Amongst many other themes, the Netflix series Maradona in Mexico is about coaching and the power of belief. British Director Angus Macqueen follows Diego Maradona, the players and the staff of Dorados de Sinoloa, a second division club that hopes to be promoted to LigaMX in its 2018-2019 season.
Preceded by its series Sunderland Til I Die, Netflix may have thought the result would be another seductive train wreck. It was unfathomable to the football world that Maradona, with his history of cocaine abuse, was going to coach in the heartland of the infamous El Chapo and the Sinoloa drug cartel. Surely Maradona’s coaching stint could only flounder badly?
Maradona’s Saving Grace
It turns out that Maradona En Sinaloa (the Spanish title) may be the only series or film that is his saving grace. Unlike all the other productions I’ve reviewed about Maradona, the series is not a tale of excess, hubris, drug abuse, and womanizing. Instead, we see a lighthearted man who would be quite jolly all the time, if it were not for his deteriorating 58 year old body and bad referees.
Maradona radiates joy for the game and gratitude for what fùtbol has given him. While he says he is there to help Dorados achieve promotion, it feels like his real mission is to inculcate this essence into his players. Work hard, give your best, and the wins will come. And so they do.
How Maradona achieves this miracle is pretty unclear. Can mutual belief between a coach and his players bring such a leading edge? You’d have to believe it, after watching Diego Maradona do it twice in one year.
In the second division Ascenso MX, there are 2 tournaments: Apertura is the Opening tournament that starts in the summer, and Clausura is the Closing tournament that starts in the winter. The top 8 teams qualify for the single-elimination liguilla or play-off. The winners of each tournament then play for promotion, which only goes to one team. (see errata #1 below)
In both tournaments, the Dorados start the season from rock bottom but make it to the finals. Although it is not quite clear from the story, when Maradona and his assistant/former teammate Luis Islas first take over, Dorados have already played 6 games, with 3 losses and 3 ties, for a total of 3 points. They move from last place among 15 teams to 7th place in just 8 games.
In the winter tournament, the team suffers because Maradona has gone back to Argentina for surgery and it is unknown if he will return. Once their talisman returns, they climb back up the ladder.
The footage is very well-crafted, weaving in the reactions of Maradona, club president Antonio Nunez, fans, media, and announcers with goals, saves, and fouls. Every good win has a rousing Diego dance in the locker room, and every loss has a large dose of sorrow. The passion for the game is everywhere.
The series has many interviews of the players to give you a sense of what it is about Maradona that so inspires them. It turns out that Rubio Rabin, who now plays for Real Salt Lake and scored the 2021 MLS Goal of the Year, was on this team. See Brian Straus’ Dec-2020 article for Sports Illustrated on Rabin’s experience with D10S.
The making of the series
I am very curious about the origin of this series. From what I researched, I discovered that
- Maradona’s appointment was announced on Sep-6-2018
- He arrived at Dorados on Sat Sep-8-2018
- His first press conference was on Mon Sep-10-2018
- His first league game vs Tapachula was on Sep-15-2018
- He was rumored to being paid $150,000 per month, funded at least in part by Netflix
Director Angus Macqueen had already created 6-7 films on illegal drugs, including a film on El Chapo — Drug Lord: The Legend of Shorty (2014). It appears that filming started very quickly, perhaps even before Maradona’s arrival. I am curious if Maradona’s appointment was originated by the Netflix deal, and if Dorados was chosen for the possible storyline. I hope someone will fill me in some day. 😊
Regardless of where this series came from, Diego Armando Maradona is lucky he had the chance to leave a legacy that celebrates the light and goodness he had inside. Apparently there were a few young players on the team who didn’t know who he was. This production might be the best way to know and remember him — as someone who you would be glad to have as a coach.
I’m glad this film did not turn out to be narco-futbol.
- On Apr-16-2020, the Ascenso MX league folded due to the pandemic. It was replaced by the Liga de Expansion MX. No club will be promoted or relegated for 5 years.
- The flashy opening credit graphics were created by Allison Brownmoore of Past Curfew
- I don’t usually notice the music, but pay attention to the sounds of Javier Weyler
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8