Revisit Barça under Pep in ’Take the Ball Pass the Ball’ (2018)

Take the Ball Pass the Ball (2018)

The Year of the Pandemic has been wickedly bloodthirsty as it feasted on the faltering FC Barcelona. Internal scandals led to Barcelona’s crunching 2-8 exit in the 2019-2020 Champions League quarter-finals, the messy Messi situation, and the attempt of Barça’s fans to expel the board. Even if you’re not a Barça fan, it’s hard to watch such an admired club implode so quickly.

In these depressing times, it’s uplifting to remember a period just a decade ago when Barcelona was Camelot: the greatest and good King Pep and his round table of Knights, led by Sir Messilot, who were all about the Football and the Team.

And that’s why it’s probably not coincidental that Take the Ball Pass the Ball just became available on Netflix. As the producers recently tweeted, “It’s about Barça… when they were good.”

https://twitter.com/zoomsportint/status/1302539400916631552?s=20

The coverage

Take the Ball Pass the Ball is pretty long at 1 hour 49 minutes; it appears to be a first feature by Director Duncan McMath and is based on the 2012 book by his friend and football journalist, Graham Hunter. Hunter had written gloriously about Barça’s 2008-2012 reign under Pep Guardiola, and McMath visualized it as a film with additional player participation.

Players interviewed for the film
Players interviewed for the film

During an interview with DSpot, the creators said they interviewed 36 people. By the time they filmed, 5 years had passed. Media attention had waned, and players shared stories that knit together the shroud of greatness that surrounds Guardiola. 

The filmmakers break 2008-2012 into 6 segments (time markers are approximate):

  1. Wembley 2011 (2:50)
    • The Champions League Final versus ManU at Wembley on May-28-2011
    • Emblematic as the the peak of the greatest team ever
  2. The Road to Wembley (9:02)
    • Starts with Barça’s 2010 Champions League semi-final elimination by Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan (the eventual champions)
    • Mourinho takes over Real Madrid and spars with Pep, his former teammate, through the media
    • Eric Abidal’s role in the Final in the face of recovery from liver cancer that was diagnosed in Mar-2011
  3. The Barcelona Way (27:25)
    • The revival and reinforcement of tiki taka from Johan Cruyff to Frank Rijkaard to Pep Guardiola
    • The importance of La Masia, Barça’s youth academy
    • Highlights the difficulty of learning Barça’s style when a new player joins from the outside
  4. The Making of Messi (45:48)
    • How Messi was discovered and why he is so great
    • How it is near-impossible to compile a list of his greatest goals because there are so many
  5. The Local Hero – Pep Guardiola (1:00:50)
    • Pep’s playing career
    • How Cruyff spotted Pep early
    • Why Cruyff recommended Pep to succeed Rijkaard instead of Mourinho
  6. Life after Pep (1:33:49)
    • Pep burns out but maybe Xavi will eventually inherit the Barça mantle

What made Pep and Barça so great?

Through repeated statements in interviews, the film builds a case about what made that particular Barcelona team so great. It’s more than just having Messi, one of the all-time greats. Pep built the team around Messi, but he also convinces players that if they do what he tells them to do, it will work and they will win. While a control freak on player diet and activities, he was also at that time a player’s manager because he had only retired from playing a few years earlier and understood what that generation of players needed.

Out of favor Samuel Eto’o snidely remarks that the players were so good, they didn’t need a manager. But to see professional players watch themselves, hundreds of times over, scoring a favorite goal, you recognize that being the best in the world takes a different mindset. The manager who can coordinate 20+ players to be in that mindset at the same time — has to be a magician.

In conclusion

The film is an excellent way to educate yourself on the Barcelona style of play. We can only hope it will still be there after the current board has wreaked its havoc.

There is of course a ton of soccer in this film. I had an issue with the first half-hour, where the game footage was a mash of split-second frame clips, too fast and short to see what was happening, and cued to convey emotion. I almost stopped watching because it felt like a commercial. And Mourinho as the bad guy is a meme today. But once past that point, the coverage was enjoyable and informative.

For a more historical documentary on Barcelona, check out Barça Dreams.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8

Resources:

‘Barça Dreams’ (2015) – the FCB brand begins at home

Barça Dreams (2015)

FC Barcelona is “Més que un Club” – More than a Club. And if you had any doubt, you should watch the documentary Barça Dreams. At 2 hours, this is probably the longest soccer documentary I’ve ever seen. Writer-Director Jordi Llompart covers the club’s history and culture, which has fermented and evolved since 1899. There is a lot of ground to cover, and it goes way beyond the pitch at Camp Nou, their fútbol stadium.

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‘Holy Goalie’ (2017) is one of the best soccer comedies

Holy Goalie (2017)

I am mystified that the Spanish media was mostly critical of Que baje Dios y lo vea (Holy Goalie), faulting it as clichéd and unimaginative, with actors in roles not much different from what they portray on popular TV shows. One writer even complained that there were too many jokes. Does Spain have the best television comedy in the world, so that this film pales in comparison?

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Football is medicine for ‘The Other Kids’ (2016)

The Other Kids (2016)

First-time Director Pablo de la Chica initially set out to make a documentary about the young Ugandan players who had a chance to visit FC Barcelona in 2007. While investigating, de la Chica found Mubiru Reagan playing soccer in a garbage dump near the Mandela National Stadium.

The landfill is heavy with the toxic smell of burned plastic, but Reagan plays joyously while wearing a Fernando Torres jersey. Reagan is only 5 years old, but his skill, confidence, and positivity make him the leading goalscorer.

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‘Dias de futbol’ (2003) a funny Spanish buddy film

Dias de Futbol (2003) amazon dvd

Días de fútbol, or Football Days, is a pretty funny Spanish buddy film about 7 men who resolve to enter and win a soccer league in order to cheer up Jorge, who has been dumped by his long-time girlfriend. All of the men have troubled love lives, and they are all terrible soccer players. They are led by Antonio, an ex-con with anger management issues, who wants to become a psychologist and tries to solve everyone’s problems.

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‘El Portero’ (2000) a pretty Spain in the ugly era of Franco

El Portero (2000)
aka The Goalkeeper

In El Portero, a former Real Madrid goalkeeper known as the King of the Penalty Kick, travels the Spanish countryside, wagering men to score against him. The villagers and the underground openly express their opposition to the repressive military dictatorship via a comedic penalty kick shootout versus the soldiers.

Continue reading “‘El Portero’ (2000) a pretty Spain in the ugly era of Franco”