It so turns out that Diego Maradona was only nine years older than yours truly. Although as any kid of my age I was running after anything that would by far resembled a football (CocaCola bottlecaps for example) indoors and outdoors, I was never enamoured with the individualistic shenanigans of the Latins. “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer’s “Soccer Power” translated to Turkish by none other than our nationwide celebrated TV and radio sports commentator Halit Kıvanç was my bedside book. Work hard, play together, obey the rules.
I was totally heart broken when Holland lost against Argentina in 1978 cup final. I had three teams at that time of single channel black & white state TV: Perhaps understandably Cruyff’s Ajax and Van der Elst’s Anderlecht and for some obscure reason Liam Brady’s Arsenal -as Baudelaire’s albatross. By that time not only each kid out in the street but also most footballers in that long dark period’s lacklustre national league had refashioned themselves as Kempes with long hair and socks purposefully dropped around their ankles.
Even at that time, as long as my memory serves me right, we started to have the first glimpses of a teenager Maradona as “el pibe d’oro” on our black & white screens as the upcoming next big star. In 1982, I was again taken aback when the “mannschaft” lost the cup against Italy with my favourite Rummenigge while their coach Derwall ended up later on with my home team Galatasaray to end a 14 years’ championship win drought. Then came 1986 with Maradona seemingly single-handedly beating West Germany’s machine as if just by directing an effervescent Burruchaga in which lane to run.
I still had second thoughts about individual skills yet in our boys’ school we had our own Maradona, my good friend Burak Erdamar (God bless his soul) who went on to become a medical doctor and inexplicably died in a scooter accident in dry sunny day when a curfew was imposed with no car traffic at all this very same dark year. Erdamar too would challenge the established gameplans by just leading his teams and directing his teammates be it basketball or football where to attack, where to run, where to stand in the heat of any game.
So why watching Kusturica’s Maradona, the scene where he exits the car only to be surprised by none other than Manu Chao serenading for him brought tears to my eyes? Because exactly, not the Maradona who excelled on the pitch but the later Maradona as the “beautiful loser” who had caught up with me. As Manu Chao’s song goes: “If I had been Maradona / I would live like him” –simple as that. We were not Maradona, there was only one.
Even more intriguing for me perhaps, is the fact that by “God’s hand” I happened to follow Kusturica’s somewhat “futile on purpose” 2008 documentary up with Kornbluth&Gilman’s 2017 documentary on Robert Reich’s “Saving Capitalism.” The pieces fell in their places by themselves. Again, not that the way he played nor his political views but the way he lived his fragile life as a human being who can err like most of us had endeared to me the great player: “Don’t be a magician, be the magic” as Zeki Coşkun* references Leonard Cohen.
For here was a man standing up against all the rules and the hegemony imposed on him. And at that, he didn’t flinch, all the more so, to get naked in front of all us, the hapless onlookers who were not bestowed upon by such extraordinary, maybe superhuman, talent. True, anyone can easily argue that his was a flawed character. As Janan Ganesh argues “Besides, looking around, lots of us seem able to self-destruct without the mitigating circumstance of galactic fame.”
That bit, to which Mr.Ganesh draws our attention to, is the one that went under my skin in fact. Do we all not, in a most macabre twist, start to die the very same day we are born? “The view is fine from fifty, / Experienced climbers say; / So, overweight and shifty, / I turn to face the way / That led me to this day. // Instead of fields and snowcaps / And flowered lanes that twist, / The track breaks at my toe-caps / And drops away in mist. / The view does not exist. // Where has it gone, the lifetime? / Search me. What’s left is drear.” wrote the great English poet Philip Larkin.
I for one am grateful to and humbled by like many other millions in all the continents of our world, Maradona if not for the spectacle he offered on the pitch but as well for the spectacle of life he readily and graciously offered to accompany us in our drear existences. No, he had not turned into a caricature of himself. That takes courage to self-destruct in style. To the contrary, that is sort of an “audacity of hope” in reverse –as in “equal opportunity against merit” in another universe: The universe of gods. The sour knowledge that we now are left up with is that there never will be another Maradona.
*Although in English renowned luminaries like Simon Kuper and Janan Ganesh among others wrote poetically and masterfully after the legend, I drew my main inspiration for this piece from my co-GazeteDuvar writer Zeki Coşkun’s article in Turkish.