While The Damned United is definitely a sports movie, it relies more on a great script and strong acting performances from the cast (especially Michael Sheen), than typical sport movie tropes. Based on a true story about the legendary career of English soccer coach Brian Clough, the film is split between two points- his rise as manager of provincial club Derby County and his 44 day long stay at Leeds United - a club he admittedly loathes. Instead of taking Leeds from losers to winners and overcoming adversity like so many other genre movies, Clough instead is taking control of a very successful team, just one that isn't very well loved, though his ego ends up getting in the way.
The film is a collaboration between screen writer Peter Morgan and actor Michael Sheen, who previously worked together on Frost/Nixon and The Queen, and it has more in common with those movies than more traditional sports movies. Sheen is great as the brilliant but deeply flawed Clough, and the script not only gives the characters depth, but makes the period of the early 1970s come alive. Fans of British dramas will feel right at home here, without having to know much of anything about soccer.
When it comes down to it, The Damned United is both a character study and a sports movie, and one part wouldn't work without the other. Whether you are obsessed with soccer and its history or are looking for a gripping drama, The Damned United satisfies both demands.