Exhilarating New Soccer – Sorry, Football – Docu-series ‘PHENOMS’ Debuting at SXSW
Soccer – football, of course, to the rest of the world – has had a tendency to ebb and flow pretty wildly in its popularity Stateside. But perhaps the new globalized, digitized reality has now sealed its status in the US; indeed, at least in major urban areas, America has decidedly caught World Cup fever in these last few years.
So the new 5-part Fox Sports docu-series PHENOMS should kick up quite a stir when it gets a “sneak peek” premiere at the Fox Sports House at SXSW this coming weekend.
The series follows the lives – both professional and private – of more than 60 of what will likely be the next generation of superstars in “The Beautiful Game,” as it’s affectionately referred to by fans. You don’t know all of their names yet, but Paulo Dybala, Ousmane Dembele, Adrien Rabiot, Leon Goretzka, Corentin Tolisso, Hirving Lozano…have already left fans swooning and shouting with their remarkable abilities on the field. Footage for the doc was shot in more than 20 countries, by 12 different directors.
To give you an idea of the fervor surrounding its release, infamous footy fanatic Gordon Ramsay has even cooked up a special menu for the kickoff event in Austin on Sunday (mini kielbasa representing Poland, macarons representing France, albondigas representing the Latin nations – you get the idea.)
Leading up to the debut – and in hot anticipation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia this summer – we caught up with PHENOMS producers Mario Melchiot and David Worthen Brooks to discuss their inspiration and expectations for the series.
What compelled you to tell this story?
Mario Melchiot: To introduce the world to what it takes to become a phenom. Because there are so many questions asked by young talented footballers and parents and fans; we want to help guide them, guide their children to become the next Phenoms. With this documentary, we will be able to answer all the questions they have ever wanted to ask.
David Worthen Brooks: My love and fascination for the World Cup is deeply rooted – as a ten year old I was already obsessed. Nothing beats the spectacle of amazing players converging from all parts of the globe. PHENOMS has been the perfect outlet to express that fascination.
With so many young, talented soccer players, how did you ultimately decide on the players who are featured in PHENOMS?
Mario: I worked closely with another producer, Arbi Pedrossian, to identify the young talents of the world now. Arbi was key in finding the talent, and then we looked at the clips and used my knowledge of the game, my history, and I was able to select those that I saw in my eyes who would have the opportunity to play for their national team. You’re never going to get it all right, but we did a pretty good job if I so myself.
David: Three years ago Mario and Arbi did an amazing job of predicting which unknown players were going to blow up.
International fans become deeply attached to their favorite players. What were you trying to reveal to them about those players with PHENOMS?
David: Remember what it was like to turn twenty? End of adolescence. Start of adulthood. It’s a profound moment in anyone’s life. We wanted to catch these prodigies at this critical moment in their lives.
Mario: They are more than superstars; they are human beings that live a different life to a certain degree that the fans normally don’t get to see. If you take the game away from them, they’re just like everyone else.
Some of the players featured in the documentary are from internationally known clubs – Real Madrid, Manchester City, Tottenham. Did those clubs’ wide fanbases factor into the decision to feature those players in the documentary?
Mario: No, we looked at the quality of the player. A phenom is not based on only the club, it is based on the player’s quality. You can perfectly fit the definition of a “Phenom” and not be from one of those big clubs; Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. But, as soon as you become a Phenom, all of those big giants come after you.
David: The big clubs are the logical destination for Phenoms – and while shooting we have followed our subjects from the lower leagues to the big powerhouses. For instance we accompany Gabriel Jesus from Brazil to Manchester City, and Corentin Tolisso from his hometown to Bayern Munich. We also track stories like Moses Simon, who is still in a lower league, but if he has a good World Cup we’ll see him at a huge club come fall 2018.
What was something surprising you discovered about the stories of these players while filming PHENOMS?
Mario: That you can identify so much with it. That our lives have so many similarities; that we all work so hard to the best that we can be. You see how much dedication and hunger and belief in themselves that they have, and that’s what sets them apart. It allows them to achieve so much more in their professional life; like playing for their national country.
David: I was struck by how many of these young men have already had to deal with massive life events – like the tragic loss of a parent – at such an early age.
There are obviously some big international stars in the documentary such as Dele Alli, Gabriel Jesus, and Paulo Dybala. Who are some of the players that are not so well known who have some incredible stories to tell?
Mario: Moses Simon is a great example. You will see that the journies of some of the players are not easy. Just by the decision at the young age of changing your comfort zone, the place you’re from, where your family is, to a whole new territory. You have to settle in on your own and adapt quickly. Leaving Nigeria for Belgium is incredible. Oliver Burke is another good example; he goes to Germany and then travels back to England, where he was comfortable and where he was at home – but that doesn’t equal success.
David: Saul Niguez is amazing – he played for a season with a catheter – just the most incredible grit and determination. Aleksandr Selikhoff was sent home as a teenager by the top clubs in Russia due to a heart condition, but fought his way back to the top of that league, and is now poised for a massive career.
You were a professional soccer player for 17 years. Is there a certain player’s story that you most related to?
Mario: I related to so many of the stories. Having a single mom with five kids, and you understood that she couldn’t always go to watch my games. The belief of your family is what makes you succeed on the field because you know that you have their support; that is worth more than anything else, during football and away from football. Also, as a child you have a dream and, you find success to make that dream into your work. Now that I’m retired and looking back, I still think it is the best sport in the world to be a part of.