There’s no certainty as to when fans can expect soccer to return in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s crucial to pass the time in a productive manner.
Documentaries are educational by definition, so even those of the soccer variety cannot be parceled off as a waste of one’s time during the sports suspension.
Some will make you laugh, others will make you cry, but every entry on the list has lessons worth learning about The Beautiful Game.
10. Kicking It
Soccer documentaries have a habit of tracking the best and brightest, those who are established even with the casual viewer, but Kicking It is an eye-opening journey into the unknown.
Actor Colin Farrell narrates a diary of the 2006 Homeless World Cup, which steps away from the usual glitz associated with soccer and examines those who are more literally playing for their lives.
Many a lump is sure to build in the viewer’s throat before the 98-minute run time is over, with the focus on several key characters honing in on the issues these men face and their reasons for playing in the first place.
Kicking It is free to watch via Snag Films.
9. Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies
Sitting on its own pedestal in the hall of soccer rivalry documentaries, Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies is a must-watch inspection of arguably the most famous head-to-head in the sport.
It’s not uncommon for team-mates to not get along, but Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira shared a special “on-sight” approach as nemeses, told in explicit detail by the ex-midfielders.
Premier League fans will remember the iconic tunnel clash at Highbury in 2005, but the Manchester United and Arsenal legends shared a dislike for one another that repeatedly played out on the pitch.
Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies is available on YouTube.
Reading the premise for 2013’s Trainer!, one would hardly think a film that follows three second and third-tier German coaches for a campaign could be so captivating—but it is. It really is.
Director and producer Aljoscha Pause weaves a narrative rotating between the fortunes of Andre Schubert, Stephan Schmidt, Frank Schmidt, who were all 30-something coaches in the 2012-13 campaign when filming took place.
Trainer! does terrifically to combine information on the nuances of coaching with the drama of what occurs on the field, interspersed with interviews from more renowned German soccer figures. Those include now-Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, who was still at Borussia Dortmund at the time and had just won his second straight Bundesliga title.
This two-hour-long deep dive into the world of German coaching is available on Netflix in certain countries.
7. Sunderland ’Til I Die
Sunderland unknowingly fell on their sword in 2018, producing a fly-on-the-wall series that served as a warning for other teams in similar positions to perhaps not follow their lead.
Even the documentary name, Sunderland ’Til I Die, seems like tempting fate in hindsight, and what was supposed to be a tale of the phoenix rising from the ashes instead became an agonising experiment in self-mutilation.
The Black Cats were relegated from the Premier League in 2017 when filming began, and the show follows a team in free-fall as Sunderland are demoted once again to League One.
Sunderland ’Til I Die is a success, however, in that it also shows the heartwarming unity of a city rallying behind its team, albeit with numerous notable moments of delirium along the way.
The first season is available on Netflix, with the second season only released on April 1.
6. Take the Ball, Pass the Ball
A Real Madrid fan’s worst nightmare, Take the Ball, Pass the Ball dissects Barcelona’s unprecedented success during the years of Pep Guardiola’s reign at the Camp Nou.
Even the most learned of football students will be able to glean knowledge from this masterpiece in analysis, whether it be from the catalogue of highlight-reel moments or the relentless list of top-level talents interviewed.
Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are just a few members of the famous Barcelona side—one that won 14 trophies between 2008 and 2012—who share candid experiences of that team, along with Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Dani Alves—and of course Guardiola.
4. Cruyff: The Last Match
Barcelona’s acquisition of Johan Cruyff in 1973 would come to have a dramatic impact on the future of European soccer, more so than anyone would have predicted at the time.
Cruyff: The Last Match lifts the hood and examines just what made the Dutchman such a pioneer throughout his career, as a player, coach, advisor and trend-setter.
The documentary—released in Catalan as L'últim partit. 40 anys de Johan Cruyff a Catalunya—focuses largely on his five years as a player with the Blaugrana and how they impacted Barcelona as a club and a city.
It features extensive interviews from figures who were important during his time at the club, as well as family members and the legend himself, who died in March 2016.
Subtitled for those willing to read, Cruyff: The Last Match is available via Prime Video in some countries.
3. The Two Escobars
Late drug baron Pablo Escobar has been the subject of many documentaries since he and his Colombian kingdom came to an end, but The Two Escobars sits in a sub-category of his own.
Exposing the close relations between organised crime and soccer during this period, the film charts Colombia’s calamitous 1994 World Cup campaign and the resultant death of captain Andres Escobar, whose goal against the United States led to their exit from the tournament.
Brothers Jeff and Mike Zimbalist tell the story in graceful fashion as part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series, a feat considering the grisly nature of the source material.
3. Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job
Anyone with a good understanding of hallowed mockumentary Mike Bassett: England Manager (which makes our list of Top 10 soccer films) is likely to appreciate the creation that inspired it.
Channel 4 aired Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job in January 1994 when the wounds of his sacking as England chief were still fresh—Terry Venables wasn’t officially named his successor until four days after the episode of Cutting Edge came to television.
Taylor took over a squad that had made it to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, but he was pilloried in the media and left with a reputation in tatters.
The documentary followed the late Taylor and his England squad for 18 months up until their failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, showing rare insight into such a high-profile camp at the time.
Hilarious for all the right reasons and saddening for all the wrong ones, this expletive-ridden fly-on-the-wall journey stands up after 25 years or so. Sadly, no England boss is likely to ever partake in a similar experiment.
Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job can often be found floating about on YouTube.
The effects of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were brought into visceral detail with Daniel Gordon’s 2014 documentary, originally aired in April 2014 as part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 series.
A joint-venture between ESPN and the BBC—which was prevented from airing until May 2016—the two-hour exposé goes into fine detail exploring the events leading up to, during and since the tragedy that saw 96 Liverpool supporters die at the Sheffield ground.
Gordon’s creation leaves no stone unturned in a story that was still developing at time of release due to inquests investigating the police negligence that led up to the disaster.
A raw and sensitive subject is given the top-quality coverage it deserves in a manner that drives home the lasting effects of what happened at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989.
Viewers in the United States can view Hillsborough on ESPN+.
1. Diego Maradona
One of the most controversial footballers to walk the planet gets the artistic treatment he deserves as Asif Kapadia’s Diego Maradona might make you think differently of “The Golden Boy.”
Maradona himself has hardly helped dissuade much of the myth surrounding his career, but the eponymous documentary shines a spotlight on his life that hadn’t been seen before.
Kapadia appears to have found his niche after the success of 2015’s Amy, another tale charting the rise and fall of a generational artist. Released four years after that Oscar-winning piece, Diego Maradona shows the Argentina legend in a better light and reminds us we decide how best to remember his tale of success, stardom and addiction.