Netflix UK film review: Anelka: Misunderstood
Ivan Radford | On 09, Aug 2020
Director: Franck Nataf
Cast: Nicolas Anelka, Arsène Wenger, Thierry Henry
Watch Anelka: Misunderstood online in the UK: Netflix UK
When it comes to sports documentaries – a growing staple of Netflix and Amazon’s original output – the general truth is that the more accessible it is the better. If a film or series can grab the attention of someone who isn’t even interested in sports, it’s an even greater sign of success. Anelka: Misunderstood, Netflix’s latest football series, is the opposite – it’s a film that will benefit from being watched by football fans.
The documentary promises to take us behind the persona of Nicolas Anelka, the bad boy of French football. The thing is, his persona has been given multiple labels over the years, from arrogant and inspired to precocious and unmanageable. Is he a genius or an egoist? A troublemaker or just, as the title suggests, misunderstood?
Director Franck Nataf takes us through his 20-year career in top-flight football, starting with his days in the impoverished Paris suburbs before he raced to England to play for Arsenal, Liverpool Chelsea, not to mention stints at Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. It’s a career that saw him cross paths with all manner of football royalty, and they line up here to contribute their opinion. Arsène Wenger is heartfelt in his recollections of the young Anelka trying to make his mark, while Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba both bring friendly familiarity with their own professional experience.
The archive footage is a treat, piecing together a montage of football highlights that will give any fan their fix of sporting action in between Premier League seasons. But it’s Anelka’s off-pitch career that he’s best known for, whether it’s allegedly swearing at a manager that led to a player strike or displaying a gesture that was perceived as antisemitic during a celebration at West Brom in 2013 – a gesture that he argued was intended as anti-establishment.
The documentary takes him at his word on most of these matters, which is no doubt the price paid for the level of access Nataf has – and yet that only adds to the fascination, as Anelka comes across as muted, restrained, composed and mature in his commentary on his own life. It’s more rewarding to see him on screen taking part in his narrative, rather than someone else assemble the jigsaw puzzle, even if that means the ambiguity of the player remains largely unsolved by the end credits. The result is an interesting portrait of player more famous for the points of his life when he wasn’t playing – one that won’t intrigue non-football fans, but has fun playing with the baggage that any football lover brings to the game.
Anelka: Misunderstood is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.