From the unimaginative title until the saccharine ending, Goal! is unfortunately an extremely formulaic rags-to-riches story that we've seen a number of times before in various sports movies. If there's one film that shouldn't have gone through the classic sports movie americanization, it's a film about football (to Europeans soccer is football and American football is American football).
With that said, there are some very good choices made here that liven the film up and make the audience come close to the magic world of football. First of all, the setting of the cold and grey environment of Newcastle is a perfect backdrop for the glamour of professional football. The contrasts are bigger up there, because Newcastle United actually are one of the more glamorous clubs around. That contrast wouldn't have been as apparent had the film moved to London or Manchester. I also liked the attention the film gives to the different camps, from the warm, grainy atmosphere of LA to the cold and rainy Tyneside - we get to know the people and traditions of both sides.
The problems arise though mainly with the film's urge to drag us through the archetypical ups and downs, enemies becoming friends, and people acting amazingly selfish in order to drive the plot forward. The father is of course the best example. He is ridiculously stereotypical and exaggerated, and to be honest, he becomes even worse when he goes through his inevitable soften-up. Then there's of course the disproportionately rough, aging reserve full-back (who essentially goes through much of the same as the father). He seems pinched from the old 70s football comics (represented by Boing and Buster in my country). And finally, there's the arrogant, self-centered star who cares more for party and women than the team. Alessandro Nivola actually does a fine job in making him believable, but come on...
The greatest asset of Goal! is how it tries to go deep in the game itself. The over-simplified and banal views and visualizations of football are fortunately avoided, and at its best the film really gives even a real football fan something valuable in this department. I felt it was important that a film like this realizes that football isn't only about volleys into the top corner or taking on four defenders on a solo raid. At times, Goal! is well aware of this and treats the game with respect.
The incorporation of CGI effects into actual Newcastle games looks quite good. Sometimes the seasoned football fan will chuckle over some strange motion and visuals, but the technique largely works. I felt, however, that the choice of Kuno Becker in the lead wasn't the ideal one. He's only a fairly talented actor and not at all a very talented footballer (his movement and agility is very questionable, and when he practices set-pieces, you can clearly see that striking the ball doesn't come naturally to him). Why the filmmaker's didn't go for a more talented guy is a mystery to me, but Becker at least has the looks required for a latino star. Maybe the motivation for the casting was largely the same as for Real Madrid's purchase of David Beckham.