Thomas Sankara, who led a revolution in Upper Volta and renamed the country Burkina Faso, once said “You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future.” Sankara was talking about the political project he led for four years in Burkina Faso in the mid-1980s—in which he wanted to break his country’s dependence on the West, become self-sufficient, smash patriarchy and break the power of landowners over rural Burkinabe. But he may as well have been talking about Diego Maradona.
Arguably football’s greatest of all time, or G.O.A.T., Maradona was probably the first global football star of the television age. Many people swore by Pele as the best footballer of all time, but few of them actually saw him play live. Most of his thousand plus goals were scored in Brazil’s domestic leagues. You could only read about it. Not so Maradona. From the moment he made his debut in the 1982 World Cup (he was too young to be included in Argentina’s championship squad of 1978), transferred to Barcelona, became a legend at Napoli (a European championship and two Serie A titles at an unfancied club from a poor city) and in-between led (that’s literally) Argentina to a World Cup title in 1986, it was clear that he was something else.
Off the field, Maradona scandalized those in power. He sided with the poor. Maradona, in the words of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, had “committed the sin of being the best, the crime of speaking out about things the powerful wanted kept quiet.” He clashed with FIFA (the corrupt body that controls world football) and with the United States (that’s also where his international career ended). But we also have to talk about his treatment of women, his excuses for repression or his associations with organized crime.
We will be joined by two guests: Pablo Medina Uribe is a Colombian multimedia journalist and writer based in Bogota. He covers politics, sports, culture, their intersections, and beyond. Worked in online media, publishing, radio, TV, and apps. Interested in developing technology for telling better stories. Tony Karon teaches on the politics of global soccer in the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School in New York. He is editorial lead at AJ Plus and before that spent 15 years at TIME magazine, where he was a senior editor.