There is no doubt that Diego Maradona is one of the greatest of all time. Drugs and Italian mafia links aside, his attributes on a football pitch mesmerised plenty and inspired several generations of footballers after him. Whatever he did turned to gold and even on highlight reels, was an absolute joy to watch. But there is one piece of footage that is not from an in-game situation, that is equally as pleasing to the eye and, if Maradona isn’t the greatest of all time, this is something that everyone can agree upon: a near-three minute clip of him with his boyish charm, thoroughly enjoying himself warming-up is indeed the greatest warm-up ever. It’s nothing special in the start, but at the end of it, Maradona immerses his viewers so well, that it is well worth about three minutes of your day.
It’s the second-leg of the 1989 UEFA Cup semi-final between Bayern Munich and Diego Maradona’s Napoli (carrying a 2-0 lead from Naples) at the Bavarian side’s former ground, the Munich Olympiastadion. This is Maradona in his peak, right before the drug scandal in the early ‘90s that completely distorted his image and status, but here he is leading his beloved Napoli into the belly of the beast against one of Europe’s best sides. Bursting from the stadium’s PA speakers is the Austrian band Opus’ famous 1985 hit, Live is Life and that makes this three-minute clip all the more special.
PHASE ONE: THE WARM DOWN
Just like how every athlete in the world, amateur or professional, starts his pre-game warm-up, Diego Maradona kicks his off with a basic exercise. Bouncing up and down and jerking his legs forward and backwards in his baggy tracksuit, he is the calmest man on the pitch – someone with no idea that he was set to face one of the sport’s greatest clubs. It’s simple, although very important and Maradona here doesn’t seem to have a hint of nervousness on his face or his body language as he continues jumping up and down, looking around the magnanimous venue and drinking in the atmosphere with his eyes – all with a smile, that eventually turned into a smirk, on his face.
PHASE TWO: CATCHING THE EYE
The longest, although still not the most enjoyable phase of the video. This is where El Diego catches the eye of the watching crowd as they buy into the hysteria. They knew what they were watching, and they knew what they came for – the little man was a magician, who just three years prior, led his country to the greatest prize in the sport. They were here to watch the best footballer of all time, and although the stadium wasn’t at its full capacity at that time, the ones that did manage to make it to the venue early, knew that they were getting their money’s worth well before kick-off. This was the world’s greatest doing what he did best – entertain and indulge.
This phase includes anything any a professional footballer should be able to do, but in Maradona’s case, what makes it special, is his appearance. As mentioned, his baggy tracksuit made him look out of place, A bulky-looking figure like that shouldn’t be warming up on the pitch for a crucial continental semi-final, but Maradona made it look fascinating. Perhaps, it was his untied Puma boots that caught the eye, or in a more likely scenario, it was his boyish charm. Throughout the clip, he looked like a kid in the playground, having no fear of what was to come, or who was looking at him. He started with basic kick-ups, first with his feet, then for a more extended period, with his knees. He carried on with his knees for the most part, and with his undone boots, ran to and fro in a vertical line, while still juggling the ball with his knees.
Make no mistake, this is quite a complex skill, but this man had been perfecting it for years and was keenly having fun. The music carries on in the background, with the song’s rudimentary lyrics getting clearer and clearer, as Maradona brings the ball higher, now juggling it with his head, chest and shoulders, even going on to jump with it. There is the entire Napoli side warming-up with him, a side of history-makers that were Italian champions just two years ago, but everyone in the stadium had their eyes fixated on one Diego Maradona.
PHASE THREE: JOY
Diego Maradona’s personal life hasn’t always been healthy reading, and in the ‘80s, it was at the highest peak a mess could reach. Embroiled in a turbulent relationship with his first wife Claudia Villafañe, and a paternity case over a son that was conceived a few years prior, Maradona was able to put that all behind him in the moment of pure ecstasy. For a short time, he got away from juggling a football and gets back to cooling his body down with some basic exercises. He starts off once again, first with some basic stretching, and then continues with a little vibrating, and finally a little hip rotation, which is also met by some claps along the beat of the enlightening music, and is traditionally meant to get some blood flowing in the lower body, but Maradona here is just doing it for joy, as the best and final phase was just around the corner…
PHASE FOUR: GAME READY
Just as he finishes his rotation exercises, he loops the ball up to himself and with more intensity than ever, commences the final part of this wonderful clip with the most jubilant bit of juggling you are likely to see. Combining his feet, knees, shoulders, chest and head, his focus is all on the ball, as he twists and turns around the park, enthralling the watching crowd. If the Neapolitans had any fear going into this game, it was all cleared up by this 20-second cameo that suggested that Maradona was game ready. This was his sparkling best, diffusing his greatness upon the rest of Munich. For a moment, forget that he may have sniffed up cocaine before this, and celebrate the magic that he creates. In a three-minute clip, he displays a man with no worries, who is simply doing what he loves.