FOX Sports “Phenoms” Preview: New Show Follows World Cup Dreams

FOX Sports “Phenoms” Preview: New Show Follows World Cup Dreams



Phenoms is a new show on FOX Sports that follows 60 young soccer players as they try and achieve the ultimate dream of representing their nation in the World Cup. Andrew sat down with Executive Producers David Worthen Brooks and Mario Melchiot to have a chat about the show.


What is a Phenom?

David Worthen Brooks: A phenom is a soccer player under 20, and over the last couple of years we’ve been following 65 of them around the world. We’ve got 12 directors who’ve been shooting in 35 countries following these young players from all different stratas of the game. There are kids we’ve followed who are in very modest academies, and who have been set up in their countries to ensure these young men finish their secondary education…there’s an academy in Senegal, and we followed a player there who’s now graduated with a secondary education and he’s gone on to a 2nd division Portuguese club. On the other hand, we followed Gabriel Jesus from Brazil to Manchester City. So we have those two ends of the spectrum, and everything that could possibly fit in between.


Football has a worldwide popularity above all other sports–it’s the universal language, of sorts. How did football first grip you guys?

Mario Melchiot : I started playing when I was five years old. One of my oldest brothers played, and I wanted to be just like him. When I was around 14 years old, I was a ball guy, which is when I realized I wanted to be a professional soccer player…when i was 17, i signed my first deal with Ajax, and I became a pro–and never looked back. My journey was different than a lot of the kids we follow because I came from what was known as one of the best schools in the world–but Phenoms shows there’s no one way to do it…I love all sports but I think soccer touches my heart the most, and that’s why we did this project: to follow those guys who want to take it to the next level, who have one dream as an objective–to go from an amateur, to representing your club, to representing your country on the international stage.


With so many narratives from all strata of football,why is it important to follow the personal on such a close level?

Mario Melchiot: Things are always different between your big glubs like Real Madrid and your smaller clubs like Genk, your difficult and less difficult situations…I don’t want to say less difficult, because it’s still a dream that you have to work incredibly hard to achieve–sometimes we say it’s easier at top clubs but it’s not, you still have to produce and deliver the goods to get to the world cup cause there’s so many players who want the same thing as you. Every individual of the 60 players we followed has their own journey, and we have a respect for what it takes to make it, and we wanted to highlight that.


Mario, you represented the Dutch on an international level. What did that mean the first time you donned the orange jersey?

Mario Melchiot: When you play the game, you have the dream of being a pro. You do it because you look at your family and want to give them more than they already have…my family had a good life, but I wanted to give them a great life. When I became a pro, and kids would wear my jersey with my name on the back, I’d go to my mother and say “look, mom, that’s your name they’re wearing.” Then you take it to the international stage, it’s a bigger scale. As a child, you’re so connected to your family, and all you care about is the validation that they give you when you succeed. After playing for Holland, I knew that I was up to something great.


David, you’ve been a football fan your whole life. How did it first grip you?

David Worthen Brooks: When I was 6, the FA Cup final was Chelsea-Tottenham, 1967. A local derby. Tottenham won 2-1…sorry Mario.

Mario Melchiot: I’m a Chelsea man.

David Worthen Brooks: Those are the kind of events that make your mind up for a 6 year old, so i became a Tottenham fan…also, my dad was from a Jewish background and Tottenham were the Jewish club of London, so when we first moved to England, he was already associated with them. He told me they had this amazing team in 1960-61 that was the first team in the 20th century to win the double, and he was this sheltered boy from Philadelphia who went and stood in the stands at White Hart Lane with everyone packed in so tight…he’d never heard so much swearing before, with people smoking cigarettes in each others’ faces, it was so shocking for him. But he cleared the way for me to be a Spurs fan. I remember a dream I had when i was 12: I was on the pitch playing for Tottenham, the announcer in the dream said “this is the youngest kid ever to play for Tottenham.” Mario did it, but it’s everyone’s dream. In the rest of the world, where soccer isn’t pay to play, and we don’t have “soccer moms” but just bring a ball to the local park and pray that the kids we’re playing against aren’t that much bigger than we are….you and your brother you go out, you find a game, and that’s what we used to do. One of the big questions for me is how does the USMNT get to the level the USWNT is at, because when US is firing on all cylinders on international stage, it’ll be as big here as it is in the rest of the world, and that’ll be the most amazing feeling.


Everyone knows big clubs like Barcelona and Manchester United, but not everyone knows Anderlecht or Genk or Birmingham City…what’s it like to see the treatment of football in towns with clubs without that worldwide profile?

David Worthen Brooks: There’s an amazing story we followed with the Irish kid Callum O’Dowda, who played for Oxford. In the show, we get into the players’ private lives, and we talked to his dad. The story goes: Oxford went from League One to the Championship which means there was a game at Wembley where they qualified for that promotion. Callum scored a goal in that game, and his dad recorded the goal on his cell phone and plays it back for himself whenever he has a spare moment. He knows what the commentator says by heart, and he mouths along the words like a song, and it’s the song of his son’s victory…what better thing could there be than for a father to see their son score at Wembley?


If you could tell any untold story in the history of soccer, what would you choose?

Mario Melchiot: Any football story. Why do I say that? Because there are so many questions that haven’t been answered…so many kids that have the dream to be a footballer but don’t know how to achieve it. When you watch Phenoms, we answer some of those questions.


Phenoms will be out in May on Fox Sports, just in time for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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