Spanning eight episodes on Amazon Prime, El Presidente brings us into the corridors of power at the heart of South American soccer and tells the story of the 2015 corruption scandal that rocked FIFA. Blending fun notes of satire into its tale of greed, ambition, and the boffo money machine that is international soccer, El Presidente was written by Armando Bo, who netted a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Birdman in 2014.
Opening Shot: City lights twinkle in the current of a river as we pan out on a water taxi. A title tells us it’s July 2015, and we’re in Geneva, Switzerland. The boat drops its passengers at FIFA’s glittering headquarters.
The Gist: Julio Grondona is narrating his own funeral. As mourners mill about, the longtime boss of the Argentine Football Association and FIFA vice president explains for us how the world of soccer works. “Of course the players are the real stars,” Don Julio says in voiceover. “But they have a short shelf life. They are the essence of soccer; we are simply…the owners.” And the camera finds one group at the funeral, men in dark suits who murmer about Grondona’s successor. These are the bosses of the major South American soccer associations, and you can smell the graft on these guys. (Grondona calls them vultures.) He also introduces us to Sergio Jadue, the small-time boss of the Chilean club La Calera, who soon finds himself sitting among the sport’s elite power brokers, though not quite in the way he and his wife had imagined.
El Presidente recounts the 2015 FIFA corruption case, a wide-ranging, continent-spanning investigation that revealed rampant corruption and collusion at the highest levels of international soccer. At the center of its story is Jadue (played by Colombian actor Andres Parra), the ambitious boss of a minor soccer club who finds himself thrust into the presidency of the Chilean national team when the sport’s kingpins aim to use him as a patsy. Jadue has other ideas, of course, and so does his wife Maria, who craves a bigger spotlight and a better paycheck than the provincial La Calera can offer. Jadue readily accepts an offer to take the executive job, but quickly learns that he’s only power-adjacent, expected to do the more powerful bosses’ bidding, like fire the popular coach that they want gone. When a means of turning the tables on this moneyed inner circle is literally slipped under his hotel room door, Jadue jumps at the chance to stick it to “the soccer ball that never stops spinning and earning,” and ideally gain the influence he and his wife crave. It’s all a pretty big rush. And then the FBI comes calling.
Our take: Andres Parra looks remarkably like the real-life Sergio Jadue, but then again he looked remarkably like Pablo Escobar when he played the infamous drug lord on the 2012 telenovela Pablo Escobar, el patron del mal, so let’s just call it great acting. And Parra is great in El Presidente. He portrays Jadue as an eager bumpkin with ambition who isn’t quite smart enough to realize that he’s getting played, his brow forever furrowed in manic bemusement as he falls ass backward into the presidency of the Chilean national soccer association and convinces himself (with the prodding of his even more ambitious wife) that he deserves it.
Sex and Skin: Brief flashes of exotic dancers in montage; the suggestion of hanky-panky in Paraguayan hotel rooms.
Parting Shot: We’re back at Don Julio’s funeral, and the bosses are meeting among the mausoleums to discuss his successor. Jadue is strolling quietly into their circle; after all, he’s one of them now. But then we learn why Jade’s eyes look so shifty. He’s wearing a wire for the Feds.
Sleeper Star: Paulina Gaitan (Narcos) is terrific as Jadue’s wife Maria, a woman who has never been content with the meager gate receipts of the La Calera soccer club and pushes her husband to aim higher by whatever means necessary. When she strolls cooly into the national soccer foundation’s offices for the first time, it’s with a delicious look of calculated satisfaction. And she insults Jade’s secretary just because she can.
Most Pilot-y Line: “Passion is always on the border of madness. And soccer is passion.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. The misadventures of Sergio and Maria Jadue as they insert themselves into the bloodstream of soccer’s highest body promise to deliver loads of greed, backstabbing, intrigue and, ultimately, comeuppance. We know what happened to these people in real life. But it’s fun to watch them try to get their piece of the action.
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges