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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 09:55 GMT 10:55 UK
Five days with Diego
Jason Bernard
By Jason Bernard
Director, When Lineker Met Maradona

Gary Lineker and Diego Maradona
BBC One: 2 May 2006, 2235 GMT
Nine years ago, Gary Lineker travelled to Argentina to interview Diego Maradona for a BBC documentary. But the Argentine legend did not turn up.

A lot has happened to Maradona since then. He struggled with cocaine addiction, his weight ballooned and he almost died from two heart attacks, before undergoing something of a transformation.

Now the 45-year-old hosts the most popular show on Argentine television, is lithe after a stomach-stapling operation and says he has been clean for two years.

So we decided to go to Argentina again and try to meet the man many believe to be the greatest footballer of all time. Here is the story of the programme we made...


I land in Buenos Aires at 0930 with our fixer. After going to our hotel, we visit Maradona's ex-wife Claudia, who is now his manager.

She lives just round the corner from Diego with their two daughters. Her flat is luxurious and the walls are covered with pictures of the two of them together.

Her biggest initial concern is whether we have brought along a handbag catalogue for her from London, as promised.

We also meet their eldest daughter, Dalma, who speaks excellent English and is the star of a popular Argentine soap opera.


My first meeting with Maradona. He is having dinner with Matías Almeyda, Junior Baino and Careca ahead of a big Masters five-a-side match between Brazil and Argentina tomorrow.

I am a little nervous about meeting such an icon, but Maradona puts me at ease. In broken English, he invites us to a barbeque at his house at midday on Sunday and says "my house is your house".

Gary later flies into Buenos Aires with the BBC's head of football, Niall Sloane.


Shooting the interview - I'm bottom left watching what's being filmed
We interview the producer of Maradona's chatshow, "La Noche del 10" (The Night of the Number 10). Eduardo Fernandez tells us it's a pleasure to work with Maradona as he treats everyone, from the editor to the runners, as friends.

He's also very hands-on and is personally involved with booking the guests... which probably explains why the likes of Pele, Fidel Castro and Robbie Williams have all appeared on the show.

The mix of Maradona, quirkiness and top guests has made La Noche the most watched show on Argentine television.


The five-a-side between former stars from Argentina and Brazil is not like the Masters matches we get in England. The game is on prime-time television and 6,000 people cram into the tight Buenos Aires stadium to watch.

Maradona has arranged free tickets for the Boca Juniors ultras and they arrive in busloads. The atmosphere is amazing and the Argentina fans are all singing Maradona's name.

Cuban president Fidel Castro is interviewed by Maradona
Cuban president Fidel Castro was interviewed by Maradona
Gary goes to the Argentina changing room before the game to meet Maradona. It will be the first time they have come face-to-face since a Centenary game at Wembley in 1987 and, unsurprisingly, Gary is apprehensive.

But there is no awkwardness at all - they hug straight away and Maradona says, "Nice to meet you old friend."

When they shake hands, Gary jokes, "was that the hand?" referring to Maradona's infamous "hand of God" goal in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final between England and Argentina.

Maradona immediately replies, "no - it was the left".

He captains Argentina and scores two goals. He shows hints of his old skills, but is obviously a lot slower than he used to be. Almeyda grabs an equaliser for Argentina in the final minute to make it 7-7.

The referee signals for extra time but Maradona decides the game will end there. He is awarded man of the match, which I'm not sure was altogether justified!

What happens after the match proves that the diminutive midfielder is absolutely idolised in his homeland. He does a 30-minute lap of honour, signing autographs, posing for pictures and shaking hands, and people hold their children over the barriers for him to touch.


As arranged, we arrive at Maradona's parents' house, where he lives, at midday. But when we knock on the door there is no answer.

We try for another five minutes and eventually someone appears. He says he is Maradona's friend and explains that the great man has not yet returned home from last night's five-a-side.

What's more, he doesn't think he will be around for another two or three hours.

So we go to a nearby café and watch Liverpool v Arsenal before returning at 2pm. This time a small woman in her late 70s answers the door and invites us in.

She is Maradona's mother, and her house is a shrine to her son. There are massive portraits of him everywhere.

Dinner with the Maradona family - he was a candid interviewee
We find Maradona out in the yard cooking meat on the barbeque with his father.

Gary conducts a long sit-down interview with him for the documentary and Maradona talks candidly about his cocaine addiction, the quarter-final against England and the hand of God (he had already scored similar goals for Boca and says this is craftiness, not cheating), politics, drugs, his two heart attacks and his stomach-stapling operation.

In the evening we drive to Boca's Bombonera stadium for their game against Quilmes. As soon as Maradona gets out of the car, fans surround him, singing songs and reaching out to touch him.

Flanked by security, he struggles through the crowd to his own personal box.

Maradona shows the full gamut of emotions during the game - swearing at the referee; celebrating every goal by hugging Gary; throwing himself down on the ground and holding his head in his hands - as Boca win 3-1 to go top of the league.

The two new friends part with a hug and the promise to meet at next summer's World Cup.


We fly home after an amazing five days with one of the world's most famous figures. We have certainly learnt a lot about him - about his God-like status in Argentina, his love of his family, his continuing passion for football and the way he has pulled his life together.

When Gary met Diego
29 Mar 06 |  Photo Galleries


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