ESPN 30 for 30

‘The Two Escobars’ (2010) explains narco-fútbol

For its 30th anniversary, ESPN commissioned 30 respected filmmakers to produce 30 documentaries on the impact of sports on society. 30 for 30: The Two Escobars is the fascinating story of player Andrés Escobar and druglord Pablo Escobar.

Andrés Escobar, captain of the Colombian national team, gave up the own goal against the USA in the 1994 World Cup and was shot to death 10 days later in his hometown.


Unrelated to Andrés, Pablo Escobar was a ruthless Colombian druglord in the Medellin cartel, a benefactor to the poor, and a huge soccer fan who used his limitless drug money to raise Colombian soccer to world prominence, instilling national pride. Many Colombian club teams were owned by druglords as a way to launder money; this was known as narco-fútbol or narco-soccer.

The Zimbalist brothers

Writer-Director Jeff Zimbalist and his brother Michael have created several documentaries inside Colombian prisons and Brazilian favelas. As a Brown University student, Jeff focused on social change in developing countries, but his recent work has sought more diverse audiences with feature films, including the 2016 biopic, Pele: Birth of a Legend

There are many write-ups on The Two Escobars, but theWrap’s video interview with Jeff Zimbalist best encapsulates his objectives and fears in making the film. Early on, he recognized his story as one of dual protagonists, and towards the end of production, ESPN decided to make The Two Escobars its first theatrical film. He tries to present the two men evenly, so that you end up feeling sorry for the loss of Andrés the player. But you may end up questioning whether Pablo Escobar was truly bad for Colombian society, despite being responsible for as many as 5,500 murders.

Zimbalist’s prior years in Colombia and his network of insiders (e.g. a fixer and a security advisor) helped in making the film. But fear of the Mano Negre (Black Hand) prevailed – the knowledge that anything said in the making of this film could result in backlash against himself, the interviewee, or the production. Despite this, he has some tantalizing interviews because Pablo’s old enforcers relish telling their war stories, such as this quote from Popeye, his right-hand man:

“With my own hands, I’ve killed around 250 people.

But only a psychopath keeps count.”

– druglord enforcer Popeye

Try to watch the DVD, because one of the extra features is a short documentary following the USMNT on their 1994 bus ride to fame. It’s fun to watch the young John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, and Alexi Lalas mug it up for the camera.

FYI, after watching this film, I realized that Pablo Escobar was the model for the character Ernesto Escobedo, the Colombian druglord in the Harrison Ford movie Clear and Present Danger.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8