The journalist who wrote this note was one of the authors of “I am the Diego of the People.” The book became a world reference on the true life of the best player in history. Here all the secrets of those days in Havana are laid bare
By Cherquis BialoOctober 30, 2020Special for Infobae Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
Maradona in Cuba with his autobiography in his hands (Photo: Reuters)
There were 38 hours of recording in 41 days of interviews that required two trips to Havana ; then another three months to transcribe , carry out the original writing and the required correction. Finally, half a year more for its industrial processing .
It was February 2000 and the José Martí airport was dominated by a quiet and stealthy darkness that expanded the clear hope of the first sun. We were anxious to see Diego who was recovering from the very serious health collapse suffered in Punta del Este on January 4, 2000, which led to his distressing hospitalization at the FLENI in Belgrano for 23 days.
Now Diego was in La Pradera , a rehabilitation center of justified prestige in which he would carry out the recovery stage. Something like a miracle of God because when he left Buenos Aires on a medical plane on January 22, he only had 38 percent of his heart healthy.
Those of us who were traveling to Cuba were three members of the founding Torneos y Competencias : Sebastián Rainelli –successful Hiring Manager at the time and head of ACTC Media and MD Producciones–, lawyer Javier Ordoñez –who would be in charge of drafting and legalizing the contract. – and I – at that time a member of the Hot Tribune program – honored by the proposal to write Diego's biography at the request of both parties .
On the flight I learned that the book on Maradona's life was – up to that point – an ambitious project since all that was tangible were cordial conversations and good intentions. The undertaking had been taken over by the TyC Entertaiment whose manager was Javier Schmidt and its director Diego Ávila, the eldest son of visionary Carlos Ávila
It was from them that the project entrusted to Sebastian Rainelli started, and at 10,000 meters high, he had no doubts that Diego's signature would be achieved once he discussed the conditions with Guillermo Coppola , a skillful and difficult negotiator under the sympathy of his profuse anecdote.
Arrival at the Meliá Cohíba hotel resembled an imagined arrival in the “promised land”. We were getting closer to Diego and still far from signing the contract. The direction of our trip depended on it. Moreover, at that point none of us had been interested in knowing the value of his fees. In particular I took it as a privilege of the profession , a blessing of life and I am sure that for them too.
I remember La Pradera back then as an extended, silent place, about half an hour away from the center of Havana with the hospital at the entrance and some fifty chalets along the property. Something similar to the layout of a country house but with the old fronts of aged paint and the gardens without the color of the cared flowers.
About 60 meters from the entrance, I told my friend taxi driver to come to the house where an Argentine flag was flying on the roof, because Diego would be unequivocally there . And that family scene when I find him again I will never forget it because in that light and austere space of an elemental living room with wicker armchairs, love flourished. Claudia, Dalma, Gianinna and the grandparents Doña Tota, Don Diego, Coco Villafañe – who are no longer here – and Loly , Claudia's mother, who today at 83 years old, is going through a difficult health situation.
Guillermo Coppola was staying in the adjoining house, about 30 meters away, easily communicated. I imagine how difficult it would have been for Rainelli –who later made 16 more trips to Cuba and organized Diego's farewell party in La Bombonera– and for Doctor Ordoñez –who made two more trips– to reach an agreement. I think I remember that between our arrival, the whole-day discussions, the signing of the contract and the subsequent legalization at the Argentine Consulate, ten or twelve days would have passed . During that time I was working because Diego was willing and I sensed that everything would have to reach a suitable agreement . And he also knew that if it hadn't been like that, he would have given him everything recorded.
One of Diego and Claudia's walks through La Pradera (Photo: Reuters)
This experience left me unforgettable moments:
– Claudia sitting on the floor with a laptop –a true revolution 20 years ago– answering all the thousands of messages that came to Diego from all over the world ; she referred them to Diego and then answered them one by one with deep love.
– The first day that the Cuban physiatrist Vladimir indicated that Diego could now go jogging –another miracle– we formed a group in which Vladimir, Claudia, Guillermo and I participated –obviously–. We did 6 kilometers around the venue in about 40 minutes and Diego was not shaken, incredible after all he had suffered .
– At the gate of La Pradera there were two vehicles parked: a Skoda ambulance and one of the two black Mercedes Benz limousines that were passing through Cuba – the other was Fidel's – at Diego's disposal. The driver's name was Alfred and they called him Guaro. The nurse (Marita) stayed from 9 in the morning to 9 at night, had a doctor on duty exclusively for 24 hours, a kinesiologist, a physiatrist, a masseur, a cook, two waiters who studied medicine and two maids . It's not all: they fitted out a soccer-tennis court near the entrance and they set up another to play a 6 against 6 towards the back , about 70 meters away. They also placed a satellite dish so that he could see everything that happened anywhere in the world and two televisions: a 21-inch Samsung and another exclusive Sony to watch Argentine channels. It was in such a way that the family of Alfredo Tedeschi, an Argentine cameraman who worked for Reuters , felt a certain relief when all this was ready because his house – which had these facilities as a foreign correspondent – was permanently invaded by Diego and his friends . I think that the last time his home was “taken” –also to use the pool and eat barbecues– it was during the qualifying game that the Argentine team beat Chile 4-2 at the Monumental on March 29, that year 2000.
– It was on the first of the trips –then there will be no choice but to mix them up so that the narrative avoids the chronology and highlights the essential– that I saw the most tender scene of all how many I remember: it was during a bocce game with her father . The Maradonas were walking to the field, Don Chitoro (the father) chose the striped ones and they played like naive and fresh children until the wide and whole smile of filial love . Then Diego returned to the house taking his father by the shoulder and as they walked they looked into each other's eyes as if saying everything they wanted to say to each other but without saying a word. This was Don Diego, a gentle and silent sage, capable of transmitting his love with his eyes and smile.
It wasn't every day that I was able to record Diego . I was firmly in La Pradera at 9 o'clock and there I remained talking with Guillermo or with some visitors who managed to enter while others who stayed waiting for hours, whole days. There was an initial stage that was while Claudia and the family were there and another when they returned to Buenos Aires at the end of February for the beginning of the girls' classes. As Diego's health improved, it became more difficult for me to methodize the scheduled work. Of those days in which everyone had to weigh themselves before dinner and write down their weight on a large piece of cardboard to encourage Diego to do the same as a team, and without Claudia in Havana there was little left. From the voluminous salads as a starter, a chicken fillet or a small 180 gram steak, Diego went into a state of disdain . It ever happened from not having seen him for more than a day. And then I asked Guillermo, who also suffered from it with subordinate silence:
– Guille, why don't you go upstairs and knock on the door? Don't they need something? Isn't it broken?
– Nobody knows the 10 more than me … Rest assured that they are well, when he feels like it, he will come down, he answered me.
– But Guille is the second day that he does not come down, that he is locked in the room …, I insisted.
– When it does not appear it is because it is well, very well …
In those days of absence, dozens of people came from anywhere in the world to see Maradona. These could be businessmen, tourists, artists, bargains, fake influencers or former glorious players, some world champion included. There was no case: they had to wait and often leave La Pradera with tremendous frustration . On the other hand, Diego never stopped taking photos, autographs, giving him words of encouragement and talking with those who were recovering from different neurological injuries. I remember several cases. One was a boy from a small town in Santa Fe who helped to place the lights on a soccer field in his town and there was an electric shock that sent him to the ground from 25 meters . And there were more cases of patients – Argentine or not – arriving in their wheelchairs, hemiplegics or paraplegics with Canadian crutches or canes … Brought by one of their suffering parents; those Diego did not fail them .
During February 2000, Diego watching Argentina-England at his friend's house (Photo: Reuters)
One case that I remember –not the only one involving celebrities– was a call from Eric Clapton , the famous –and current– English guitarist of the 60s. Guillermo received his call – like all calls for Diego – and treated him with great respect and admiration. Clapton of The Yardbirds and Cream, who played with The Beatles and other notable bands, wanted to offer Diego a stay on his Caribbean island as the notable artist owns an island where he said he recovered from his drug addiction and he could help Diego do the same. One serene night, starry and crossed by a caressing breeze, Coppola told him: “You know that Eric Clapton has an island where he healed himself and he invites you …” . Diego's response was not elliptical: “Let the island get into the o …” .
Despite the interruptions, the ten days of feverish efforts by Rainelli and Ordoñez, the expected and unexpected visits, we finished filming with the help of Guillermo, who knows a large part of Diego's life in detail . It would be said from the negotiation to sign for Boca in 81 ′ – in which he represented the players involved – to the consecration in Napoli , then a brief parenthesis that included his time at Sevilla (1992), by Newell's (1993) in which its representative was Marcos Franchi. After the renganche in the second stage in Boca , Coppola knew more about Diego than Diego himself and that contribution also remained in the testimony . The surprising thing about Diego is his memory: I couldn't believe he remembered team formations that he played in games that were still irrelevant . Or of plays, of its participants, the minutes of the game, the referee's performance, the surrounding events … Furthermore, we have shared soccer, NBA, boxing matches in front of the television and their knowledge is surprising and very successful their opinions expressed prior to the incidents . A prodigy.
Fortunately, the project on the book would have to be further optimized because in March 2000 and at the opportune indication of Diego, Daniel Arcucci joined . For me this meant enormous satisfaction and great tranquility because no one knew, knows and will know Diego more than my former disciple and colleague Arcucci. All the originals passed through his meticulous filter and this guaranteed the accuracy of the bible because before Google existed, Daniel carried every milestone about Diego's life with the punctuality of a sacred scripture. By the way, those originals had to be signed sheet by sheet by Diego and on his first trip to Havana, Arcucci dedicated himself to making this happen by joining the rest of the delegation. Once everything was approved, Editorial Planeta began the industrial process that ended in September 2000.
The launch was at noon on September 28, 2000 in the Pacifico room of the recently inaugurated Hilton Hotel in Puerto Madero. 635 journalists had been accredited, including those from our country, foreign correspondents and special envoys who arrived from all over the world. That adding to the selected guests exceeded 1000 people .
To avoid difficulties, the organizers planned for Diego to sleep the night before at the hotel. However, around 10.30 no one had seen him . After 11 there was no news about Diego. Worry was close to anguish. Smiling Coppola asked for calm : “The 10 is like that, they will see that at 12 it is here as one man …” , he said before the incipient despair of those responsible.
It was thus that, aware of the problem, one of the special guests dressed in a black suit, white shirt, red tie and a fine Italian silk scarf in the upper pocket of his jacket, approached and asked: “What room are you in…? “ . ” In 1016 “ , they replied. The elegant guest going to the elevator took a risk by stating: ” Leave it in my hands … “ Only 35 minutes left and no one had dared to call him or had seen him.
However, two minutes before 12 o'clock, impeccably dressed in black with a white shirt with a stiff white collar, shaved, neatly combed and smiling, Diego Maradona appeared on the stage of the room and the applause stunned the large space . The willful manager looked at the organizers with lively eyes and, clasping his hands, offered them a friendly and cordial signal from a distance. It was about former president Carlos Saúl Menem …
Maradona, Cherquis Bialo and Arcucci's presentation of the biography
The title of the book, among many proposals, was defined by Maradona himself: “I am the Diego of the People . “ Thus, it was translated into 88 languages and sold in 102 countries, becoming an inevitable source of permanent consultation.
This earthly and imperfect God multiplied in many men has always been the victim of an impious punishment, that of unhappiness.
He will evoke today when he turns 60 with the friendly faces and hands that are not there, the useless breakups, the vain fights, the broken affections and he will feel that millions of voices will sing a song of devotion that will not compensate for his pain . He will not go to the court, he will not have players around him and there will be no family at his table.
Nothing more unfair.
The different translations of Maradona's biography