To be released worldwide Nov. 4 on Prime Video, Amazon Original “El Presidente: The Corruption Game,” from Academy Award winner Armando Bo, is a Latin American series about how a Brazilian, João Havelange, wrestled control from Europe of the biggest sport on earth.
In a neat historical echo, backed by Bo, “Narcos” producer Gaumont TV, Pablo and Juan de Dios Larraín’s Fabula (“La Jauría”) and Argentine powerhouse Kapow (“La Jauría”), the second season in the “El Presidente” series saga of soccer business high jinks and low morals now looks set to become one of the biggest soccer titles released in the countdown to the greatest show on earth, the FIFA World Cup.
Whether FIFA will be entirely comfortable with it is another matter, if a trailer, shared in exclusivity with Variety, is anything to go by.
One of Iberseries’ biggest market premieres, “El Presidente: The Corruption Game” now world premieres its first two episodes on Oct. 14 at this year’s reinvigorated Festival do Rio.
Season 1 turned on the feckless, sly, amoral but simpático Sergio Jadue, a Chilean small town soccer club supremo who’s elected president of Chile’s soccer assn. The wrong man in the right place, a fish out of water, he rises in FIFA’s hierarchy, sparking FIFA Gate, a $150 million corruption scandal. Bo tells the story as ironic farce.
Now narrated by Jadue, “The President: The Corruption Game” teases out the human tragedy in a still arch comedy which unspools on a far grander scale.
It takes on another extraordinary – but far more towering – figure, Brazil’s Havelange, FIFA president over 1974-98. A hulking giant with dashing blond looks, Havelange dedicated his life to serving Brazil – swimming in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, working as the vice-president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation from 1958 to 1973, when Brazil won three World Cups – and to serving himself from FIFA’s gravy train.
Glimpsed in the trailer, colorful scenes kick off “El Presidente: The Corruption Game” with Havelange fuming as Pele is literally kicked out of the first round of England’s 1966 Word Cup, Havelange, the son of a Belgian arms dealer, is outraged by a FIFA meeting where “third world” members are forced to sit in a different room from their European colleagues.
In 1974, as Johan Cruyff forged the modern game on-field, Havelange began to revolutionize its economics and reach – central events in the second season.
Seizing control of FIFA from Sir Stanley Rous, a neo-colonial buffer, over the next 24 years, he created soccer’s modern global business, powered by sponsorship and TV deals, while enlarging the World Cup to 32 teams and and introducing a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
But Havelange did so at a tremendous cost, opening FIFA up to multi-million bribery and money laundering and losing his friends, family and honor when he fell into final total disgrace over the 2015-16 FIFA Gate at the age of 98.
“El Presidente: The Corruption Game,” a mixture of near doc recreation and self-declared fiction, begins with a doddery Havelange, now celebrating his 100th birthday. Only one guest accepts his invitation.
Much of this is caught in the fast-paced, extensive trailer. Havelange used Brazil’s stunning 1970 World Cup triumph to bid to become FIFA president. He is rebuffed by Europe’s still colonial FIFA members. “Even if Brazil wins 100 World Cups, decisions will never be made in the colonies,” FIFA general secretary Helmut Kässer tells him.
Havelange launches an extraordinary play for the votes of poor countries, winning them by his promises, backhanders and a tour of Africa with Pele.
“FIFA is entering the future,” Havelange announces in the trailer. Nobody transformed soccer more off the field more than he did. It wasn’t all for the better.
Variety talked to Bo and Gaumont senior VP Christian Gabela, head of Latin America and US Latinx, in the run-up to the world premiere.
History is often written by the winners , so very often by the U.S, the U.K. and the rest of Europe. From its corrupt narrator, Sergio Jadue and its subject, “El Presidente” Season 2 adopts a Latin American viewpoint…
Armando Bo: Telling Havelange’s story was a big challenge for us, because he took it upon himself to tell his own story. In a way he had never lost any battles, nor had setbacks till he was 99, when the FIFA gate exploded so his last two years where a nightmare. He was a guy that was 100% marketing. So with the writing team we chose to begin in the 1966 English World Cup [which Brazil didn’t win]. Havelange, in Brazil, was a European, an aspirational white man in those times. In Episode 1, he has to choose between trying to be one more European in Europe, which the European FIFA Executives laugh at, or marketing himself as a “third world” Latin American, which plays to his advantage because he will need to get the support and votes from the Africans who are big fans of Pele.
Christian Gabela: And not just a Latino. At FIFA, he finishes up as the voice and face of the “third world,” especially Africa, which is ironic and cynical for a privileged white man from Rio…..
Bo: Season 2 is very different from Season 1. This one is laced with politics and social considerations which make it a lot deeper than the first, it focuses on soccer’s transition from an amateur sport to a money making machine. It talks, though shot through with irony, pretty deeply about colonialism, capitalism and military dictators. We mixed all that with the sport that all the world loves.
You also underscore the tragedy of Havelange, picturing him at 100, near totally abandoned….
Bo: It was the first idea I thought of when I began to think on focusing on Havelange’s story and how he conquered the world. Picturing the poor man from an ironic point of view at 100. If he’d died at 98, he’d never have heard of FIFA Gate….
Gabela: When researching, we discovered a book written about him which he tried to control of its messaging. He wanted to write his own story, giving everything a positive spin. A short time later, FIFA Gate exploded, while he was still alive.
For a globe-tracking narrative, some of the scenes which stand out in Episode 1 are the bathetic vignettes of Havelange’s domestic life, as his wife bears the brunt of an absent husband….
Bo: Since Havelange was such a control freak, we know nothing about his private life, so we had to invent a lot, which is a hallmark of the series: It’s never totally serious nor straight drama and tries to have fun with the importance of soccer in all the world.
For global streamers, Brazil is one of the biggest markets in international. “El Presidente” Season 2 looks to me like a play for the Brazilian market which will also be global, given its subject….
Gabela: Yes, the subject of the series offers a natural way to target a territory while also taking advantage of the World Cup, allowing us to create a global title. Brazil is a reference in soccer, has always been so.
Bo: The challenge was to tell a story about Brazil which connected with the world. So having Havelange, a character who conquered the world, definitely helped. The global reach is in the DNA of the story. Amazon and Gaumont’s backing also allowed me to fly and have a lot of freedom from the creative perspective and also to aim for high production values, a big production that this story deserves. The period VFX is very well achieved. The English characters are played by English actors, the Spanish by Spanish, the Swiss by Swiss. This also boosted the series’ realism.
Season 2 certainly looks like a step-up in scale from Season 1….
Bo: The story has to be ambitious. We could tell the story of farmer and his farm and not be ambitious. But this man and this story? If we weren’t ambitious, we wouldn’t be doing it merit.
The first episode spans multiple events, had a host of characters and is told in unflagging quick-fire scenes…..
Bo: The series certainly looks to tell this parody and entertain, that you don’t fall asleep, get bored, are trapped. For me, this rhythm was key. There was always a sense from the production that there were too many scenes in the scripts. But I knew that in editing we weren’t going to use all of the scenes all the time but instead, moments from scenes, highlights, as it were. And always moving at this rhythm which doesn’t let you rest. Havelange governed FIFA for so many years that I needed to choose a moment and tell it in a very dynamic way. It was key to produce this in Uruguay because it has incredible locations, and they were all really near, so we had the possibility to move very fast between very different locations. Also we had two units shooting six days a week . It was a big battle, but when you see the show I think the money is the screen. We are very proud of it.