Soccer often called the beautiful game, holds a special place in the hearts and minds of people worldwide. It’s no wonder that throughout the years, numerous books, films, and artworks have celebrated the role of association football in the lives of fans, players, and managers. In this article, we’ll provide you with a guide to the top 18 best soccer documentaries ever created. In each soccer documentary, you get to live touching tributes to iconic World Cup and Champions League winners like Diego Maradona and Ronaldo or in-depth explorations of critical issues such as racism and violence in football.
As winter settles in, it’s the perfect time to snuggle up on your sofa and enjoy a thought-provoking soccer documentary. So, get comfortable, and let’s explore some of the finest documentaries in the world of football.
1. *Messi* (2022)
In the year 2022, Lionel Messi silenced the last doubters and critics by hoisting the World Cup trophy as the captain of Argentina. He proved, once and for all, why he is rightfully considered one of, if not the greatest player ever to grace a soccer field. He left an indelible mark on the competition with a series of incredible assists and goals throughout the tournament, completing a redemption arc that began many years ago.
Yet, the road hasn’t always been smooth for the Barcelona legend. This documentary delves into Messi’s journey to the pinnacle of the sport, from his daring move to Spain as a teenager to his heart-wrenching Copa America final losses and his brief international retirement. It also touches on the poignant chapter of his enforced departure from Barcelona.
This is the tale of a true great soccer player, a story that’s an absolute must-watch for anyone who loves the beautiful game. You can catch it right now on BBC iPlayer for our British fans.
2. *Diego Maradona* (2019)
In 2019, a documentary directed by the esteemed filmmaker Asif Kapadia emerged, shedding light on the life of the legendary footballer Diego Maradona, who sadly passed away at the age of 60 just a year later. The documentary predominantly focuses on Maradona’s memorable years with Napoli, where he was adored by the fervent Italian supporters until tensions flared due to Argentina’s victory over Italy in the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
This remarkable film delves into that era and more, drawing from a treasure trove of over 500 hours of footage from Maradona’s personal archives. It has received critical acclaim for portraying the controversial yet exceptionally talented player, capturing the cult-like following that surrounded his every move. For those interested, ‘Diego Maradona’ is available for viewing on Amazon Prime.
3. *The Phenomenon: Ronaldo* (2022)
While Cristiano Ronaldo’s recent headline-grabbing move to Saudi Arabia has been widely discussed, this documentary shifts the focus to a less controversial figure: the original Ronaldo, also known as Brazilian international Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.
The iconic forward left an indelible mark on the sport, playing a pivotal role in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph and amassing remarkable goal records at prestigious clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Inter Milan. Though his 18-year career was marred by injuries, his legendary status as one of the greatest strikers in the history of football remains unquestionable.
This recent soccer documentary tells a tale of redemption, chronicling the highs and lows of the South American soccer maestro’s dramatic journey. You can find this captivating documentary on the BBC website.
4. *Sunderland Til I Die* (2018)
Throughout history, soccer clubs have always held a special place in their local communities, especially in the former industrial areas of Northern England, where traditional industries have waned, making football the primary source of identity for working-class folks.
In 2018, Fulwell 73 brought us ‘Sunderland Til I Die,’ a documentary on Netflix that beautifully portrays this reality by focusing on Sunderland. This North Eastern city has faced challenging times since dropping out of the Premier League in 2017. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows the club through their 2017-2018 season in the Championship. It’s a poignant yet compelling watch that truly captures the significance of football clubs in the lives of local residents. You can catch this gem on Netflix.
5. *Welcome to Wrexham* (2022)
In 2020, Hollywood icon Ryan Reynolds and acclaimed screenwriter and actor Rob McElhenney made an unexpected move by purchasing the third-oldest football club in the world, Wrexham AFC, despite their limited knowledge of soccer. This decision stunned soccer fans worldwide. McElhenney’s interest in the sport was sparked after watching ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ on Netflix and being captivated by the unwavering passion and commitment of the North Eastern club’s local fans.
This Ryan Reynolds soccer documentary follows Wrexham’s journey since the celebrity takeover as the club strives for promotion from the National League to the English Football League. This challenging endeavor demands immense effort. It’s undeniably one of the finest soccer documentaries produced in recent years. You can catch it on Disney +.
6. *Footeuses* (2020)
In recent years, women’s football has seen a remarkable surge in popularity and broadcasting reach. Notable events like the Women’s Euros and World Cup have brought some of the world’s finest female soccer players to TV screens, motivating young fans and demonstrating that soccer is a sport for everyone. However, it’s striking that many of the most compelling soccer documentaries still revolve around the men’s game, often neglecting the women’s side of the sport. This is what makes this particular documentary so captivating.
“Footeuses,” a 45-minute documentary produced by the French brand Yard, delves into how female footballers in France are breaking barriers and improving opportunities for French women and girls following the 2019 World Cup. It sheds light on the biases and challenges female soccer players encounter as they strive to excel in the sport they are passionate about. While it’s in the French language, English subtitles are available, and you can catch it on the Yard YouTube channel. Give it a go — you won’t be disappointed.
7. *Shame in the Game – Racism in Football* (2020)
Speaking of the social issues tied to soccer, we can’t overlook the profound impact of racism on the global game, not only in recent times but throughout its history. Various films and publications have explored this issue, but the BBC’s ‘Shame in the Game’ stands out as one of the most compelling examples. This short film employs heartfelt interviews and undercover footage to shed light on the alarming fact that hate crimes at English and Welsh professional football matches surged by 66% during the 2019-20 season.
This soccer documentary emphasizes that, despite some progress, soccer still faces a long journey in eradicating racism. It underscores how individuals are affected by abuse, focusing on the detrimental role of social media. This film is available for viewing on BBC iPlayer.
8. *All Or Nothing: Manchester City* (2018)
Amazon Prime’s ‘All Or Nothing’ series has taken the world by storm in recent years. It delves deep into the world of elite sports, offering exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpses of what transpires in the dressing room, on the training field, and within the homes of star athletes. Among these compelling releases, the 2018 edition stands out as exceptional.
This installment zeroes in on the English Premier League’s Manchester City during their record-breaking “Centurions” season. They triumphed over rivals like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur to seize the league title. It underscores the immense skill, unwavering dedication, and innovative spirit required to join the ranks of the greatest teams in British football history.
This documentary’s spotlight on Pep Guardiola, a modern coaching legend, is truly captivating. His intensity and brilliance shine brilliantly throughout. ‘All or Nothing’ offers intriguing insights into what motivates top athletes and performers in the world of sports. To experience this captivating narrative, head over to Amazon Prime and give it a watch.
9. *Warnock* (2005)
Moving from one of the modern giants of European football to a man whose legendary status in English soccer was forged through decades in the less glamorous lower divisions. While many international soccer enthusiasts may not be acquainted with Neil Warnock’s work, he’s an iconic figure in the UK, evoking both admiration and disdain.
With a remarkable 1,602 professional matches under his management belt, the 74-year-old retired coach oversaw more than 17 clubs during his 40-year career. He achieved an impressive 8 promotions and didn’t shy away from stirring controversy by clashing with referees, officials, rival managers, and opposing players along the way.
His tenure at his hometown club, Sheffield United, represented a cherished opportunity for a coach born and bred in Yorkshire. Fortunately, this period, which spanned the early to mid-noughties, was chronicled in a captivating behind-the-scenes film. “Warnock” captures dressing room showdowns, touchline theatrics, and engrossing interviews. It’s a must-watch for any football enthusiast and can be found on YouTube.
10. *Football’s Most Dangerous Rivalry* (2012)
VICE, the digital platform known for shedding light on the darker facets of football and society at large, has a track record of delving into subjects ranging from far-right marches in the UK to this powerful 2012 documentary that explores one of the most intense sporting rivalries globally.
In a concise 45-minute soccer documentary, the spotlight is on the fierce rivalry between Glasgow giants, Rangers and Celtic, Scotland’s two biggest clubs, locked in mutual animosity. This isn’t a documentary for the faint of heart, as VICE fearlessly confronts violence and racial slurs that are intertwined with a rivalry deeply influenced by sectarianism and religious divisions.
Nevertheless, soccer is invariably shaped by the wider social and political context in which it unfolds. “Football’s Most Dangerous Rivalry” provides a compelling window into this captivating facet of football fandom. If you find this soccer documentary intriguing, it’s readily accessible for viewing on YouTube.
11. *Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In* (2021)
Football, popular for its ruthless nature, boasts an unmatched turnover rate in the world of sports management. When a team’s fortunes largely hinge on the manager, a string of poor results often leads to an inevitable dismissal.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the most successful manager in English football history, presided over the most dominant team to grace the British Isles from 1986 to 2013—Manchester United. His remarkable 26-year tenure saw him amass an unparalleled 38 honors, establishing himself as one of the most revered figures in global football.
Recently, “Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In,” a documentary directed by his son, Jason Ferguson, offers an unprecedented glimpse into Ferguson’s life and mind. It takes us on a journey from his challenging upbringing in Glasgow to his ascent as a 13-time English champion, a three-time European champion, and a remarkable recovery from a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage.
12. *Six Dreams* (2018)
Through the Amazon-supported series “Six Dreams,” we embark on a journey into the lives of six individuals who play various roles in the world of Spanish football, particularly within La Liga, the top-tier division. This captivating show delves into the lives of players, managers, and owners, offering a comprehensive perspective on how each piece of the professional football puzzle functions independently while contributing to the collective effort.
13. *Anelka: Misunderstood* (2020)
When the legendary Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, secured the signature of a young French striker from Paris St. Germain for a modest £500,000, it didn’t cause much of a stir in England. However, as his career unfolded, it became clear that Nicolas Anelka was no ordinary footballer.
From inciting a player strike during the 2010 World Cup to making the controversial quenelle salute (widely considered antisemitic), Anelka often found himself at the center of controversy. “Anelka: Misunderstood” unfolds against the backdrop of a retired Anelka leading a relatively anonymous life with his young family in Dubai.
This documentary seeks to demystify Anelka and offer him a platform to share his perspective. The format combines interviews with former managers, journalists, and teammates with clips showcasing his footballing prowess and goal-scoring abilities. While his talent is evident, the film swiftly delves into the heart of the matter, striving to unravel the reasons behind his numerous controversies.
For younger fans of Real Madrid, Arsenal, and PSG, this soccer documentary provides a nostalgic glimpse into the not-so-distant past of one of their most enigmatic players.
14. *Pelé* (2021)
Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn co-directed this remarkable documentary, which delves into the life of one of history’s most exceptional footballers and Brazil’s greatest sportsman. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, famously known as Pelé, stands alone as the sole player to claim three World Cup titles, his journey from a promising youth in 1958 to a revered national icon.
The filmmakers also skillfully intertwine the political backdrop of a radical and tumultuous period in Brazilian history with the intricacies of Brazilian football. Through a rich tapestry of archival footage showcasing Pelé’s breathtaking performances and insightful interviews, this one-hour and 49-minute documentary encapsulates a captivating 12-year chapter in Brazilian football history, marked by three World Cup victories.
The inclusion of interviews with iconic former teammates such as Zagallo, Jairzinho, and Rivellino adds a touch of nostalgia, especially for those who vividly remember those glory days. Despite the colossal shadow that Pelé’s legend casts over the documentary, the directors also offer a glimpse into his humanity, exploring his early struggles with fame, his first marriage, and the complexities of his personal life.
Now in his 80s and reliant on assistance to walk, this film serves as a poignant and likely final tribute to his extraordinary life and illustrious career. It portrays a multifaceted Pelé, not just as a footballing legend but as a human being who navigated the challenges of fame and life with remarkable grace.
15. *The Two Escobars* (2010)
In the gripping documentary “The Two Escobars,” directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist, we explore the intriguing nexus between crime and the world of elite sports. It’s a tale that unfolds in the lives of two Colombians, each occupying a very different sphere: one as a football player, the other as a notorious drug lord.
Aired as a part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series, this 100-minute masterpiece boldly exposes the insatiable cravings for power and wealth and the ruthless methods used to maintain control in a society marked by turmoil and despair.
Although the two Escobars share a common surname, they are not blood-related. Yet, their life trajectories paint a dark and unsettling portrait of Colombian society.
At the zenith of his influence, Pablo Escobar stood as the world’s wealthiest criminal and, unquestionably, the most formidable figure in Colombia. With an iron grip, he ruled over the Medellín Cartel, all while cultivating popularity among the impoverished through grand acts of charity. Through his philanthropic efforts, he rebuilt homes, schools, and infrastructure on a scale typically reserved for governments. He astutely recognized football as a means to launder his ill-gotten gains and further enhance his local standing. His investments in grassroots soccer had a lasting impact, leading Colombian football to a renaissance that culminated in the 1994 World Cup appearance in Los Angeles.
On the other side of this narrative, there is Andrés Escobar, who grew up in the very city of Medellin that Pablo called home. Andrés was the star center-back for Colombia’s national team and a beloved captain for Nacional. He was a devout Catholic and a genuinely amiable gentleman. Unfortunately, people predominantly remember his international career for his own goal that eliminated his country from the 1994 World Cup and, tragically, cost him his life.
Through the clever use of existing footage and exceptional storytelling, this soccer documentary navigates the intricate cause-and-effect relationship between Andrés’ untimely demise and Pablo’s death six months earlier. It’s a story of stark contrasts and intertwined destinies, offering profound insights into the complex and often tragic interplay between sports and crime in Colombia.
16. *Arsène Wenger: Invincible* (2021)
Directed by the collaborative efforts of Gabriel Clarke and Christian Jeanpierre, “Arsène Wenger: Invincible” places the spotlight firmly on the iconic former Arsenal manager, with a particular emphasis on the storied ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-04. In his remarkable 22-year tenure at the helm of the North London club, Arsène Wenger often remained an enigmatic figure off the pitch, even as he enjoyed deep admiration within the football community. Wenger was popular for his cerebral approach, unwavering loyalty, and fierce competitiveness, making any documentary that delves into the psyche of this football luminary a truly captivating experience.
Wenger’s journey began in October 1996 when he assumed the manager role at Arsenal FC. Over the subsequent two decades, he worked his magic, transforming the club and ushering in a revolution within English football. The film vividly portrays his glory years, focusing on the unforgettable 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ season, during which Wenger led his team through an entire English Premier League campaign without a single defeat. However, as the documentary unfolds, it also sheds light on Wenger’s later years and his formidable challenges in replicating his earlier successes, contending with dwindling revenues and heightened competition from wealthier clubs.
The documentary boasts appearances by a host of former players, including club legends such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and Dennis Bergkamp. Yet, the crowning moment comes with the appearance of former adversary and erstwhile antagonist, Sir Alex Ferguson, who regales viewers with nostalgic tales of their intense rivalry at its zenith.
17. *Planet FIFA* (2016)
For many football enthusiasts, FIFA has, over time, become synonymous with secrecy, scandals, and unethical behavior that often bewilders its followers. The documentary “Planet FIFA,” directed by Jean-Louis Perez, offers a thorough exploration of the corruption spanning four decades, tracing back to the era of João Havelange’s presidency, during which cunning maneuvers secured his ascent to power. Havelange’s reign extended for 24 years, marked by financial misconduct.
This soccer documentary is a captivating journey that pieces together a compelling series of events, shedding light on the extent of corruption within FIFA. He accomplishes this by incorporating interviews with key figures, reinforcing the depth of the issue. While FIFA’s corruption is no revelation, Perez uncovers information that seldom surfaces in mainstream FIFA scandal reports. Furthermore, he unveils the extravagant lifestyles led by corrupt officials, further tarnishing the governing body’s credibility.
The individuals interviewed emphasize that the removal of former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini has made little difference in cleansing an institution plagued by decades of corruption at all levels. Perez’s impressive analysis delves deep into the heart of the matter, providing a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
18. *Cristiano: The World At His Feet* (2014)
Tara Pirnia’s one-hour documentary delves into the incredible journey of Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo, tracing his ascent from humble beginnings on the isle of Madeira to international stardom. Widely regarded as a more charismatic and vibrant personality compared to his rival, Lionel Messi, this documentary naturally spotlights one of football’s most prominent figures. Released in 2014, the film primarily revolves around Ronaldo’s career up to that point, during his time with Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid.
This soccer documentary is enriched with appearances and interviews featuring some of the most prominent names in the world of football. Former teammate Wayne Rooney, the iconic David Beckham, the legendary Pelé, Gary Linekar, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Jose Mourinho all make notable contributions. Surprisingly, even Ronaldo’s rival, Lionel Messi, shares a few kind words within the documentary.
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