Sports define us, or so we think until the pandemic comes along and the raging machine of professional sports grinds to a halt. Then it all seems much less relevant.
And yet we pine for it. As a distraction and as a signal that the world will return to normal. Colleague Elizabeth Renzetti, writing from Germany, recently reported this: “The Bavarian state leader, Markus Soeder, was probably speaking for many Germans when he said: ‘A weekend with football is much more bearable than a weekend without football.' "
Football, or soccer, or whatever you want to call it, is the world’s game. Thus there is a cornucopia of material related to soccer available on streaming services. Herewith, a list of documentaries and dramas from all over, to slake your soccer thirst.
Antoine Griezmann: The Making of a Legend (Netflix) has, like many profiles of significant players, a lot of hagiography. Its strength, though, is that Griezmann, a star of Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and the France national team, is at his peak now. There’s footage from his youth, from key games in Spain and at international tournaments, and access to the player, his family and France manager Didier Deschamps. Essentially it’s the story of a kid rejected by every team in France, for being too short and delicate. Then he thrived in Spain and won a World Cup. In French with English subtitles.
Becoming Champions (Netflix) is a series with serious intent. It looks at the eight countries that have won a World Cup and asks, why? The first episode, which covers Uruguay (World Cup Champions in 1930 and 1950) probes how this tiny country became a soccer powerhouse. Historians and sociologists are on-hand, former players talk eloquently and it has insight from Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay’s head coach since 2006 and one of the most shrewd managers in history. Multiple languages with English subtitles.
The Perfect Day (Netflix) is a lovely, ambitious attempt to recreate the day in 1998 when France won the World Cup in Paris. It slowly builds the day from countless perspectives, including a woman giving birth, to shopkeepers, sports reporters and fanatical fans. A leisurely watch, really more about France and the role of soccer in the culture, than about the winning team. French with English subtitles.
Goals for Girls (Amazon Prime Video) documents the fraught journey of Jordan’s under-17 women’s soccer team to the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup in 2016. The players and their families are refreshingly frank about the limitations placed on the players by Jordan’s culture. At times funny, as players argue with their parents. As an underdog sports narrative, it’s bracingly honest. In Arabic with English subtitles.
Make Us Dream (Amazon Prime Video) is a far most substantial and meditative work than many soccer stories. It’s about Steve Gerrard, the Liverpool and England legend. He says at the start, “Football is not about turning up and playing. It’s about everything that comes with it.” Made when he’d left Liverpool for Los Angeles, it’s a rich portrait of a man weary of the burdens that came with being a Liverpool icon. It’s about the culture of Liverpool the city and soccer club.
Matthews (Amazon Prime Video) has a touch of hagiography as it examines the life and career of another England legend, Sir Stanley Matthews. His career and reputation for enormous skill were built at Stoke in the 1930s. The documentary covers his playing days in England but is framed by his extraordinary work nurturing the game in Africa, in particular his work in Soweto, in Apartheid-era South Africa. Good punditry comes from soccer scholar David Goldblatt, former player Gary Lineker and others. English language throughout.
River, el mas grande siempre (Netflix) is visually startling and lively. About River Plate, one of two great clubs of Buenos Aires (the other is Boca Juniors, who merit their own Netflix special in Boca Juniors Confidential), it looks at the club’s long history from local community team to bedrock of an entire area of the city. The scenes from famous games are stunningly colourful and you haven’t seen sports fanaticism until you’ve seen the cauldron in which River and Boca play. Spanish with English subtitles.
Sunderland ‘til I Die (Netflix) is now in its second season. The first chronicles Sunderland F.C.’s fall from top status to the lower leagues. It was meant to be the story of a comeback. Instead, Sunderland went even lower. Now, in a series that has amazing access to players and officials, disappointment gives way to farce and bitterness. A vital, revealing look at a top sports cub brought to its knees.
There’s more to add to this list. For now, take note of 21 Thunder, the good melodrama set at a Montreal soccer team that ran for two seasons on CBC. And Apache: the Life of Carlo Tevez. It’s a solid, soapy drama series based on the strange and mercurial Tevez, the Argentine legend who has played and feuded all over the world.
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