A Swedish teenage football prodigy who is acquired by a top Italian team finds that the high price tag placed on his skills doesn’t necessarily transfer to his self-worth, in this impressive, knotty examination of the psychology of sporting excellence. The second feature from writer-director Ronnie Sandahl (who also wrote the screenplay for the tale of tennis rivalry Borg vs McEnroe), Tigers is inspired by the real-life story of Martin Bengtsson.
Erik Enge is remarkable in the central role of Martin. He’s a gauche, driven kid with braces and a notebook in which he writes, in his naive child’s hand, motivational notes to himself: Train Eat Recover. But he finds himself in a world that, while not exactly grownup – the other junior team members are arrested in a kind of petulant permanent adolescence – is full of adult temptations and challenges.
Ostracised by the fact that he speaks no Italian, and struggling to understand the animosity that’s directed at him by the other players, Martin finds a friend in American teammate Ryan (Alfred Enoch), and a girlfriend, Vibeke (Frida Gustavsson), a Swedish model coasting in a job she no longer cares about.
But Martin’s career, according to the slick-suited men who treat young players like expensive additions to their toy box, should come before all else. Lonely, depressed and in crisis, he finds that dark thoughts rush into the hole where his emotional support system used to be. It’s an accomplished, unusually sophisticated take on the sports movie genre, which marks Sandahl out as a premier league talent.