Spygate, deadline-day confusion, an uncontested goal, hope, belief and a final spectacular defeat, all described by Russell Crowe – the latest football documentary to hit a streaming service is not for the faint-hearted.
Take Us Home: Leeds United, which landed on Amazon Prime on Friday, tells the story of the club’s 2018-19 season, their first under Marcelo Bielsa and one where they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League.
But as Leeds fans know only too well, this is only part of the story.
It follows in the footsteps of recent streaming football documentaries that have focused on Manchester City’s 2017-18 Premier League title success and Sunderland’s Championship relegation campaign the same year.
Produced by Eleven Studios – the production arm of Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani’s company, Eleven Sports – it is both polished and positive. We’re unlikely to get the expletive-fuelled changing room rants of Premier Passions or the raw touchline laments of The Impossible Job.
Here are some things we learned from the first episode.
Bielsa is the star
While All or Nothing: Manchester City was an inspiring insight into success and Sunderland ‘Til I Die provided an uncomfortable rubber-necking at failure, Take Us Home falls somewhere in the middle, charting a season where Leeds failed at their ultimate goal but made huge strides in doing so.
The first episode acts as something of a prologue – channelling the early-season optimism coursing through the club and ending with them three points clear at the top of the Championship after eight games.
Front and centre is Argentine Bielsa, who took over as manager in the summer of 2018 having earned a reputation as one of the greatest coaches in world football during stints at Newell’s Old Boys, Athletic Bilbao, Marseille and the Chile national team.
In the documentary, he is spoken about with a mixture of awe (Newell’s kit man Pancho Aguilano calls him a “god”) and incredulity that Leeds were able to secure his services (defender Luke Ayling: “All of us were like ‘wow, we’re about to work for one of the best managers’ so whatever he wants you’re ‘yeah, yeah, no problem’.”)
Former Bilbao and Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera also pops up to preach about “the most honest guy he has met in football”.
Even midfielder Kalvin Phillips’ grandma thinks he is “lovely”, as she proudly declares to her grandson in his kitchen.
An enigmatic figure, Bielsa conducted his first sit-down interview in more than 20 years for the documentary, but all we hear from this is his disembodied voice, philosophising in a manner with which those who follow his news conferences will be familiar (“As managers we have no choice but to impose what we think, because we can’t convince by proposing something that we don’t believe in.”)
What is clear is that everyone connected with Leeds – owner, players, fans and local press – all put Leeds’ improvement from a side that floundered to 13th in 2017-18 to promotion challengers largely down to Bielsa.
There is also the insinuation that the affection is mutual, with ex-Newell’s player Ricardo Lunari saying: “If Bielsa doesn’t feel in love with a city he will not go”. This may well explain why he decided to remain at Leeds for a second go at promotion in 2019-20.
Victor Orta is a fiery character
Early in the documentary, when explaining his knowledge of Leeds, director of football Orta describes himself as “like a crazy football fan”.
A few scenes later, the Spaniard is shown reacting to a Leeds goal, leaping from his seat wild-eyed, flinging his arms in the air and screaming – a stark contrast from the more reserved appreciation of owner Radrizzani and chief executive Angus Kinnear.
As a teaser for episode two, there is also an incident in the tunnel after the Brentford game when Orta launches into a verbal tirade about the decision to award the Bees a controversial penalty.
Some Leeds supporters have questioned Orta’s recruitment abilities, but it is difficult to suggest he does not care on this evidence.
Russell Crowe can make anything sound dramatic
Anyone who has seen Gladiator will be aware of Crowe’s ability to deliver an impactful speech.
While not in full Maximus Decimus Meridius mode here, the Australian’s deep tones infuse the narration with plenty of authority and the right amount of portent for the events to come.
So, whether it’s rattling through a brief business biography of club owner Radrizzani or teeing us up for future episodes with promises of drama to come, the Hollywood star (and Leeds fan) keeps the viewer interested.
‘There is a long, tWISting road ahead’
Anyone familiar with Leeds’ 2018-19 season will be aware of some of drama and controversy to come.
And the documentary makes it clear that the relentless positivity of its first episode will not last, with a montage showing pained fan expressions, defender Pontus Jansson responding “absolutely not” to being asked if they should have let Aston Villa score unchallenged, Swansea winger Daniel James looking lost at Elland Road on deadline day and supporters chanting “we’ll spy where we want”.
There is also some hefty foreshadowing through the clear spelling out of the format and stakes should Leeds miss out on automatic promotion and end up in the play-offs.