Thursday, September 26, 2019

MovieNotes: Make Us Dream

Another football documentary from my niche Amazon Prime Video watching series. 

Make Us Dream narrates the journey of Steven Gerrard from a young boy to becoming an all-time Liverpool great. It is a biography of Gerrard but more dedicated to his life with the Liverpool Football Club from his joining their Academy to moving on to USA to play in Major League Soccer. 

The documentary also covers some of the key events which helped shape English football to its current form. The Hillsborough tragedy which left 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death, the arrival of the Premier League and Manchester United’s rise, the arrival of big money in the form of Roman Abramovich buying Chelsea, players becoming the brand rather than the clubs and money increasingly becoming a deciding factor in player loyalties.

Liverpool is deprived of Premier League success although they won nearly everything else in the interim including becoming Champions of Europe. The documentary features the incredible 2005 Champions League Finals against AC Milan, where Liverpool come from 3 goals down at half-time and go on to win the shoot-out. [Incidentally, this game also featured in the documentary series “This Is Football” with Liverpool’s Rwandan fans]. 

We get to see Steven Gerrard’s partnership with Michael Owen at the start of his career and with Luis Suarez towards the end, the team-mates exits from the club, the multiple attempts from Jose Mourinho to get him over to Chelsea, the red cards, the headed own goal against Chelsea, contract disputes with Liverpool, injuries, and disillusionment with football, the desire to bring big trophies and the frustration of not being able to win the premier league title despite coming agonizingly close to it multiple times. There is the infamous slip against Chelsea after himself exhorting his team-mates not to slip up which proved critical in handing the title to Manchester City. 

The documentary is bookended with Gerrard’s move to USA. He is called a genius, one of the very best but he just sounds exhausted by the end of it. And yes that truly is the highlight of the documentary, showing the man behind the player. 

One grouse against the documentary. Gerrard’s long and highly successful England career is not mentioned at all! At least here, we have a clear winner in the club vs country debate! 

Overall, a good watch. 

Previously on MovieNotes – Take Us Home: Leeds United 

Friday, September 20, 2019

MovieNotes: Take Us Home: Leeds United

Preface - I believe Amazon Prime Video and me have found our viewing niche – football! 

Leeds United, once giants of English Football have been struggling in the lower divisions of English football since the turn of the millennium. With demotion, comes financial struggles leading to fire sale of top players, in turn leading to poorer performances – quite a vicious cycle. Then enters Andrea Radrizanni, the new owner who plots their return to the English Premier League. 

Narrated by Russel Crowe, the 6-part documentary covers the topsy-turvy 2018-19 season with Leeds United playing in the Championship (second division of English football) and bidding for a return to the Premier League, which is worth nearly 170 million pounds. They finish 3rd in the Table and fail to secure an automatic promotion and then miss out in the play-offs. 

The owners' first major action is the appointment of Argentine Marcelo Bielsa as the team manager, who then focuses on strengthening the team and bridging the gaps. The team’s good start wins back its fans after having finished a dismal 13th the previous season. Over the course of the season they fight through injuries to key players and register many come from behind draws and wins but also keep dropping points at crucial junctures. The season is also rocked by a spying scandal. Bielsa admits to spying on other teams training sessions, which while not against any rules offend the League for which Leeds are heavily fined. 

Another side of Bielsa comes to fore in the last game of the season when he orders his players to let their opponents score a goal, because of the controversial nature of the previous goal scored by Leeds. 

There is a beautiful sequence in the second episode where Leeds are playing a crucial game against Aston Villa while at the same time local boy Josh Warrington defends his IBF world championship title! 

There are scenes which remind the viewers that the payers while being elite athletes are also human. They do get affected by the amount of social media chatter, the defeats hurt them as do injuries, there is the occasional drama of new contracts and transfers. 

The documentary focuses on the special relation city of Leeds has with the club. There are interviews of the die-hard fans who have supported the club through ups and downs over the years. There are those who remember the glory days and those who have just heard of them. How difficult it is for a club to boost its support base if it hasn’t won anything major in the past many years? And yet, these clubs like Leeds United keep finding new fans around the globe, although may not be at the same pace as the Premier League toppers. 

The series ends with the management talking about continuing the bid for Premiership while trying to retain its best players whose performances had caught the attention of various top-flight clubs. Bielsa agrees to be at the helm of affairs for another season. 

There is life beyond the top. And, now I am keenly following the 2019-20 Championship season and, of course, the fortunes of Leeds United. 

Bonus – The refrain from “Marching on Together” – the Leeds United song. 
Marching On Together!
We're gonna see you win
We are so proud,
We shout it out loud 
We love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! 
We've been through it all together,
And we've had our ups and downs 
We're gonna stay with you forever,
at least until the world stops going round 
Everyday, we're all gonna say we love you Leeds!Leeds!Leeds!
Everywhere, we're gonna be there,We, love you Leeds! Leeds! Leeds! 

Previously on MovieNotes – This Is Football 

Friday, September 06, 2019

BookMarks #61: The Alchemist

Title: The Alchemist 
Author: Paulo Coelho 
Genre: Fiction, Fable, Adventure
Published: 1988 (Portuguese), 1993 (English) 
Setting: Medieval Spain and North Africa 

Santiago, a young shepherd, has recurrent dreams about finding a treasure. This is the story of his journey of fulfilling his dream! 

If you really want something, the whole universe will conspire to have your wish come true. That is the key theme of the book. Not giving up on your original dream while understanding all the signs on the way is the prescribed path for fulfilling one’s dreams! 

The book is short. Story moves along at a good pace. Only one character is constant throughout the story as he journeys towards fulfilling his dream and meets a variety of inspirational sources. The book feels like a mix of teachings from the Bible and the Quran combined with stories from Alif Laila. 

Also this was my first brush with Mr. Paulo Coelho’s works! The Alchemist is a pretty hyped up book. Probably would have liked it more if I had been younger and not by default cynical about things (benefit of having completed a few more revolutions around the Sun!). 

And the ending about finding the treasure in the place where you had the dream after having jorneyed back and forth to the other side of the continent. Just reminds me of the Hindi saying – बच्चा बगल में और ढिंडोरा नगर में। 

Previously on BookMarks – The McKinsey Way

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

MovieNotes: This Is Football

Technically not a movie but a collection of six hour-long documentaries covering different footballing stories. Each narrating how the “beautiful game” has captured the world’s imagination, keeps enthralling the fans, and at times goes its impact beyond the playing field into real lives.

The first episode talks of Redemption. How football helped heal the wounds of a war ravaged country. After the genocide of 1994, Rwanda used football as a healing mechanism. Their qualification for the 2003 African Cup of Nations with a victory over Ghana acted like a balm in the divide between the Hutu and Tutsi communities. Liverpool’s “You Never Walk Alone” song was an allegory to the Rwandan communities. Liverpool’s remarkable come from behind 2005 Champions League victory has a prominent role in the episode. And how it inspired their Rwandan fans who finally get a chance to see their favorite team at the Anfield.

The second episode talks of Belief. It talks about the Women’s game and focuses on the two teams at the forefront, USA and Japan. There is the story of USA’s 1999 victory at home culminating in Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration also captured. Then there is the story of Japan’s unexpected 2011 victory with the backdrop of the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese players talk about how their footballing careers had been inspired by the Americans reign over the many years. 

The third episode has the theme of Chance. Some mathematicians have done a probability model. It says in an average football game there are three goals scored, one by the better team on the day and the other two are distributed randomly between the teams! We hear from Oliver Kahn, who won the Golden Ball in the 2002 World Cup and had a near-perfect tournament except for one mistake in the Final which Ronaldo pounced upon and put Brazil in the lead. And Germany had to wait a few more years for their next success. There is the story of Bayern Munich’s run in the UEFA Champions Leagues where they lost to Manchester United after dominating almost the entire game in 1999 but redeemed themselves in 2002 by winning against Valencia. There is Roberto di Matteo whose playing career was cut short after a freak tackle but came back as Chelsea’s interim manager to lead them to Champions League triumph! Pierluigi Collina talks about how impactful a referee’s error can be in a football game vis-a-vis any other sports. An then there is the story of Eintracht Frankfurt, who should have won the German League in 1992 but for some bad luck in the last game and then remained trophy less for nearly 30 years, when finally fortune favored them!

The fourth episode in the theme Pride. It focuses on Iceland’s remarkable run over the last few years in Euro 2016 and the World Cup 2018. How the tiny nation of Iceland took on football’s superpowers like Argentina, England, Croatia, et al and gave a good account of themselves. And how football helped rebuild the national pride after the recession of 2008. And there is also the awesome Viking thunderclap!

The fifth episode titled Love deals with people from different walks of life talking about their love for football. Whether it’s the English Blind Football team participating in their World Cup, a young boy from Soweto in South Africa who overcomes cancer to become the youngest professional football referee, school-girls from a village near Nagpur in India who feel empowered because they play football, or a Chinese man who builds a football pitch in his town. And Football is the thread which binds them.

The last episode titled Wonder deals with the phenomenon of Lionel Messi. How he went on to become the world’s best footballer, how his fans transcend borders. Even the mathematics of his movements is analyzed while exasperated defenders wonder how to deal with him. His feet movement are compared to the tango. It also attempts (a futile one) to understand the important question. Why Messi’s performance for Argentina pales in comparison to his performance for Barcelona!

Overall, a nice documentary for the fans of the beautiful game. I especially liked the episode on how luck plays such an important part in the result. 

Rating: 9/10

Previously on MovieNotes: Gully Boy