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FIFA ‘mafia’ depicted in new Amazon Prime satire

Los Angeles (AFP) – Fans yearning for the return of professional soccer have spent months rewatching classic matches, obsessing over “contact training” schedules and adopting teams from far-flung leagues that play in empty stadiums.

Amazon Prime’s new series “El Presidente,” out Friday, provides a much-needed football fix — but its witheringly satirical take on the 2015 “Fifagate” corruption scandal may leave supporters questioning whether the return of the beautiful game is a good thing after all.

“It was crazy what was going on, no?” said series creator and writer Armando Bo. 

“Not just FIFA… the corruption scandal was so huge, the FBI wanted to show they were the good guys… Everyone wanted to be part of it. So many hands on this super huge business.”

The $150 million bribery scandal that rocked the football world with the arrests of dozens of soccer executives — many of them Latin American — culminated in the downfall of FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

“El Presidente” tells the story through the eyes of Sergio Jadue, a young Chilean who improbably rose from the front office of a humble local club to the vice presidency of CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body.

Filmed mainly in Spanish with subtitles, its depiction of a naive but ambitious character getting swept up in an international criminal world of bribery, fraud and even violence is reminiscent of Netflix’s hit drama “Narcos.”

“I guess it’s different, football and drugs — for me, the big challenge was there’s not so much blood,” joked Bo, who won an Oscar for co-writing 2014’s black comedy “Birdman.”

“This kind of mafia is more difficult. In ‘Narcos,’ you can just kill everyone and that’s it. It’s real. Here, people didn’t die — not too many.”

Amazon will hope “El Presidente” — co-produced by Gaumont, the same French firm behind “Narcos” — enjoys the same global appeal as that show.

Hopping between countries and following a US undercover agent who tracked Jadue and his co-conspirators, the series is “really local but also really meaningful in every country,” said Bo.

“And it’s an era when subtitles are allowed, no?” added the Argentine. “We are seeing international content in the American market, after ‘Narcos,’ after ‘Parasite,’ even ‘Roma.’

“We are seeing that stories need to be told in the language that is more natural, more real, more credible.”

– Behind the curtain –

A soccer fan who adores Lionel Messi, Bo admits it can be painful to look behind the curtain at the greed and corruption rampant in the world’s most popular sport.

The show is narrated from beyond the grave by Julio Grondona, the real-life veteran Argentine soccer boss.

Grondona’s character highlights the vast contrast between fans’ unadulterated passion for “the World Cup people see” and the true “business World Cup” — an unrivalled cash machine for those pulling the strings. 

Glamorous events like the Brazil 2014 World Cup and Chile’s historic Copa America victory on home soil the following year take a back seat to grubby TV rights deals. 

But at a time when the world is locked down, the success of shows like Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance” demonstrates a pent-up appetite for the stories behind famous past sporting dramas, Bo said.

“We are experiencing now so many things that we need to question about ourselves as a society,” he added.

“But I’m a big sports fan, and when it’s back, I will be there watching for sure.”

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