‘United’ explores sports humility

Sheen brings arrogance, charm to role

A great sports movie that’s really about the kind of epic failure that leads to humility and greater success, “The Damned United” follows cocky, arrogant, charming and highly quotable coach Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) on his journey from the depths of English soccer to the 1st Division, and his animosity toward the superstar club of the time, Leeds United, where, ironically, he met his Waterloo as coach in 1974. But the scene that is most telling of his character comes about a third of the way through, after a chip on Clough’s shoulder — placed there after a humiliating snub by Leeds and its legendary coach, Don Revie — grows into the size of Wembley. Clough’s club, Derby County, is finally in the 1st Division, with a match versus Leeds at home. His insecurity wins over his arrogance, and Clough sequesters himself for the whole match in his basement office below the stands. It’s a selfish move, but he can’t face the agony if Derby loses again to Leeds. The camera stays with Clough as tension builds, and the only communication of what’s transpiring on the pitch is from the roar of the crowd and their shadows (are they seated? Leaping to their feet?) seen through the office’s frosted glass. A tense Sheen paces like a caged animal in the subterranean room, hoping not to dare at what he thinks is the outcome — a victory.

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