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TV Wrap - Amazon's stunning new football docuseries an antidote to Premier League nonsense

The streaming service has — in partnership with Starbucks — released a new six-part series of films called This is Football.

THE PREMIER LEAGUE’S berserk discourse returns this week, where it will again remind us that the truest version of that Danny Blanchflower quote would read that “the great fallacy is that the game is first and last about glory. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about banter.”

It will all crank up again this weekend, this exhausting noise, in which the Extremely Online use games decided by luck and quotes without context as ammunition in this endless battle for one-upmanship between hedge funds and repressive, medieval regimes.

Happily, there are ways of disengaging from all of this without avoiding football entirely, and the latest comes courtesy of Amazon Prime.

Source: Amazon Prime Video/YouTube

They’ve released a new six-part documentary series title This is Football, which borrows a title from the only video game series wise enough to stick John O’Shea on the front cover.

It’s not entirely free of the invisible hand of the corporation given it’s produced – at considerable expense – by Starbucks.

Each hour-long film is arranged around one of football’s universal themes: Redemption, Belief, Chance, Pride, Love, and Wonder.

The latter of those focuses on Lionel Messi, tracking him during a 2017 Clasico and assembling a series of talking heads to soothe awed reverence around him.

They’ve bagged a few big names – Pep Guardiola whispers sweet nothings at a laptop screen of Messi’s deeds, while Argentina president Mauricio Macri tells the world he can’t even dream of matching Messi’s popularity.

It’s occasionally over-wrought – one Barcelona coach watches a half-arsed warm-up at training and tells us that Messi is currently merely “painting a sketch” – and some of its contributors occasionally befuddle. A mathematician tells us that while some players can see the pitch in four dimensions, Messi can see it in, um, 48 of them.

What the film does well is remember that Messi is playing within the context of a team. George Best and Zinedine Zidane have been subjects of films before, in which they’ve been tracked by cameras at close range for entire matches in an avant-garde artistic movement Sky Sports later called Player Cam and deemed worthy of Robbie Savage.

The Best and Zidane movies are exceptionally boring and not worth watching, given they largely consist of a man moving about in relation to things you can’t see.

This film on Messi, however, doesn’t ignore what’s going on around him, mainly because Messi is primarily a winner, rather than an artist. He shares with Cristiano Ronaldo a ruthless, spartan streak of absurd efficiency.

The film’s best moments are of Barcelona’s Head of Methodology, Paco Seirulo, telling (admittedly pretty bored-looking) kids at the club’s academy what they should learn from Messi.

“He participates the least in every game”, he says, citing the fact Messi runs less than anyone else on the field.  “Don’t worry about being small, worry instead about being efficient.”

Seirulo says everything Messi does is for the team, which he does entirely for the purpose of winning. 

The granular detail Seirulo offers is great, pointing out that Messi’s genius stems from keeping his feet close to the ground. Literally.

Seirulo says that when you run, at some point in every stride both feet will be off the ground, and it is at that point you’ll be unable to change direction. When Messi runs, his feet don’t spend as long in the air as others, and can thus change direction more often.

To prove the point, he shows a clip of Messi’s goal in the Clasico. 



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Source: LaLiga Santander/YouTube

Taking the ball from Suarez at the edge of the box, Messi drifts inside and waits for Madrid’s Casemiro to come toward him. He then shifts the ball to his left, jinks slightly further, and fires the ball into the bottom corner.

Seirulo counts it out – Messi’s feet touched the ground thrice in the time it took Casemiro to take a single step.

“This is the principle of absolute relativity”, says Seirulo. “It’s Einstein.”

The series most powerful film, however, is the first – Redemption.

It follows the ‘Rwandan Reds’, a Liverpool supporter’s group, and tells of how football played a role in uniting the country after the 1994 genocide, in which those identfying with the Huto tribe massacred more than a million of the minority Tutsi in wanton slaughter following the death of president Juvénal Habyarimana. 

The supporter’s group are clad in replica jersies, sing the songs that roll from the Kop and make a point of never discussing the fact the group include those from both sides of the divide. Instead they come together through a mutual love for Liverpool and exasperation for Loris Karius.

The singular successes of Liverpool – and the elastic parable of Istanbul – offers the Rwandan Reds their own prisms through which to hope for the progress of their own societies.

One of the group is Joe, who remarks on Rwanda’s natural beauty by using a local saying that “this is where God chooses to sleep”, only to say that the genocide told the population that God “has left Rwanda.”

Later, when remembering Steven Gerrard’s first goal in the Champions League final comeback, he says that if Liverpool can score three times in one half against AC Milan, “maybe God is here after all.”

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - AC Milan v Liverpool - Ataturk Olympic Stadium Steven Gerrard after the 2005 Champions League final. Source: EMPICS Sport

Joe inherited his love of Liverpool from his father, who was butchered and thrown into a river amid the killing. He later came face-to-face with his father’s murderer at trial, where, incredibly, he forgave him having only wanted to learn the truth of what happened.

Such was the scale of the murder, Rwandan prisons couldn’t cope with the numbers of inmates jailed following trials, and thus many were released and asked to join a society of those they left orphaned, bereft and bereaved.

One of the vehicles the government used to help integration was football, and organised matches including both sides.

While these benefits of playing football are somewhat obvious and no less remarkable, this film accentuates something slightly further than the “taking part is what matters.”

The competitive element of these games, as it turns out, was critical in their success.

“You don’t refuse to pass the ball to someone because someone comes from a certain place”, says a player involved. “You are going to pass the ball because you want to win.” 

While the game’s competitive element in the Premier League has been twisted and gnarled by many into something utterly toxic and dull, these films show that will to win can both raise the game’s artistry and better highlight its fundamental importance. 

It’s worth keeping in mind over the next ten months.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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