If the life of Diego Maradona were collected in a sacred book, Fernando Signorini (Lincoln, Argentina, 70 years old) would be among its most accurate interpreters. Probably no one but this physical trainer of training, in the endless court of the king of Argentine soccer, was able to accompany him for longer in his sanctum sanctorum without crossing the border that separates the world from mortals of the self-destructive transgression that made the child of Fiorito in the most perfect of contemporary tragic heroes. One year after the footballer’s death, his friend recalls his memories, collected in the book Diego, From Inside (Editorial Planeta).
Question. What does Maradona mean for Argentina?
Answer. Soccer Argentina, which is the majority, is very prone to mythomania. It is the history of the country. Of its great historical leaders. I think Diego was the last, and I don’t know if he was the most important, but he was the most loved. It was a product of his achievements. If he hadn’t won the World Cup, they would treat him like Messi, another stratospheric player who will always be charged if he doesn’t win the World Cup. The Argentine is used to rewarding what he achieves and not what he deserves. He was born to be admired for the magic of his game, but not to be explained.
P. Maradona produces rejection in a conservative sector of Argentine society that almost always repudiated him. When you met him in Barcelona in 1982, was he class conscious?
R. In Argentina there is a part of society that vindicates Videla, Massera and General Camps. When I met him, Diego was 22 years old. Was a kid. More than class consciousness, he had that natural feeling of belonging. He knew that when he was in Villa Fiorito, no president had come to offer anything to his people, who, because they did not have them, had almost no electricity. He was aware that he was being used for his achievements. Che Guevara said that a good revolutionary was one who felt as his own the injustices that were committed in any part of the world. I don’t know if Che would have liked to be Maradona. But Diego would have loved to be Che.
P. You said that with Diego you would go to the end of the world but with Maradona you would not even go to the corner. At what point did your personality unfold?
R. When you awaken expectations, you create an image and become a captive of it. I always think of that passage from the Odyssey in which Ulysses has himself tied to the pole of the boat so as not to be attracted by the song of the sirens and covers the ears of his rowers with wax. That saved Ulysses. But Diego would not have covered anyone’s ears and of course he would never have tied himself to any pole. He jumped into the water and was enraptured. In a world like today, completely hypocritical, living for the image, he wanted to burn himself in his own fire. Due to its natural conditions, it must have been the Methuselah of our time. But he died when he was only 600 years old, because each year he lived is equivalent to a decade of ours. It was a force of nature.
R. What did the studies of his body reveal?
P. Antonio dal Monte, head of the physiology department of the Italian Olympic Committee and a leading scientist for military and sporting organizations around the world, examined Maradona and told me: “Your friend would have been an exceptional test pilot for warplanes because he has an unusual ability to see the whole ”. When they say that God made all men equal… When Maradona looked to his right, his left ear could be seen! The same condition that I discovered in Messi. “The reaction to Diego’s encouragement is faster than that of the best sprinters,” said Dal Monte. And he in the eighties evaluated the fastest runners in the world.
At night, when withdrawal syndrome occurred, we would go out to exercise until we were exhausted. Lactic acid helped him not think about cocaine
R. What virtue amazed you the most?
P. Its power of resilience. When we went to La Pampa to prepare for the World Cup in Italy, he exposed himself to suffering withdrawal syndrome in the middle of the field. He didn’t carry a milligram of cocaine. At night, when the syndrome occurred, we would go out to exercise until we were exhausted. I remember the moon at dawn. It seemed daytime. We did very violent exercises. Highly demanding in the unit of time, using all muscle groups: jumping, falling, crawling, pushing, sprinting, changing direction, sprinting again … Things that will force you to focus only on that. He was huffing and puffing. I remember hugging each other and coming home laughing.
P. How long were these therapeutic sessions?
R. I don’t think it lasted more than five minutes. When you demand from zero to one hundred, without getting warm, as if a lion attacked you without giving you time to prepare… There was a tremendous accumulation of lactic acid. It was the way not to think about cocaine. That is why he filled his day with activities. We would train in the morning, take a nap, and in the afternoon we went to the gym of boxer Miguel Ángel Campanino, the famous South American welterweight champion. We would arrive, we would disguise Diego as a boxer, he would make rope, shadow, bag, punching ball, and he got on to do rounds with Michelangelo. One day Campanino told Don Diego: “Luckily his son dedicated himself to soccer, because if he had dedicated himself to boxing he would fill my face with fingers.” He had a natural ability to copy the movements of the box and besides, there was no blow to overwhelm him. Pain was the best fuel for him to get going. One week before the World Cup, they pulled the toenail off his left foot and in the game against Cameroon they did not break his ankle by chance. He never wanted to miss a game. He did not take his foot off the gas in any corner and in his life there were 90 degree curves all the time. He was a cute madman, but a madman nonetheless.
Here everyone mourned the death of Maradona, not Diego, who had been vulnerable and dragged by Maradona. I think in the end he wanted to leave. When his parents passed away, he may have wondered: ‘And now? With whom am I going to dance the chamamé? ‘
R. In general, the greats of today’s sport seem distant and perfect in their moderation. If Maradona had been perfectly wise, would that be irrelevant?
P. He exposed his miseries. And the miseries enriched the character. Without the miseries it would not be legendary. I think it was the first product of globalization. 2,500 years have passed and we keep talking about Plato and Aristotle. If we add current technology and media and project Diego, they will talk about him until the last sun of humanity. They used it as the tree that covers the mountain. They spoke more about Maradona’s vices than about 7% of infant mortality in Argentina. The system wants us stupider. In this part of the world there are no more poets, and if they exist they are covered. You have to be insensitive. You have to be brutal. Here everyone mourned the death of Maradona, not Diego, who had been vulnerable and dragged by Maradona. I think in the end he wanted to leave. When his parents, Tota and Don Diego, passed away, he would have asked himself: “And now? With whom am I going to dance the chamamé [danza folclórica del noroeste argentino]? ”. The relationship he had with his parents was fantastic. Don Diego practically did not speak: he managed with his eyes. And Diego permanently fixed his eyes on hers. Diego was tremendously charismatic: if he was happy, he made everyone happy, and if he was sad, he made you sad. They wanted to present him as someone Dionysian, which he was. But be careful: I saw him shed tears for seeing strangers suffer.
R. How would you define Maradona’s intelligence?
P. On Conference on Efficacy, François Julien examines the idea of effectiveness of archaic Greece, before the philosophers. He says that it is irrelevant whether or not Ulysses was psychologically intelligent, because his intelligence was strategic. He went into battle without planning anything and was always successful. He possessed the cunning, the dexterity that the Hellenists call ‘metis’. It is more linked to animal instinct than to reflection. They are inexplicable because they are unpredictable. We see it with Messi. Once I saw him receive a ball and orient the control in such a way, while threatening and changing support, that the two Frenchmen who were marking him collided with each other. How many times do these players do spontaneous things that solve problems that seem unsolvable? They are not athletes. They are animals, artists, who play soccer.
P. What is the root cause of Maradona’s addiction to cocaine?
R. There are people genetically predestined to addictions and some, in addition, are harmed by the environment. What caused Maradona the most damage was that because of his image they forced him to be an example. That produced a social declassification. Maradona, not Diego. Maradona needed to be perfect. Maradona needed the Ferrari, the mink coat, the $ 50,000 watches and all that frivolity. Unprepared to respond to social expectations, he needed a crutch to lean on. The crutch was cocaine. He couldn’t control her because she had a genetic predisposition to addiction. He wanted to disengage, but couldn’t. I remember him in Seville, during a training session, making gestures to me as if he were rowing and saying to me: “You don’t know how strong I’m doing!”
A journalist asked: “How is it possible that Maradona instead of going to Juventus came to Napoli?” Guanni Agnelli looked at them all and said: “Because we are not rich enough to have it.” He turned, turned, and added, “Not too poor to need it.”
P. In the book he tells that in Naples he invited him to take cocaine.
R. He was with his group of friends at his sister’s house and he made me call my house. And I think I had had coke because if it had been fresh I would not have considered it. But it took courage. And for me it was a very natural thing. He offered me and I said, “Oh, did you call me for that? !Ciao! ”. Years later, his psychologist told me after a meeting in which the three of us were: “You may have thought that the next day I would send you back to Buenos Aires. It was the other way around. If you said yes to him, he wouldn’t have needed you at all ”. I would not have come to the conclusion that I was the one setting the limit. I realized when Diego confessed to the psychologist that he was scared of me. Not a physical fear. But the fear that a paternal authority provoked in him.
P. To what extent is Maradona not comparable to the prehistoric tragic hero, someone who ritually sacrificed himself to keep the community going?
R. Sometimes the remote future will be the remote past! I remember that the hated Juventus went to play in Naples and the local journalists were emboldened by the also hated president Gianni Agnelli. The guy went to the press conference and, teasing him, a Neapolitan asked him: “How is it possible that Maradona instead of going to Juventus came to Napoli?” Agnelli looked at them all and said: “Because we are not rich enough to have it.” He turned, turned, and added, “Not too poor to need it.”
P. Did he know that glory led to his destruction?
R. Yes. He was aware. Poor Diego.
P. Probably none of the greatest players in history put more energy into helping their teammates raise their level on the field of play. Why?
R. Sartre used to say that we are what we do with what they made of us. Every time I can I go to Villa Fiorito to have some mates. If at two in the morning a woman shouts saying that the child is hungry, the lights come on and people come offering what little they have, because the little they have belongs to everyone. There is a sense of solidarity, of sharing, of caring for the other, because they know that it is the best way to alleviate all problems. That sense of community exists in the poorest neighborhoods. I live in Belgrano [barrio de clase media alta de Buenos Aires] and if I go out at night and cry out for help, I can die in peace because the people in these places have done it differently. In the villas there is a humanism, a tenderness, which is fascinating. Argentina is very similar to the United States in that sense: by the number of poets produced by the popular classes, which are the most sensitive.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.