Maradona than to Italy?

[00:13:08] Or were they to stick by their city’s hero, despite him playing for the team of another country?

[00:13:15] Maradona goaded the Italians on national TV when he was asked about who Naples fans should support, saying that “Naples isn’t Italy”, and urging the fans to support Argentina, instead of the national team. 

[00:13:31] Indeed, there were groups of Naples ultras, the serious hardcore fans, who did support Argentina in the match.

[00:13:41] Argentina won the game on penalties, knocking Italy out of the tournament. 

[00:13:46] That World Cup didn’t end in glory for Argentina, as they lost to West Germany in the final, but this was the final nail in the coffin for Maradona in Italy.

[00:13:57] He had already been feeling like he wanted to leave Naples, and had been suffering from huge personal problems off the pitch.

[00:14:06] If you knew nothing about the life of Diego Maradona before 10 minutes ago, you might have thought this would be a rags to riches story of a loving boy who was a fantastic football player.

[00:14:19] But beneath the surface was huge personal tragedy.

[00:14:24] Shortly after arriving in Naples, Maradona had fallen in with a bad crowd, the organised crime clan of the Giuliano family.

[00:14:34] This clan controlled much of an area of Naples called Forcella, right in the historical centre. 

[00:14:42] Two of their principal streams of income, two of the main ways they made money, were prostitution and drugs, and Maradona was quickly swept up into a vicious web of cocaine addiction and prostitute use.

[00:14:58] This was an open secret in Naples. 

[00:15:01] Maradona would play a game on Sunday, then go out for a large meal and essentially keep partying, with drink, drugs and prostitutes, until Wednesday evening, then he would sober up, he would get all of the drugs and drink out of his system, and prepare for the game a few days later.

[00:15:22] While he was leading Naples and Argentina to victory on the pitch, off the pitch he was dealing with a full-blown cocaine addiction, and found himself indebted to this Neapolitan crime family.

[00:15:36] They provided him with drugs and prostitutes, they gave him gifts when he did favours for him, and they protected him from the police.

[00:15:45] But in return, he was owned by them, and had to do what they wanted.

[00:15:51] There is a surreal scene in an excellent Maradona documentary on HBO where Maradona, the most famous man in the city, and the most most talented footballer in the world, finds himself having to act as a chauffeur, as a taxi driver, to a Neapolitan crime boss.

[00:16:11] But there was a growing feeling within the Camorra that being associated with Maradona was bringing unwanted attention to their illegal activities.

[00:16:23] He might have been good for business - it was great to have him there at the opening of a new restaurant or bar, and it did a lot of good for their street reputation to be seen as a friend of Diego Maradona - but they liked to operate in the shadows. 

[00:16:40] And it was difficult to be in the shadows when you are hanging out with the most famous person in the city.

[00:16:48] What’s more, Maradona was hated in much of the rest of Italy. 

[00:16:53] It wasn’t long before things were to catch up with him.

[00:16:57] There was a police wiretapping, a police secret recording, of him on the phone requesting drugs and prostitutes

[00:17:05] Then, in 1991, after a match between Naples and Bari, he was drug tested. 

[00:17:11] Naturally, they found traces of cocaine and he was banned for 15 months.

[00:17:17] It’s a miracle that he managed to escape this for so long, really. 

[00:17:21] It was an open secret that he was on drugs throughout most of his time at Naples, but the Neapolitan team had a vested interest in hiding this from the authorities, so he presumably was given clean samples that he could switch with his dirty ones when he was drug tested.

[00:17:41] Almost immediately after being banned, he packed his bags and headed back to Argentina, alone, with no group of adoring fans, cast out by a city that had worshipped him, and sent back home in disgrace, a shadow of the bright-eyed boy who had arrived in Naples 7 years earlier.

[00:18:02] And those of you who are familiar with the later years of Maradona will know that this was the start of the end. 

[00:18:10] His playing career was filled with failing more and more drug tests, he was unable to conquer this crippling addiction that had plagued him since his days at Naples.

[00:18:23] Without the Camorra to protect him, he was also on the run from the Italian tax authorities, and he reportedly owed 37 million euros in unpaid taxes from his time in Italy. 

[00:18:37] On a personal level, his life was unravelling as well. 

[00:18:41] He got divorced in 2004, and admitted that he had fathered a son with a different woman in Naples back in 1986.

[00:18:52] He continued to go in and out of rehab clinics, and put on huge amounts of weight. 

[00:18:59] There’s a terribly sad interview from 2004 when he breaks down crying on Argentine national TV talking about his troubles overcoming drug addiction.

[00:19:11] And then last year, on the 25 November, he had a huge heart attack, and died, aged just 60 years old.

[00:19:19] The days after his death were filled with mixed reactions. 

[00:19:24] Tears on the streets of Naples, and the decision to rename the club’s stadium after him.

[00:19:31] Meanwhile, in more northern, right-wing Italian newspapers, people were critical of his legacy.

[00:19:38] Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the family of Silvio Berlusconi, who had been the owner of AC Milan, a fierce rival of Naples, called him a “cheat, drug addict, alcoholic, violent sexist with women, tax evader and communist: the worst of the worst of the worst.”

[00:19:59] And a player from Juventus, a club from Turin in the north of Italy, claimed that Maradona would still be alive if he had played for Juventus, not Naples.

[00:20:10] From a footballing perspective at least, there is little doubt that Maradona will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever lived. 

[00:20:19] While players nowadays live in a bubble, spending their days training, and being careful of every single thing that they put into their body, it really is a miracle that Maradona managed to achieve what he did while living the life of a 1980s rock star, smoking cigars, drinking heavily, having huge meals, and taking vast amounts of cocaine.

[00:20:44] But of course his story is a sad one, of a boy with everything ahead of him who was swallowed up and thrown out by a city and people that had adopted him, and that he loved back with his whole heart.

[00:20:59] Whatever one might think of the man, and of the story, it’s hard to deny, as the Neapolitan fans sing, that “There is only one Diego Maradona”.

[00:21:10] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:21:16] I hope it’s been a interesting one, that you’ve learned something new about this amazing man, and about his fantastic but tragic story.

[00:21:24] In case you missed it, this is actually the second episode about football this week, episode 145, which is available exclusively on the website, was all about when football became big business, so I’d definitely recommend checking that one out. 

[00:21:39] And as I said earlier, if you want to learn more about the Camorra, then episode number 75 is the one for you - it is all about the secret society that controls the Neapolitan underworld.

[00:21:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. For the Italians and the Argentines, I guess you might have particularly strong views of Maradona, so I would love to know what you think. 

[00:22:03] Either email me at hi@leonardoenglish.com, or for the members out there, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:14] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


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Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Diego Maradona, considered by many to be the best footballer that has ever lived.

[00:00:32] His is an amazing story, taking us from the slums of Buenos Aires through to winning the World Cup, and scoring the best goal of the 20th century.

[00:00:44] But, while there are plenty of highs in the story of Maradona, it is also full of tragedy and highs of a different kind, from a cripplying drug addiction to being banned from playing the game he loved, from being labelled the most hated man in Italy to his premature death at just 60 years old.

[00:01:05] Although it is in many ways a tragedy, it is fascinating, so, I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.

[00:01:12] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way.. 

[00:01:37] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:44] OK then, Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:01:48] It’s often said that the body of Diego Maradona contained two opposing characters. 

[00:01:55] Diego, the sweet, loving, caring boy with a naughty sense of humour and a deep love for his family. 

[00:02:03] And Maradona, the larger-than-life character he played on the football pitch.

[00:02:10] Our story starts with Diego.

[00:02:13] He was born in one of the poorests slums on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

[00:02:20] Growing up he had no running water, no electricity, and his father would get up at 4am every morning to go out to work, coming home and collapsing from exhaustion in front of his children.

[00:02:35] Diego was the fifth of seven children, and the first boy, arriving after four older sisters.

[00:02:43] From a young age, his footballing talents were apparent

[00:02:48] He has this amazing ability to control the ball, almost as if it were an extension of his body.

[00:02:57] After being spotted by a talent scout when he was a mere 8 years old, his life became dominated by football. 

[00:03:07] When he was only 15, he was signed as a professional player by a club called Argentinos Juniors, which also gave him an apartment to live in.

[00:03:17] From that day onwards he became the main breadwinner for his family, moving everyone into the apartment with him, and with his entire family becoming reliant on the young Diego.

[00:03:32] For him, it must have been the most amazing feeling, of being able to care for your family, to take them out of a terrible situation of absolute poverty and provide them with a nice roof over their heads, and regular food on the table - two things that they had not known before.

[00:03:53] Aged 20, he signed for Boca Juniors, the club of his boyhood dreams, rejecting higher-paying offers at other clubs.

[00:04:04] And just a year and a half later he transferred to Barcelona, for the then-record fee of £5 million, today’s equivalent of around €22 million.

[00:04:17] From a footballing perspective, he did quite well at Barcelona, helping the club win the Copa Del Rey, and scoring an impressive 38 goals in 58 matches. 

[00:04:30] But he later said that he never felt quite at home at Barcelona, it wasn’t the right club, and it wasn’t the right city for him.

[00:04:39] This was a theme throughout Maradona’s life - he had chosen to go to Boca Juniors, instead of River Plate. Boca was the club that he had always wanted to play for, and it was the more working class team. River Plate wasn’t right.

[00:04:57] And neither was Barcelona, it was too clean, they had already been champions multiple times - it wasn’t really an atmosphere that Maradona felt comfortable with. He had grown up struggling, he had grown up as an underdog, and to be suddenly catapulted into the elite didn’t feel quite right.

[00:05:20] The decision to leave Barcelona was actually made for him after a match with Athletico Bilbao, where Maradona was the ringleader of a huge physical fight between the two teams. 

[00:05:34] Naturally, everything was being broadcast to the nation, it was on TV, but the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I was also at the stadium. 

[00:05:44] It was too much for Barcelona to be seen to be employing a street-fighter from the slums of Buenos Aires, and it was clear that Maradona needed to go.

[00:05:56] By this time, he was considered by many to be the best football player in the world. 

[00:06:02] So the club he went to next was, from a footballing perspective at least, surprising, but when one thinks about the kind of club and place that Maradona felt comfortable in, it was completely unsurprising.

[00:06:19] In June of 1984 he was transferred to Naples, for a then record-breaking fee of 7 million pounds, today’s equivalent of something like €25 million.

[00:06:33] Naples wasn’t an obvious choice for the world’s best footballer. 

[00:06:38] The team had never won the Serie A, Italy’s version of the premier league, and they often languished in the bottom half of the table.

[00:06:48] What’s more, the club wasn’t rich, and there were question marks about where the club had actually got the money to buy Maradona.

[00:06:59] Italian football had historically been dominated by clubs from the north - AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Roma.

[00:07:08] Naples was in the south of Italy, and there was–and still is I should say–a certain sense that some people from the richer north of Italy look down at people from the poorer south.

[00:07:23] And football fans, Italian football fans in particular, are not known for being particularly politically correct, or for holding back.

[00:07:33] There are clips of opposing fans singing chants about Neapolitans suffering from cholera, suggesting that they should all be killed by the fire of nearby Mt Vesuvius, and that they are so dirty that they need a wash.

[00:07:50] Naples at this time was a very poor city. 

[00:07:53] It has suffered a terrible earthquake in 1980, it was in the grip of organised crime, and it was chaotic compared to many other northern Italian cities.

[00:08:06] I should say, very quickly, that if you would like to learn more about Naples, and about a particular aspect of the city, the Camorra, then there is an entire episode just on that, it’s Episode 75, you’ll find that exclusively on the website.

[00:08:22] OK, going back to Naples, the football club was not doing too well, the city was poor, it was hated by its richer northern neighbours.

[00:08:33] But Maradona immediately felt at home. 

[00:08:37] He knew what it was like to be looked down upon by the rich, he knew what it was like to be judged because of who you were, he relished the challenge of being the underdog.

[00:08:50] When he arrived in Naples he was paraded around the stadium to 85,000 adoring fans

[00:08:58] He loved the attention, and the fans loved him.

[00:09:02] There was a feeling that he had come to save the club, that he was there to help Naples regain its rightful place, and to teach its northern rivals a thing or two.

[00:09:15] In his first season at the club they finished 8th. Not a remarkable position, but a sign of things to come.

[00:09:23] The year after, they finished third, and the next year, the 1986-87 season, Naples were crowned champions for the first time, with Maradona as their captain.

[00:09:37] He was already a hero in the city, but leading the club to victory against the arrogant northern rivals propelled him to a status of a demi-god

[00:09:49] There were murals all over the city, he was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere he went.

[00:09:57] As well as being a hero to the people of Naples, he was a national hero in Argentina after having led the national side to glory at the World Cup in 1986.

[00:10:10] It was to be in this tournament, and within the course of 5 minutes, in the England vs. Argentina quarter final, that the world saw two of the most famous goals by Maradona.

[00:10:23] The first, in the 51st minute, was what’s now called the Hand of God goal. 

[00:10:31] I imagine you will have seen this, but just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Maradona jumped up and hit the ball into the goal with his hand, which you are obviously not allowed to do in football.

[00:10:44] Then, just 5 minutes later, Maradona scored what has since been voted the best goal in the twentieth century, running half the way up the pitch, past four England players before shooting the ball past the England goalkeeper.

[00:11:00] This five minutes summarised what people love, and what people loathe, about Diego Maradona.

[00:11:08] On the one hand, he was a cheat, the first goal shouldn’t have counted, it shouldn’t have been allowed.

[00:11:15] But on the other hand he was an incredibly talented football player, capable of absolute magic, and there is no denying how fantastically skillful he was.

[00:11:27] The next World Cup, in 1990, four years later, was held in Italy. 

[00:11:33] By this time, Maradona had a complicated relationship with Italy, or rather, Italians had a complicated relationship with Maradona.

[00:11:42] People from Naples worshipped the ground he walked on, they absolutely loved him.

[00:11:49] For many people who weren’t from Naples, they hated him, because they considered him an arrogant pseudo-Neapolitan

[00:11:57] Although he wasn’t from Naples, he was a fierce defender of the city, and was almost an adopted son.

[00:12:06] So, during the World Cup when Argentina were playing in other Italian cities, the Argentine national team were booed, they were taunted, because of Maradona.

[00:12:19] Maradona even recalled how, when Argentina played Cameroon at the San Siro stadium in Milan, the northern Italian fans supported Cameroon.

[00:12:31] Maradona joked that he had cured Italians of racism, as this was the first time that they had ever supported a team from Africa.

[00:12:41] Both Argentina and Italy progressed in the tournament, and they were to play each other at the San Paolo stadium the Naples stadium in the semi finals.

[00:12:53] This put many Neapolitan fans in a tough position.

[00:12:59] Were they to support the national team, Italy, even though they perhaps felt more allegiance to Maradona than to Italy?

[00:13:08] Or were they to stick by their city’s hero, despite him playing for the team of another country?

[00:13:15] Maradona goaded the Italians on national TV when he was asked about who Naples fans should support, saying that “Naples isn’t Italy”, and urging the fans to support Argentina, instead of the national team. 

[00:13:31] Indeed, there were groups of Naples ultras, the serious hardcore fans, who did support Argentina in the match.

[00:13:41] Argentina won the game on penalties, knocking Italy out of the tournament. 

[00:13:46] That World Cup didn’t end in glory for Argentina, as they lost to West Germany in the final, but this was the final nail in the coffin for Maradona in Italy.

[00:13:57] He had already been feeling like he wanted to leave Naples, and had been suffering from huge personal problems off the pitch.

[00:14:06] If you knew nothing about the life of Diego Maradona before 10 minutes ago, you might have thought this would be a rags to riches story of a loving boy who was a fantastic football player.

[00:14:19] But beneath the surface was huge personal tragedy.

[00:14:24] Shortly after arriving in Naples, Maradona had fallen in with a bad crowd, the organised crime clan of the Giuliano family.

[00:14:34] This clan controlled much of an area of Naples called Forcella, right in the historical centre. 

[00:14:42] Two of their principal streams of income, two of the main ways they made money, were prostitution and drugs, and Maradona was quickly swept up into a vicious web of cocaine addiction and prostitute use.

[00:14:58] This was an open secret in Naples. 

[00:15:01] Maradona would play a game on Sunday, then go out for a large meal and essentially keep partying, with drink, drugs and prostitutes, until Wednesday evening, then he would sober up, he would get all of the drugs and drink out of his system, and prepare for the game a few days later.

[00:15:22] While he was leading Naples and Argentina to victory on the pitch, off the pitch he was dealing with a full-blown cocaine addiction, and found himself indebted to this Neapolitan crime family.

[00:15:36] They provided him with drugs and prostitutes, they gave him gifts when he did favours for him, and they protected him from the police.

[00:15:45] But in return, he was owned by them, and had to do what they wanted.

[00:15:51] There is a surreal scene in an excellent Maradona documentary on HBO where Maradona, the most famous man in the city, and the most most talented footballer in the world, finds himself having to act as a chauffeur, as a taxi driver, to a Neapolitan crime boss.

[00:16:11] But there was a growing feeling within the Camorra that being associated with Maradona was bringing unwanted attention to their illegal activities.

[00:16:23] He might have been good for business - it was great to have him there at the opening of a new restaurant or bar, and it did a lot of good for their street reputation to be seen as a friend of Diego Maradona - but they liked to operate in the shadows. 

[00:16:40] And it was difficult to be in the shadows when you are hanging out with the most famous person in the city.

[00:16:48] What’s more, Maradona was hated in much of the rest of Italy. 

[00:16:53] It wasn’t long before things were to catch up with him.

[00:16:57] There was a police wiretapping, a police secret recording, of him on the phone requesting drugs and prostitutes

[00:17:05] Then, in 1991, after a match between Naples and Bari, he was drug tested. 

[00:17:11] Naturally, they found traces of cocaine and he was banned for 15 months.

[00:17:17] It’s a miracle that he managed to escape this for so long, really. 

[00:17:21] It was an open secret that he was on drugs throughout most of his time at Naples, but the Neapolitan team had a vested interest in hiding this from the authorities, so he presumably was given clean samples that he could switch with his dirty ones when he was drug tested.

[00:17:41] Almost immediately after being banned, he packed his bags and headed back to Argentina, alone, with no group of adoring fans, cast out by a city that had worshipped him, and sent back home in disgrace, a shadow of the bright-eyed boy who had arrived in Naples 7 years earlier.

[00:18:02] And those of you who are familiar with the later years of Maradona will know that this was the start of the end. 

[00:18:10] His playing career was filled with failing more and more drug tests, he was unable to conquer this crippling addiction that had plagued him since his days at Naples.

[00:18:23] Without the Camorra to protect him, he was also on the run from the Italian tax authorities, and he reportedly owed 37 million euros in unpaid taxes from his time in Italy. 

[00:18:37] On a personal level, his life was unravelling as well. 

[00:18:41] He got divorced in 2004, and admitted that he had fathered a son with a different woman in Naples back in 1986.

[00:18:52] He continued to go in and out of rehab clinics, and put on huge amounts of weight. 

[00:18:59] There’s a terribly sad interview from 2004 when he breaks down crying on Argentine national TV talking about his troubles overcoming drug addiction.

[00:19:11] And then last year, on the 25 November, he had a huge heart attack, and died, aged just 60 years old.

[00:19:19] The days after his death were filled with mixed reactions. 

[00:19:24] Tears on the streets of Naples, and the decision to rename the club’s stadium after him.

[00:19:31] Meanwhile, in more northern, right-wing Italian newspapers, people were critical of his legacy.

[00:19:38] Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the family of Silvio Berlusconi, who had been the owner of AC Milan, a fierce rival of Naples, called him a “cheat, drug addict, alcoholic, violent sexist with women, tax evader and communist: the worst of the worst of the worst.”

[00:19:59] And a player from Juventus, a club from Turin in the north of Italy, claimed that Maradona would still be alive if he had played for Juventus, not Naples.

[00:20:10] From a footballing perspective at least, there is little doubt that Maradona will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever lived. 

[00:20:19] While players nowadays live in a bubble, spending their days training, and being careful of every single thing that they put into their body, it really is a miracle that Maradona managed to achieve what he did while living the life of a 1980s rock star, smoking cigars, drinking heavily, having huge meals, and taking vast amounts of cocaine.

[00:20:44] But of course his story is a sad one, of a boy with everything ahead of him who was swallowed up and thrown out by a city and people that had adopted him, and that he loved back with his whole heart.

[00:20:59] Whatever one might think of the man, and of the story, it’s hard to deny, as the Neapolitan fans sing, that “There is only one Diego Maradona”.

[00:21:10] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:21:16] I hope it’s been a interesting one, that you’ve learned something new about this amazing man, and about his fantastic but tragic story.

[00:21:24] In case you missed it, this is actually the second episode about football this week, episode 145, which is available exclusively on the website, was all about when football became big business, so I’d definitely recommend checking that one out. 

[00:21:39] And as I said earlier, if you want to learn more about the Camorra, then episode number 75 is the one for you - it is all about the secret society that controls the Neapolitan underworld.

[00:21:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. For the Italians and the Argentines, I guess you might have particularly strong views of Maradona, so I would love to know what you think. 

[00:22:03] Either email me at hi@leonardoenglish.com, or for the members out there, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:14] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Diego Maradona, considered by many to be the best footballer that has ever lived.

[00:00:32] His is an amazing story, taking us from the slums of Buenos Aires through to winning the World Cup, and scoring the best goal of the 20th century.

[00:00:44] But, while there are plenty of highs in the story of Maradona, it is also full of tragedy and highs of a different kind, from a cripplying drug addiction to being banned from playing the game he loved, from being labelled the most hated man in Italy to his premature death at just 60 years old.

[00:01:05] Although it is in many ways a tragedy, it is fascinating, so, I hope you’ll enjoy this episode.

[00:01:12] Before we get right into that though, let me quickly remind you that you can follow along to this episode with the subtitles, the transcript and its key vocabulary, so you don’t miss a word and build up your vocabulary as you go, over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:30] The website is also home to all of our bonus episodes, plus guides on how to improve your English in a more interesting way.. 

[00:01:37] So if you haven’t yet checked that out, the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:44] OK then, Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:01:48] It’s often said that the body of Diego Maradona contained two opposing characters. 

[00:01:55] Diego, the sweet, loving, caring boy with a naughty sense of humour and a deep love for his family. 

[00:02:03] And Maradona, the larger-than-life character he played on the football pitch.

[00:02:10] Our story starts with Diego.

[00:02:13] He was born in one of the poorests slums on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

[00:02:20] Growing up he had no running water, no electricity, and his father would get up at 4am every morning to go out to work, coming home and collapsing from exhaustion in front of his children.

[00:02:35] Diego was the fifth of seven children, and the first boy, arriving after four older sisters.

[00:02:43] From a young age, his footballing talents were apparent

[00:02:48] He has this amazing ability to control the ball, almost as if it were an extension of his body.

[00:02:57] After being spotted by a talent scout when he was a mere 8 years old, his life became dominated by football. 

[00:03:07] When he was only 15, he was signed as a professional player by a club called Argentinos Juniors, which also gave him an apartment to live in.

[00:03:17] From that day onwards he became the main breadwinner for his family, moving everyone into the apartment with him, and with his entire family becoming reliant on the young Diego.

[00:03:32] For him, it must have been the most amazing feeling, of being able to care for your family, to take them out of a terrible situation of absolute poverty and provide them with a nice roof over their heads, and regular food on the table - two things that they had not known before.

[00:03:53] Aged 20, he signed for Boca Juniors, the club of his boyhood dreams, rejecting higher-paying offers at other clubs.

[00:04:04] And just a year and a half later he transferred to Barcelona, for the then-record fee of £5 million, today’s equivalent of around €22 million.

[00:04:17] From a footballing perspective, he did quite well at Barcelona, helping the club win the Copa Del Rey, and scoring an impressive 38 goals in 58 matches. 

[00:04:30] But he later said that he never felt quite at home at Barcelona, it wasn’t the right club, and it wasn’t the right city for him.

[00:04:39] This was a theme throughout Maradona’s life - he had chosen to go to Boca Juniors, instead of River Plate. Boca was the club that he had always wanted to play for, and it was the more working class team. River Plate wasn’t right.

[00:04:57] And neither was Barcelona, it was too clean, they had already been champions multiple times - it wasn’t really an atmosphere that Maradona felt comfortable with. He had grown up struggling, he had grown up as an underdog, and to be suddenly catapulted into the elite didn’t feel quite right.

[00:05:20] The decision to leave Barcelona was actually made for him after a match with Athletico Bilbao, where Maradona was the ringleader of a huge physical fight between the two teams. 

[00:05:34] Naturally, everything was being broadcast to the nation, it was on TV, but the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I was also at the stadium. 

[00:05:44] It was too much for Barcelona to be seen to be employing a street-fighter from the slums of Buenos Aires, and it was clear that Maradona needed to go.

[00:05:56] By this time, he was considered by many to be the best football player in the world. 

[00:06:02] So the club he went to next was, from a footballing perspective at least, surprising, but when one thinks about the kind of club and place that Maradona felt comfortable in, it was completely unsurprising.

[00:06:19] In June of 1984 he was transferred to Naples, for a then record-breaking fee of 7 million pounds, today’s equivalent of something like €25 million.

[00:06:33] Naples wasn’t an obvious choice for the world’s best footballer. 

[00:06:38] The team had never won the Serie A, Italy’s version of the premier league, and they often languished in the bottom half of the table.

[00:06:48] What’s more, the club wasn’t rich, and there were question marks about where the club had actually got the money to buy Maradona.

[00:06:59] Italian football had historically been dominated by clubs from the north - AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, and Roma.

[00:07:08] Naples was in the south of Italy, and there was–and still is I should say–a certain sense that some people from the richer north of Italy look down at people from the poorer south.

[00:07:23] And football fans, Italian football fans in particular, are not known for being particularly politically correct, or for holding back.

[00:07:33] There are clips of opposing fans singing chants about Neapolitans suffering from cholera, suggesting that they should all be killed by the fire of nearby Mt Vesuvius, and that they are so dirty that they need a wash.

[00:07:50] Naples at this time was a very poor city. 

[00:07:53] It has suffered a terrible earthquake in 1980, it was in the grip of organised crime, and it was chaotic compared to many other northern Italian cities.

[00:08:06] I should say, very quickly, that if you would like to learn more about Naples, and about a particular aspect of the city, the Camorra, then there is an entire episode just on that, it’s Episode 75, you’ll find that exclusively on the website.

[00:08:22] OK, going back to Naples, the football club was not doing too well, the city was poor, it was hated by its richer northern neighbours.

[00:08:33] But Maradona immediately felt at home. 

[00:08:37] He knew what it was like to be looked down upon by the rich, he knew what it was like to be judged because of who you were, he relished the challenge of being the underdog.

[00:08:50] When he arrived in Naples he was paraded around the stadium to 85,000 adoring fans

[00:08:58] He loved the attention, and the fans loved him.

[00:09:02] There was a feeling that he had come to save the club, that he was there to help Naples regain its rightful place, and to teach its northern rivals a thing or two.

[00:09:15] In his first season at the club they finished 8th. Not a remarkable position, but a sign of things to come.

[00:09:23] The year after, they finished third, and the next year, the 1986-87 season, Naples were crowned champions for the first time, with Maradona as their captain.

[00:09:37] He was already a hero in the city, but leading the club to victory against the arrogant northern rivals propelled him to a status of a demi-god

[00:09:49] There were murals all over the city, he was mobbed by adoring fans everywhere he went.

[00:09:57] As well as being a hero to the people of Naples, he was a national hero in Argentina after having led the national side to glory at the World Cup in 1986.

[00:10:10] It was to be in this tournament, and within the course of 5 minutes, in the England vs. Argentina quarter final, that the world saw two of the most famous goals by Maradona.

[00:10:23] The first, in the 51st minute, was what’s now called the Hand of God goal. 

[00:10:31] I imagine you will have seen this, but just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Maradona jumped up and hit the ball into the goal with his hand, which you are obviously not allowed to do in football.

[00:10:44] Then, just 5 minutes later, Maradona scored what has since been voted the best goal in the twentieth century, running half the way up the pitch, past four England players before shooting the ball past the England goalkeeper.

[00:11:00] This five minutes summarised what people love, and what people loathe, about Diego Maradona.

[00:11:08] On the one hand, he was a cheat, the first goal shouldn’t have counted, it shouldn’t have been allowed.

[00:11:15] But on the other hand he was an incredibly talented football player, capable of absolute magic, and there is no denying how fantastically skillful he was.

[00:11:27] The next World Cup, in 1990, four years later, was held in Italy. 

[00:11:33] By this time, Maradona had a complicated relationship with Italy, or rather, Italians had a complicated relationship with Maradona.

[00:11:42] People from Naples worshipped the ground he walked on, they absolutely loved him.

[00:11:49] For many people who weren’t from Naples, they hated him, because they considered him an arrogant pseudo-Neapolitan

[00:11:57] Although he wasn’t from Naples, he was a fierce defender of the city, and was almost an adopted son.

[00:12:06] So, during the World Cup when Argentina were playing in other Italian cities, the Argentine national team were booed, they were taunted, because of Maradona.

[00:12:19] Maradona even recalled how, when Argentina played Cameroon at the San Siro stadium in Milan, the northern Italian fans supported Cameroon.

[00:12:31] Maradona joked that he had cured Italians of racism, as this was the first time that they had ever supported a team from Africa.

[00:12:41] Both Argentina and Italy progressed in the tournament, and they were to play each other at the San Paolo stadium the Naples stadium in the semi finals.

[00:12:53] This put many Neapolitan fans in a tough position.

[00:12:59] Were they to support the national team, Italy, even though they perhaps felt more allegiance to Maradona than to Italy?

[00:13:08] Or were they to stick by their city’s hero, despite him playing for the team of another country?

[00:13:15] Maradona goaded the Italians on national TV when he was asked about who Naples fans should support, saying that “Naples isn’t Italy”, and urging the fans to support Argentina, instead of the national team. 

[00:13:31] Indeed, there were groups of Naples ultras, the serious hardcore fans, who did support Argentina in the match.

[00:13:41] Argentina won the game on penalties, knocking Italy out of the tournament. 

[00:13:46] That World Cup didn’t end in glory for Argentina, as they lost to West Germany in the final, but this was the final nail in the coffin for Maradona in Italy.

[00:13:57] He had already been feeling like he wanted to leave Naples, and had been suffering from huge personal problems off the pitch.

[00:14:06] If you knew nothing about the life of Diego Maradona before 10 minutes ago, you might have thought this would be a rags to riches story of a loving boy who was a fantastic football player.

[00:14:19] But beneath the surface was huge personal tragedy.

[00:14:24] Shortly after arriving in Naples, Maradona had fallen in with a bad crowd, the organised crime clan of the Giuliano family.

[00:14:34] This clan controlled much of an area of Naples called Forcella, right in the historical centre. 

[00:14:42] Two of their principal streams of income, two of the main ways they made money, were prostitution and drugs, and Maradona was quickly swept up into a vicious web of cocaine addiction and prostitute use.

[00:14:58] This was an open secret in Naples. 

[00:15:01] Maradona would play a game on Sunday, then go out for a large meal and essentially keep partying, with drink, drugs and prostitutes, until Wednesday evening, then he would sober up, he would get all of the drugs and drink out of his system, and prepare for the game a few days later.

[00:15:22] While he was leading Naples and Argentina to victory on the pitch, off the pitch he was dealing with a full-blown cocaine addiction, and found himself indebted to this Neapolitan crime family.

[00:15:36] They provided him with drugs and prostitutes, they gave him gifts when he did favours for him, and they protected him from the police.

[00:15:45] But in return, he was owned by them, and had to do what they wanted.

[00:15:51] There is a surreal scene in an excellent Maradona documentary on HBO where Maradona, the most famous man in the city, and the most most talented footballer in the world, finds himself having to act as a chauffeur, as a taxi driver, to a Neapolitan crime boss.

[00:16:11] But there was a growing feeling within the Camorra that being associated with Maradona was bringing unwanted attention to their illegal activities.

[00:16:23] He might have been good for business - it was great to have him there at the opening of a new restaurant or bar, and it did a lot of good for their street reputation to be seen as a friend of Diego Maradona - but they liked to operate in the shadows. 

[00:16:40] And it was difficult to be in the shadows when you are hanging out with the most famous person in the city.

[00:16:48] What’s more, Maradona was hated in much of the rest of Italy. 

[00:16:53] It wasn’t long before things were to catch up with him.

[00:16:57] There was a police wiretapping, a police secret recording, of him on the phone requesting drugs and prostitutes

[00:17:05] Then, in 1991, after a match between Naples and Bari, he was drug tested. 

[00:17:11] Naturally, they found traces of cocaine and he was banned for 15 months.

[00:17:17] It’s a miracle that he managed to escape this for so long, really. 

[00:17:21] It was an open secret that he was on drugs throughout most of his time at Naples, but the Neapolitan team had a vested interest in hiding this from the authorities, so he presumably was given clean samples that he could switch with his dirty ones when he was drug tested.

[00:17:41] Almost immediately after being banned, he packed his bags and headed back to Argentina, alone, with no group of adoring fans, cast out by a city that had worshipped him, and sent back home in disgrace, a shadow of the bright-eyed boy who had arrived in Naples 7 years earlier.

[00:18:02] And those of you who are familiar with the later years of Maradona will know that this was the start of the end. 

[00:18:10] His playing career was filled with failing more and more drug tests, he was unable to conquer this crippling addiction that had plagued him since his days at Naples.

[00:18:23] Without the Camorra to protect him, he was also on the run from the Italian tax authorities, and he reportedly owed 37 million euros in unpaid taxes from his time in Italy. 

[00:18:37] On a personal level, his life was unravelling as well. 

[00:18:41] He got divorced in 2004, and admitted that he had fathered a son with a different woman in Naples back in 1986.

[00:18:52] He continued to go in and out of rehab clinics, and put on huge amounts of weight. 

[00:18:59] There’s a terribly sad interview from 2004 when he breaks down crying on Argentine national TV talking about his troubles overcoming drug addiction.

[00:19:11] And then last year, on the 25 November, he had a huge heart attack, and died, aged just 60 years old.

[00:19:19] The days after his death were filled with mixed reactions. 

[00:19:24] Tears on the streets of Naples, and the decision to rename the club’s stadium after him.

[00:19:31] Meanwhile, in more northern, right-wing Italian newspapers, people were critical of his legacy.

[00:19:38] Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the family of Silvio Berlusconi, who had been the owner of AC Milan, a fierce rival of Naples, called him a “cheat, drug addict, alcoholic, violent sexist with women, tax evader and communist: the worst of the worst of the worst.”

[00:19:59] And a player from Juventus, a club from Turin in the north of Italy, claimed that Maradona would still be alive if he had played for Juventus, not Naples.

[00:20:10] From a footballing perspective at least, there is little doubt that Maradona will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever lived. 

[00:20:19] While players nowadays live in a bubble, spending their days training, and being careful of every single thing that they put into their body, it really is a miracle that Maradona managed to achieve what he did while living the life of a 1980s rock star, smoking cigars, drinking heavily, having huge meals, and taking vast amounts of cocaine.

[00:20:44] But of course his story is a sad one, of a boy with everything ahead of him who was swallowed up and thrown out by a city and people that had adopted him, and that he loved back with his whole heart.

[00:20:59] Whatever one might think of the man, and of the story, it’s hard to deny, as the Neapolitan fans sing, that “There is only one Diego Maradona”.

[00:21:10] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Diego Armando Maradona.

[00:21:16] I hope it’s been a interesting one, that you’ve learned something new about this amazing man, and about his fantastic but tragic story.

[00:21:24] In case you missed it, this is actually the second episode about football this week, episode 145, which is available exclusively on the website, was all about when football became big business, so I’d definitely recommend checking that one out. 

[00:21:39] And as I said earlier, if you want to learn more about the Camorra, then episode number 75 is the one for you - it is all about the secret society that controls the Neapolitan underworld.

[00:21:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. For the Italians and the Argentines, I guess you might have particularly strong views of Maradona, so I would love to know what you think. 

[00:22:03] Either email me at hi@leonardoenglish.com, or for the members out there, you can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:22:14] And as a final reminder, if you are looking to improve your English in a more interesting way, to join a community of curious minds from all over the world, to unlock the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com

[00:22:31] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:22:36] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]