The best soccer movies and shows to stream during coronavirus self-isolation

Ryan Bailey
·8-min read

With live soccer around the world on hiatus (with the baffling exception of the Belarusian Premier League) it’s necessary to get a fix of the beautiful game from other sources. Here are the best soccer documentaries, movies and shows that you can stream in the U.S. right now.

Diego Maradona (HBO)

With profiles of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna and troubled musician Amy Winehouse, documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia set a blueprint for exploring complex characters through rare archived footage.

Kapadia excels once again with Diego Maradona, where he delves into the trials and tribulations of Argentina’s most notorious superstar.

The documentary focuses on Maradona’s time in Naples, where he arrived to lift a struggling Napoli side to Serie A glory. Along the way, there are tales of substance abuse, mafia intervention, illegitimate children, a rise to God-like status, and his eventual descent into vilification in Italy.

The opening scenes of Maradona’s unveiling at a wildly atmospheric Stadio San Paolo are worth the price alone.

HBO's Diego Maradona documentary is a great way to entertain yourself during self-isolation. (Photo by Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
HBO's Diego Maradona documentary is a great way to entertain yourself during self-isolation. (Photo by Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager (Netflix)

Sir Bobby Robson wasn’t just one of the greatest managers of all time. He was one of the greatest people of all time.

This much is evident in a documentary that profiles an Englishman who truly touched the lives of those he worked with, including Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Ronaldo and Gary Lineker (all of whom feature).

After a playing career that included a brief stint with the Vancouver Royals, Robson spent 13 years at Ipswich, whom he transformed into a regular top-five club. That earned him the England gig, where he presided over the 1986 and 1990 cup campaigns (the former of which, incidentally, was ended in villainous fashion by Maradona).

Robson received his first cancer diagnosis in 1991 while managing PSV Eindhoven, but went on to coaching success with Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona before returning to his hometown club Newcastle for his swan song.

The Damned United (Available on multiple streaming services)

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the country, but I’m in the top one.”

Brian Clough gave the world plenty of brilliant soundbites throughout his career, many inflected by a barbed personality and sardonic sense of humor.

Based on David Peace’s book of the same name, The Damned United focuses on Clough’s 44-day stint at Leeds United, where he endured a fractious relationship with his players and railed against the legacy of the man he replaced, Don Revie. (“You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly," he says to the squad during their first training session together.)

Clough had an incredible pedigree — he had taken Derby from obscurity to the English title before arriving at Leeds, and won two European Cups with Nottingham Forest afterwards—and a force of character virtually unmatched in the game.

Michael Sheen is superb as Clough, and there are great performances from Timothy Spall and Stephen Graham. There aren’t many great soccer movies, but this might be the best of them all. It’s directed by Tom Hooper, who made Cats … so it must be good, right?

All or Nothing: Manchester City (Prime)

Guardiola’s Manchester City hit their peak in 2017-18, when they set Premier League records for points, wins, goals, goal difference and consecutive victories. Amazon’s cameras were rolling throughout the campaign.

The eight-part documentary is far from impartial — at times, it feels like a puff piece for one of the richest teams in the world. However, it gives a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the reigning Premier League champions.

Soccer fans can see Pep Guardiola (right) and Manchester City up close and personal during their historic 2017-18 campaign on Amazon Prime. (Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff)
Soccer fans can see Pep Guardiola (right) and Manchester City up close and personal during their historic 2017-18 campaign on Amazon Prime. (Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff)

We see how animated and enthusiastic Guardiola is while addressing his team (he looks as if he may explode with energy as he bounces on his haunches during briefings). We feel sympathy for Sergio Aguero as we observe the loneliness he feels between fleeting visits from his young son (who is, incidentally, Maradona’s grandson). And we see the moment when power was effectively ceded to Liverpool in the Premier League, when chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak turned down a move for Virgil Van Dijk because of his price tag. If he had paid, things would likely be very different for City today.

An honorable mention must also go to Amazon’s Inside Borussia Dortmund. The four-part documentary looks at BVB’s 2018-19 season in a more clinical fashion, as well as offering an introspective look through their successes of the past few decades.

Looking For Eric (Hulu)

If you’re looking for an uplifting tale of a postal worker who hallucinates Manchester United legend Eric Cantona as an imaginary friend, look no further!

Ken Loach’s 2009 film follows disaffected postal worker Eric Bishop, who is alienated from his family and at a low point in his life. After a meditative experience with his colleagues, he summons the spirit of the French attacker, whose joie de vivre guides his life back on track.

It’s a little more whimsical than most offerings on this list, and the Mancunian accents can be hard to penetrate at times, but Looking For Eric is certainly one of the better entries in the soccer movie canon.

The Four Year Plan (Prime)

If Manchester City’s All or Nothing appears too polished, then The Four Year Plan is the remedy. This warts-and-all documentary focuses on Queens Park Rangers, who were salvaged from bankruptcy in 2007 by billionaire Formula 1 proprietors Bernie Eccleston and Flavio Briatore (who were later joined by steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who still owns the club today).

The plan is to take the club back to the Premier League … but it’s a bumpy ride. There are managers fired after a matter of days, owners putting undue influence on the dressing room, fan protests, a background of race fixing scandals for Briatore, and a general air of utter chaos.

“I want the names of the fans booing, or I sell the club!” says Briatore, apparently seriously, during one protest scene. The most stunning aspect of this film is the amount of access the documentary makers have: The owners and the organization are often not portrayed in their best light, which makes for a wild ride.

This is Football (Prime)

Netflix’s new drama The English Game may offer a glimpse at the origins of the game, but for a more contemporary look at how soccer is cherished across the globe, This Is Football is a winner.

The six-part documentary goes to the four corners of the globe to observe the impact of the sport. The first episode, for example, follows the Rwandan Reds, a passionate Liverpool supporters group in Africa and the incredible stories of its members. The fourth episode takes us to Iceland for a closer look at the national team that shocked the world at Euro 2016, while another brings it closer to home with an exploration of the rise of the USWNT in the late 1990s.

It’s beautifully shot, lovingly crafted and will likely offer several new perspectives on the beautiful game.

Iceland's run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals is one of the focuses of "This Is Football." (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iceland's run to the Euro 2016 quarterfinals is one of the focuses of "This Is Football." (Photo by Evrim Aydin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Sunderland Til I Die (Netflix)

Filmed throughout their 2017-18 campaign, this fly-on-the-wall documentary was supposed to chart Sunderland’s rise back into the Premier League.

They did end up leaving the Championship that season, but in a more unpleasant way.

The club clearly has a lot of problems, which are made clear during their disastrous relegation into League One, but we are not privy to explosive dressing room scenes, as manager Chris Coleman asked for the cameras to be kept away. The result is more of a focus on the fans: Sunderland Til I Die makes clear the inextricable link between the team and the city. Much like nearby Newcastle, Sunderland is a working-class city whose population put much of their hope and faith in The Black Cats.

Fortunately, Netflix is set to release a second season of Sunderland Til I Die on April 1. It follows their progress in League One during 2018-19, and promises even greater access thanks to the cooperation of new owner Stewart Donald.

Official World Cup Films 1978-2018 (Prime)

Amazon Prime members could spend a few hours of their lives watching United Passions, the FIFA-backed drama that documents the inception of soccer's global governing body. It is however, one of the worst films ever made and officially the lowest-grossing movie in U.S. box office history. So don’t do that.

That time would be much better spent in the company of one of FIFA’s official World Cup films, which document the showpiece tournament in a much less agenda-driven manner. Prime offers all the official films from 1978 to 2018, each packed with glorious archive footage of the very best players in the game on the biggest stage.

The 2018 edition, narrated in nature documentary-style by Damian Lewis, is a visual treat with gorgeous HD footage, while U.S. audiences will enjoy the nostalgia of the 1994 edition, brought to life by Liev Schrieber.

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