It was a viral video before there were viral videos. A TikTok before TikTok.
The video of Diego Maradona’s warm-up routine before Napoli’s UEFA Cup semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich in 1989, which occurred 31 years ago last Sunday, is as fresh today as it was then.
Today’s equivalents, whether they are marketers and directors trying to make high-production athletes look authentic or influencers who recreate classic soccer moments in their backyards – pale in comparison.
It’s probably the most viewed part of organic soccer imagery on the field that doesn’t include a second of game action. It is both of its time and ahead of its time. It’s a Pieter Bruegel painting in the sense that tons are passing by, except that everything revolves around one man: Maradona.
Forget your feelings for that man. Forget what you know and what you have seen, like Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentary. Watch this cool footage and ask yourself: What’s going on? What am i seeing
You know it’s not the present because of the old-school signage for brands that were once household names, like AGFA, which made film for cameras, and Commodore, the computer company that went bankrupt more than a quarter century ago. And of course, the crowd behind is blurry: still intelligible, but not defined by the standards of our HD era. Napoli’s warm-up team is decidedly old-school. Brands like Mars don’t sponsor clubs these days, and no one wears those baggy tops.
But take a closer look. Maradona wears her different blouse. It looks like she’s taken a set of shoelaces and tied them around her waist like a makeshift belt.
The music starts, “Live is Life” by Opus, and he starts to vibrate. For a moment, Antonio Careca, his attacking partner at Napoli, does too. That is expected of Careca: he is Brazilian. But then it stops and keeps stretching, which isn’t surprising either. A little fun, a little flash for the cameras, and then to work.
Not so for Diego; This is where the show begins. You start juggling the ball and then there’s a sharp cut in the foreground confirming what you may have noticed earlier: your laces, the ones around your boots, not the ones around your waist, are untied and dangling. loose. Why? Cicco Marolda, who covered his entire time at Naples for the local newspaper, Il Mattino, explains that Maradona “always trained with the laces unbuttoned. He just felt more comfortable that way, the ball felt better. He only tied them just before kick-off.”
He then goes up and down with the ball apparently glued to his head. From there, he juggles his knees to the beat of the music. He then returns to his head as he walks nonchalantly with the ball nestled in his thick black hair. It goes next to his foot, where it stops short, as if it were glued to a magnet. And he goes off again, juggling: foot, shoulder, head, faster and faster as the chorus begins.
Another crisp video cut and Maradona is now clapping. He knows he’s being watched and he knows he’s the center of attention, but he never looks at the crowd. In fact, he stops and the next thing you see is that he is still, possibly stretching his lower extremities while moving his hips in time to the music. His expression, which had been calm, almost childish, turns into a playful face.
Jump back and forth, feet together, and restart. Juggling the ball as if it were being held by an invisible string, the tempo quickened, Diego bounced with it, foot against shoulder, all on time, all with amazing control.
At one point, you see his teammates, obediently jogging, exercising while he performs artwork. Only at the end does he bend down to stretch with them before coming out of his squat with a scream that is not heard against the musical backdrop. Those in the stands know that they have seen something that they will tell their grandchildren.
Marolda, who was sitting in the press box at the former Munich Olympiastadion, remembers being paralyzed. Even after six years of covering each and every match and training session at Napoli, he hadn’t seen anything like it.
“At the beginning, it was unusual for Napoli to warm up on the pitch. In those days, it took place before the teams left,” he says. “We didn’t really pay attention until the music started. Within seconds, everyone was watching. No one wanted to miss a thing.”
In fact, no one except the 70,000 who were there that day would have seen it if it hadn’t been for a Belgian television producer named Frank Raes. The cameras were filming, but none of it was being broadcast except on the stadium’s JumboTron. Raes realized the enormity of what he had just witnessed. He contacted German broadcaster ZDF, which provided the production equipment, and they sent him 12 minutes of pre-match footage. He cut it together to make the video that was first shown on Belgian television and has now achieved immortality on YouTube. (“If I had a penny for every time that video plays, I would have retired to Hawaii a long time ago,” he joked recently).
The spontaneity of it all is a big part of its popularity. It feels organic, and indeed it is, due to the fact that the music was not played by any DJ, but by a cover band that produced a variety of early ’80s hits, including Opus.
Maradona’s warm-up that day reeked of nonchalance. Maybe some arrogance too. This was their biggest match to date in club football: Napoli were 2-0 at Bayern after the first leg, but nothing was guaranteed away from home in those days, and that’s how they approached it.
There is an Italian word for that: sprezzatura. These days you’ll hear it mostly in menswear, referring to “the ability to look stylish while appearing to do so without the slightest bit of effort” (when, in fact, there’s often a lot involved). But it was first defined in 1528 in “The Courter’s Book” as the ability “to perform difficult actions. [while hiding] the conscious effort he put into them. “In this case, Maradona’s act clashes with both the modern definition (the” studied neglect “of his untied boots and improvised belt) and the medieval one.
Much has been written about the psychological effect Maradona’s warm-up had on the Bayern players, who were busy doing their best on the other side of the pitch. Some stopped to look, while others looked out of the corner of their eye.
It even clouded the memories. Jurgen Klinsmann recalled the day and said: “We are on the other side of the field, warming up like Germans: seriously concentrated … there is music, the song ‘Live is Life’ and to the rhythm of the song, Maradona began to juggle with the ball. So we stopped our warm-up … and we couldn’t warm up anymore because we had to look at the boy. “
Except, of course, that Klinsmann wasn’t really there. He was not playing for Bayern at the time, he was in Stuttgart, which would lose the final in two games to Naples. The fact that he left such a lasting impression on the former USMNT coach’s brain, creating a false memory, tells you a lot about the impact he had.