Despite sharing a surname, Pablo Escobar and Andrés Escobar were not related and did not, by all accounts, have a particularly special relationship, at least no more special than any Colombian national soccer player had with the most notorious and powerful drug kingpin in history. Pablo Escobar died on December 2, 1993, after a years-long manhunt of dubious legitimacy finally ended in a hail of gunfire. Andrés Escobar died on July 2, 1994, murdered outside a bar in response to his devastating “own goal” against the United States in that summer’s World Cup. The deaths would seem to be as tangentially related as their names, but Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s arresting documentary The Two Escobars—aired as part of ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentary series, and now getting a theatrical run—finds connections deeply embedded in a soccer culture fueled by the country’s thieving cocaine trade.
In truth, connections could be made between everyone and Pablo Escobar, especially those, like Andrés, who grew up in the city of Medellin, Pablo’s home and the name of his international cartel. At the height of his power in the ’80s, Pablo was the de facto ruler of Colombia, shamelessly wiping out the handful of politicians and lawmen who dared challenge his legitimacy. But his reign was not entirely malevolent, either: Though his philanthropy cannot be extracted from his self-interest, Pablo became a hero to the poor, rebuilding houses and schools and providing an infrastructure that the government couldn’t—or perhaps wouldn’t—supply. He was also passionate about soccer above all, and a once-dormant soccer culture suddenly became an international force, with drug money funneled into pristine new neighborhood fields, a thriving league (with plenty of high-stakes gambling opportunities), and a sudden prominence on the international scene.
Like everyone else talented enough to wear a uniform, Andrés Escobar benefited from “narco-soccer,” but the Zimbalists, aided by interviews with family members and others close to him, paint Andrés as a kind, retiring defenseman who tried to keep his head down. The Two Escobars suggests that Andrés was entirely a victim of fate: The deflection that slipped past his own goalie would have happened to anyone, and the corrupt soccer culture that supported him was the same one that destroyed him. Meticulously researched and beautifully interwoven, with the story of one man rhyming with the other, The Two Escobars could be a companion to the great Italian gangster movie Gomorrah, about the omnipresent syndicate that lords over Napoli. Both are set in places where crime and death are built into the foundation and there’s no reward in decency.