Captains of the World (2023)

Thousands of flash-bites celebrate ‘Captains of the World’ (2023)

Captains of the World is the second of  2 docuseries on Netflix related to WC 2022 in Qatar. The first series, Captains – The Chosen Few, covered 6 teams and their captains during WC qualifying. This series covers the experiences of some of the 32 national teams at the tournament.

But because there are so many games and so many teams that could be covered, the second series does not go into the captains angle as much as the first series. The wikipedia page for the series details the games that are covered.

However, as with the first series, my concern is with the faux-storytelling style of editing. Over 6 episodes, rapid cuts and back and forth switching between captains instills anxiety, drama, and excitement. But except for the last episode, for me it is 4 hours of digital shouting.

If you watched most of WC 2022, the blips of game footage will trigger some remembrance of the key highlights of the tournament. But they are so short and thoughtless that you can’t really savor anything or even pause to think, oh yeah, that happened and what became of it? Maybe that’s the best you can achieve with 32 teams and 96 hours of games, but to me, in general the series sacrifices soul and depth for thousands of flash-bites.

The Best Bits

Following are what I observed when the series does try to tell a little bit of a story:

  • Pretty much, Ronaldo is portrayed as a convenient villain (ha, because I don’t remember seeing Gianni Infantino in the show). Ronaldo smiles when Messi & Argentina lose their opening game to Saudi Arabia. The series includes his interview with Piers Morgan, where Ronaldo feels betrayed by ManU, and how at 37 years and 8 months he doesn’t need to prove himself. (The series doesn’t mention that ManU terminated Ronaldo after this interview, and by the time the WC started, Ronaldo was rumored to be going to Saudi Arabia for $200M per year, which he eventually did.)
  • Denmark was so opposed to the Qatari WC that players did not bring their families to Qatar. The series includes scenes of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac collapse at the 2020 Euros.
  • The series shows how Iranian players did not sing the anthem in solidarity with the Women life freedom protests back in Iran
  • Captain Busquets talks about how Spain never wins shootouts, and they lose to Morocco thusly.
  • Pele is in the hospital, which saddens the Brazilian team, but they thrash Korea.
  • Brazil then lose to Croatia in a shootout, and fans trash their TVs in frustration.
  • In the Croatia vs Brazil segment, they replay Modric’s private conversation with his GK during WC Qualifying. 😡😡
  • Ronaldo is on the bench when Portugal plays Morocco
  • Morocco is the darling of the tournament, and it is surprising to learn that most of their players are not native-born.
  • Argentina beats Netherlands and the series explains that Messi does the weird 2-hand gesture at Luis Van Gaal to honor Riquelme (petty, if you ask me).
  • As in an All or Nothing series, there are a number of scenes in triumphant locker rooms.
  • In the last episode, Argentines talk about how a WC victory helps the people take their minds off all the economic and political problems at home. (For troubled or dictatorial governments, that’s the real value of sportswashing.)

In Conclusion

Despite my cynicism and preference for old-fashioned storytelling, I do recommend the last episode, which covers the WC 2022 Final between Argentina and France. Those 45 minutes are worth watching, and for people who don’t have 5 hours to watch this series, you could get by with just watching episode 6. That game is really all you need to know and remember about the sporting side of WC 2022.

There are other things that should be remembered about the societal side of WC 2022. Unfortunately, all of those important issues are completely absent from the series. The near-slave labor of thousands of laborers who died building Qatar for the tournament. The LGBTQ+ fans and media who were repressed. The death of Grant Wahl, America’s greatest soccer writer. Fans paying hundreds of dollars to live in tents. The series only concentrates on the spectacle: the pressure on the athletes, the drama, and the enthusiasm of the fans. Because the spectacle is the only thing that FIFA wants you to remember.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6