The football documentaries that hit the back of the net

With the Premier League returning this weekend and UEFA announcing that we will see the Champions League finished, let’s take a look at the best football documentaries.

Diego Maradona (2019)

Asif Kapadia specialises in documentaries surrounding superstars and the world around them, with 2015’s Amy detailing the life and times of Amy Winehouse in heart-breaking, yet mesmerising detail.

Diego Maradona is the British director’s latest effort, and he truly captures the aura and mystique surrounding El Diego.

The main narrative thrust of the documentary follows the mercurial Argentine’s years at the Italian club Napoli, exploring just how much Diego transformed Naples from a city that was looked down on by the rest of Italian society, to one of the most celebrated.

The vast majority of the film’s footage was captured in the 1980s by a camera crew that followed Maradona around, and seeing one of sports greatest icons in intimate settings such as dinner with family and friends, or doing endless laps around the running track really lets the viewer get into Maradona’s head, which makes his fall and decline that much more impactful.

It’s an engrossing, vivid watch, and is a high watermark for documentaries as an artform.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006)

There has never been a player quite like Zinedine Zidane before or since. He was capable of changing a game in an instant, could have the crowd in the stadium and at home on their fee. Even when off-the-ball, he possessed the mystique of a swan.

This 2006 documentary follows the impulsive Frenchman in a 2005 game, where his Real Madrid team took on Villareal. The camera follows him for 90 minutes, tracking his every move.

It’s an exquisite bit of filmmaking, with Uncut Gems and Se7en cinematographer Darius Khondji helping bring the majesty of Zidane to life.

The concept of tracking a player for one match isn’t anything new – the practice dates back to the 1970s – but it just so happens the subject of this film is the player who made so many of us fall in love with the sport to begin with.

Having more in common with a modern art piece than a typical football documentary, Zidane is a treat of a film for football fans, young and old.

Les Bleus une autre histoire de France (2016)

Keeping on the topic of moody French footballers, this fascinating documentary is a must-watch for those who like a bit of sociology or politics mixed in with their football.

The main concept of the film surrounds how French football evolved in tandem with French society from 1996 to 2016, taking in such lofty highs as the 1998 World Cup triumph, to the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks.

Footballers, comedians and politicians are interviewed and give different views about what makes the French football team so indicative of contemporary French society.

An ill-tempered friendly against Algeria in October 2001 is highlighted as an example of France still not coming to terms with its colonial past, while the 2005 French riots are used as a chance by national team members to address equality issues in France.

It’s a riveting watch, and the perfect answer to someone who claims “football isn’t supposed to be politicised.”

Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job (1994)

Fly-on-the-wall documentaries are inherently fascinating, as the likes of Undercover Boss prove, but never has the fly-on-the-wall approach worked better than An Impossible Job.

Following England manager Graham Taylor as England try in vain to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, it’s a fascinating, and blackly comic, look at a man whose job security is evaporating in front of his eyes and the millions watching at home.

England’s World Cup qualification hopes go up in smoke after a controversial 2-0 loss to the Netherlands in Rotterdam, and Graham Taylor is seen saying to a linesman “let him (the referee) know he just cost me my job. Thank him very much for that.”

If you think managing a football team is just as easy as showing up and letting the players off, An Impossible Job gives you a clearer perspective about how tough and draining it truly is.

The Game Of Their Lives (2002)

North Korea’s run at the 2010 World Cup was a respectable showing for the hermit nation, running Brazil fairly close before losing 2-1, being trashed 7-0 by Portugal, and losing 3-0 to Ivory Coast in a dead rubber match.

Their 1966 run however, is the stuff of World Cup legend, taking out the mighty Italy and racing into a 3-0 lead against a Eusebio-lead Portugal, before losing 5-3.

This 2002 documentary details how exactly the North Koreans pulled off their miracle run at the 1966 World Cup, and reveals that none other than Kim Il-Sung was ringing through instructions to the team at half-time.

A gripping look at how the underdog copes on the biggest stage, The Game Of Their Lives is well worth a watch if you’re after a blend of Cold War era politics and football.

Honourable mentions: The Two Escobars (this whole list could have just been ESPN!), Next Goal Wins (following American Samoa trying to qualify for the 2014 World Cup) and Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos (detailing the 70s’ team that boasted the likes of Pele and Beckenbauer in their team).

Image Credit via Wikimedia Commons.

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Mike Finnerty

Galwayman studying Journalism in UL.
Film school dropout, perhaps the only person in Ireland who still gets excited for DVD releases.

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