Apple TV+ Charts Lionel Messi’s World Cup Journey

From its ten-year, $2.5 billion Major League Soccer (MLS) deal to an array of high-profile insider athlete documentaries, Apple TV+ has made a significant play for the streaming sports fan. Its latest effort in that space is Messi’s World Cup: The Rise of a Legend, charting Lionel Messi’s long journey to win international football’s top trophy. The four-part series, which premieres today (February 21), features interviews with the iconic Argentinean athlete and insights from fans who made the long journey to Qatar, teammates, coaches, commentators and more.

“It was an incredible collaboration between an Argentinean team, a U.S. team and a British team,” says Jenna Millman, executive producer on the series from Smuggler Entertainment in association with PEGSA. “It was a global collaboration to make this come to life.”

That journey began just two weeks before the World Cup’s official start in Doha, Qatar, in 2022. “We had high hopes and good expectations,” says Millman on charting Messi’s last World Cup—capping off five appearances at the event—“but we didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

From the outset, the goal, according to Juan Camilo Cruz Orrego, also an executive producer, was to “show his 17-year career with the Argentinean national team and his relationship with his country throughout this whole experience. We wanted to follow him in this last segment of this remarkable dream and see if he would achieve it. The series was always about the journey more than the end. We’re lucky that he won, but winning or not winning wouldn’t have changed who he is and what he represents for the whole world.”

The four-parter features a series of intimate conversations with the notoriously shy footballer. “Leo was incredibly generous with his time, both with these capstone interviews before and after [the World Cup], and then allowing us to be with him during these moments to get his predictions and reflections,” Millman says. “He’s a man of few words but says quite a lot with each one. The key thing was letting him feel comfortable expressing his own story, giving him a platform to tell his own story in his own words. A lot of times, it’s the look on his face, the expression, the moments of silence that speak boatloads about who he actually is as a person, his strength and his character. In this series, you also get to see a raw side of him that you haven’t seen before. Particularly when he’s talking about the pressures that he’s felt. You see that he’s human, and then he’s not just this icon.”

Millman is no stranger to sports docs, having served as showrunner for the ten-part The Dynasty: New England Patriots, now streaming on Apple TV+, and HBO’s Tiger, a two-parter about Tiger Woods. “What is so different about this one is this love story between Leo and his country,” she says. “This is not just a story about a superstar athlete trying to achieve another goal. This is about a hero to his country trying to achieve a goal with his country. We were filming in Argentina simultaneously because we wanted to make sure that we had the pulse of the nation captured in real time as the World Cup was going on. That was how we wanted to hone in on this story. What makes him different? He is, at his core, a boy from Rosario who likes to play ball. That’s what we wanted to bring out. That’s how we start the film, and that’s the message we wanted to leave people with.”