Robin Scott-Elliot: Maradona and Becks: both golden, but only one's a god

View from the Sofa: Maradona by Kusturica, More4/Friday night with Jonathan Ross, BBC 1
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The Independent Culture

If the World Cup taught us anything it is that England have a lot of ground to make up when it comes to nicknames. To the rest of the world, the sporting moniker – or "your Ali" as it is know in cockney-rhyming slang, in tribute to the most borrowed author from the player's library at Upton Park – is all about flair and excitement. A South American winger will be the Cheetah with the Dancing Feet, whereas England have Stevie G.

As David Beckham has realised, it is no good just attaching a "y" to part of your name, not least because he would have ended up as Becky. He may not have come up with Golden Balls but he can't object to it. It makes a statement. It makes El Apache think twice before trying to nutmeg him.

Beckham is not the only one with gold in his name – there's David Gold for a start – but when it comes to footballers there is a significant other. El Pibe de Oro, the Golden Boy (it sounds so much better in Spanish), is Diego Maradona.

Maradona by Kusturica, the award-winning Serbian director, was a two-hour shambolic ramble around the chaotic life of a man who is, as the film went to great lengths to illustrate, a god in Argentina. It was engrossing. So, in a different way, was Beckham on Jonathan Ross's farewell show. He was immaculately turned out, polite and appropriately bashful, with a few sweet smiles and a bit of playful joshing with Rossy thrown in.

"I could have been much more than I am," Maradona informed Kusturica as he pondered the cocaine addiction that came close to killing him. Beckham, you suspect, has made absolutely everything of what he is, on and off the pitch.

Beckham's children, he told Ross, go to bed at 7.15, 7.45 and 9pm. Dalma, one of Maradona's daughters, would shy away from her father when he tried to hug her. The contrasts between the two are obvious, yet they both live their lives in a goldfish bowl (with Beckham surrounded by a few more pilot fish). One is adored, the other carefully presented.

When Argentina returned from South Africa after an equally horrid hammering from the Germans, thousands turned out to cheer them home. Because of Maradona. In the film, wherever he went it was pandemonium. Swirling crowds with inflamed passions, handfuls of frantic cameramen and, somewhere in the middle, this small, squat, incredibly proud man.

He went back to Napoli and was mobbed. He went to Mar del Plata for a huge anti-US/George Bush rally (don't ask, it was a confusing two hours as well) and was again the focus of attention. To the supporters of his clubs – Boca and Napoli are teams from the wrong side of the tracks, while Barcelona have an anti-establishment background – he is forever a hero, a divine figure and, yet, still one of them. At one point, Maradona was on a train and a man pushed his dog against the window so the lucky animal might get a glimpse.

Beckham says he has obsessive compulsive disorder. Part of that, he explained to Ross, saw him sitting alone in a hotel room in Milan desperately trying to finish a Lego model of the Taj Mahal. Maradona spoke of the loneliness of his time as a footballer, but passing the hours with Lego was not his way of getting through it. "Actors," he said, "are given a text and they read it. I don't read it. I live it. I live my life."