Maradona: The Rise And Fall of Soccer's Most Polarizing Player Ever

(Photo Credit: Esquire)

A set of silk curtains sways rhythmically in the soft Napoli breeze, seemingly gesturing the glow of street lights below to illuminate a grand bedroom. There is a waining murmur in the streets below that echoes throughout the infinite rows of identical apartments. A thin film of champagne combined with baby blue confetti riddles the winding crevices and grooves of the cobblestone streets. Deep in the distance, a flickering orange glow of a firework climbs effortlessly into the midnight blue sky. The sound of the thunderous explosion caresses the tops of each apartment before leaping past the silk curtains and filling the bedroom. A silhouette jolts from beneath the covers, gasping for air and uneasy. The shape lunges out from beneath the covers then reappears just above the balcony railing. Pure paranoia and terror grips a set of eyes belonging to a 29-year-old Argentine hailed throughout the world as the next Pelé. He wakes his girlfriend and gathers up all of the kids. They pack into the family van as fast as possible. As the garage door lifts and they attempt to drive off into the cover of nightfall, the vehicle is suddenly intercepted. Riding a motorcycle it is Carmine Giuliano, son of the most powerful Mafia Don in Italy. He simply gestures the Argentine onto the back and leads them deep into the heart of the city where hundreds of fans await with flags, music and cloaked in Napoli blue. The sea of supporters seems to part as Giuliano sheapards the family into an apartment above. Not a single person reaches begging for an autograph or picture. It was a demonstration of power. Maradona clings to his youngest daughter and situates himself on the balcony above. His gaze looses touch with reality as the chants and cheers below lull him into distant thought. Nowhere to run, no one to save him; it is too late. He snaps from his trance and pans over into his daughter's bright brown eyes. Her glance brings him back to life, and visions of his childhood flicker into view and seem to merge with the celebration below...

Villa Piorito, 1960 (Photo Credit: HBO)

Diego Armando Maradona grew up in the slums of Villa Piorito, the poorest part of the capital city of Buenos Aires. The intricate array of structures, erected out of sheet metal and flanked with chickenwire fencing, seemed infinite. Children and dogs scampered about festering mounds of trash, wide eyed as if sifting for gold. There were no paved roads, no sewers and very few had the luxury of running water. Maradona was the fifth and final child after four girls. The family shared the same single shack. Maradona remembers his father waking up at four in the morning, catching a ride into town only to come back dog tired and fall asleep right in front of young Diego.

A ball represented so much more than a toy; it was a way out, his salvation. Maradona played for his first club, Argentinos Juniors FC, at 11 years old. At the age of fifteen he signed his first professional contract and supported his family from that day on. People from the capital would drive in with cameras and document the young prodigy amongst the village squalor. The club rented an apartment for the entire family just 10 minutes from the stadium. From sunlight peering through the formation of cracks and holes in a ceiling, to now a spotlight in it's place illuminating a cascading staircase of the family's new apartment, it was a lot to take in for everyone. Maradona was not just chasing his dream, he was running from his difficult past.

Maradona moving into the apartment (Photo Credit: HBO)

From there, he then traveled to Spain to play for F.C. Barcelona at just 21 years old for a world record fee. It was there in the beauty of the Catalan city where Maradona is first introduced to his darkest demons.

Between a broken ankle with multiple torn ligaments and an on-field display of horror in a fight after a lost match, his stint was not long-winded. After Barça fell 1-0 to Bilbao, Maradona proceeded to elbow, head butt and even knee Bilbao players, managing to knock one out cold after being verbally provoked by one of the players. A brawl then broke out in front of 100,000 spectators, one of which being the King of Spain, and with over half of the country watching on television. Fans began hurling things onto the field and roughly 60 people, from trainers to players, were injured. This would be the last time Maradona would ever suit up in the infamous Barça colors. It was also in Barcelona where he was introduced to cocaine, the very thing that tainted Diego Armando Maradona's legacy forever.