16/11/08

Maradona and Manu Chao

Maradona and Manu Chao: the lottery of Maradona’s life

Last Updated: 3:01pm GMT 14/11/2008

Gervase de Wilde meets musician Manu Chao to talk about a new documentary on Maradona’s life

It’s hard to miss the similarities between world music star Manu Chao and footballer Diego Maradona, recently appointed manager of Argentina’s national team. These two diminutive men have both acquired enormous stature in their fields and become idolised figures across the Hispanic world. Their appeal transcends race, culture and class.

Recently, they became friends, as Chao explained when I met him to discuss his work on a documentary about Maradona, who this week is threatening to resign as Argentine coach because of disagreements over his staff.

« I met the director Emir Kusturica in Barcelona, » says Manu. « I heard about this movie and I thought that’s why he wanted to meet me and I was so excited. So, we had a really funny night, but I was disappointed because he told me nothing about the movie. » But Chao’s desire to meet his childhood hero was to be fulfilled a year later. « He called me to come for the movie, and I was really interested because I was a big fan of Emir and a big fan of Diego too. »

Manu Chao had been aware of Maradona since he became a global figure after his role in Argentina’s 1986 world cup victory. In the ’80s, Maradona went to play for Napoli in Italy’s Serie A and the footballer who is a working class hero in his own country made an even bigger impression on Manu Chao when he later visited Naples.

« The first time when I really felt everywhere his presence was when I went to Naples, » he explains. « The last CD of my old band Mano Negra was recorded in Naples, so I spent two months there. Every bar you went to, behind the bar there was a picture of the Madonna and a picture of Diego. »

« This time I came back to Naples to meet Diego and after the day I spent, I wrote this song, because the life of Maradona is a total crazy lottery, » he explains. « From the ghetto where he was born to become what he became – his has been an incredible life. That’s why I am so interested in his life and what he has done, the good things he has done and the bad things too. »

Maradona is dogged by controversy to this day and I remind Manu Chao what an unpopular figure ‘El Diego’ is in this country thanks to his ‘hand of God’ contribution in the ’86 world cup. I point out that one of my earliest memories is standing in front of the TV complaining about the unfairness of the goal being allowed to stand. But he is sanguine about the demonisation of Maradona:

« Some people think that Diego is kind of a God, others say that he is a kind of Devil. There’s so much pressure around him, so much love, my first impression was that it’s not easy to be Diego Maradona. My second impression was saying to myself ‘if I was Diego, would I have done better or worse? It’s not easy to answer this question. »

  • Manu Chao’s ‘La Vida Tombola’ (his song dedicated to and about Maradona) will be released on Because Music in January ’09