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Review: Football millionaire from East (2015)

Director: | 80 minutes | | With: ,

What little boy doesn’t dream of becoming a professional football player? However, not many actually reach the top. One of the lucky ones to earn his money playing football is the Moroccan Mbark Boussoufa (1984). He never played in the Eredivisie; even as a little boy, he was snatched away from Ajax’s youth by scouts from Chelsea. At Stamford Bridge, after the arrival of the wealthy Russian owner Roman Abramovich – who bought countless big stars with his millions, he does not really get a foothold. Boussoufa moved to Belgium, where he first made a big impression at AA Gent and later at Anderlecht. His time in Brussels was particularly successful; Boussoufa celebrated two national titles and twice won the Golden Shoe (best player in the Belgian league), three times the Ebony Shoe (best football player with African roots) and was elected professional football player of the year three times. Not bad for a boy who was born on Molukkenstraat in Amsterdam East.

Carin Goeijers, who won a Golden Calf in 2000 for her documentary ‘De nieuwerwetse wereld’ and is also known for films such as ‘God Is My DJ’ (, about the dance scene) and ‘Bahar’ (2013, with the theme honor killing), followed Boussoufa and his and friends for two and a half years. He exchanged the Belgian league for the Russian in 2011; Mbark signed a contract with Anzhi Makhachkala, at the time the “toy” of the wealthy oil magnate Solyman Kerimov in the troubled state of Dagestan. Kerimov threw money, bought all kinds of top players (including Samuel Etoo and Willian) and paid them big. In his years at Anzji – under coach Guus Hiddink – Boussoufa earns tons of money. However, for security reasons, the team does not live and train in Makhachkala, but two thousand kilometers away, in Moscow. In her documentary, Goeijers focuses on Mbark’s bizarre life in Russia. The contrast between the gigantic but chilly and lonely palaces where he stays in Moscow, and the warmth of the simple apartment on Moluccas Street where his parents still live, is enormous.

Central to ‘Voetbalmillionaire uit Oost’ (2015) are the relationships that Mbark has with the people around him, or that he misses. His father Slima is rightly very proud of his son, but he is also concerned. His health is not so good anymore and he hopes that Mbark will once again bump into a good, pious woman who will give him grandchildren. However, his son has no intention of admitting the first gold digger in his life. The younger brother Moussi, who also enjoyed playing football – and is now his brother’s “personal assistant” – apparently doesn’t always feel comfortable being compared to Mbark all the time. It is poignant to see that Boussoufa, with all his money and in his immense palace with swimming pool, languishes alone during Ramadan – a perfect time to spend with family and friends. When you see him revive during a game of street football with his old Amsterdam friends, when he is back home for a while, you wonder why on earth he plays football in such a remote corner. Is the money worth all that?

We see Mbark, with the select group of people he confides in in Russia (besides his brother also childhood friend Lorenzo and driver Johnny), enjoy the good life and the wealth. But a large part of his money also goes to people who are less fortunate, in the poverty-stricken Moroccan village where his parents come from. The local school receives a contribution, wells are drilled and solar panels are installed and at the hospital the sick, blind and other poor people receive some money. Because that’s how it should be, if you are a good Muslim, Mbark thinks. If his parents weren’t so keen to continue to live on Molukkenstraat, he would certainly have bought them an urban villa as well. For a moment it is uncertain whether Boussoufa can continue his successful career; At the start of the 2013-2014 season, Kerimov – number 37 on the list of the richest people in the world – suddenly pulls the plug on his football project. All expensive domestic and foreign players, including Boussoufa, are sold. Fortunately, he can go to Lokomotiv Moscow, where he is still under contract. Still a long way from home …

“Football Millionaire from East” offers an interesting glimpse into a world that normally remains closed to most people; that of the ball of millions called professional football. Even though the camera is not everywhere (contract negotiations are not in the picture, for example), we still feel like a fly on the wall in the Boussoufa house for a while. What this documentary mainly teaches us is that, no matter how many millions you have in your bank account, your and friends are still your greatest wealth. It doesn’t get more meaningful than the moving final scene!

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