Sunderland’s Netflix documentary will give different view to Man City’s Pep-talks

Pep Guardiola has had the cameras follow him around at Man City.
Pep Guardiola has had the cameras follow him around at Man City.
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“Today I did not see the desire to win...I did not see it.”

Around halfway through Amazon Prime’s Manchester City documentary, a disappointed Pep Guardiola enters the dressing room and gives his players an emotional, impassioned dressing down.

No matter that they are breaking records everywhere they go; one poor performance is enough to incur the manager’s wrath.

This in essence is the story being sold, a global superpower’s quest for footballing perfection.

Never challenging or questioning, it is a PR drive for City and their owners, documenting their diligence, investment and commitment.

The documentary hangs, however, on its access to the traditionally sacred and private inner sanctum: the dressing room.

Most importantly, on Pep’s obsessive charisma and how it translates to his players. Without it, it would seem hollow and unengaging.

Though those fascinated with the Catalan boss will find a far more insightful, holistic picture of his management in Marti Perarnau’s outstanding ‘Pep Confidential’, there is something exhilarating about watching him in ‘live’ action.

It is now common knowledge that Sunderland will be the next club to get the fly-on-the-wall treatment, with Netflix set to air an eight-part series in December.

While City’s tale lends itself to a celebration of footballing excellence, the Sunderland series, which documents their relegation from the Championship, will have to tell an altogether different story.

While the documentary had extensive access to players and managers, tracking their struggles on the pitch and the impact off it, dressing room style drama of the kind that made ‘Premier Passions’ a cult hit are unlikely.

No manager involved was particularly keen on that, with Chris Coleman saying in April: “The only thing I really dug my heels in about was that I didn’t want any filming in my dressing room. That’s been kept separate.”

Fans were followed extensively by the film crew and their loyalty is likely to be one of the key story arcs in the show.

The title and promotional blurb is telling in that regard.

Named ‘Sunderland till I die’, the promo reads: “No one loves football like Sunderland. No one needs football like Sunderland.

“As its main industries of shipbuilding and mining have fallen by the wayside, SAFC (Sunderland Association Football Club) has become ever more important as the lifeblood of this unique city in the North East of England.

“The fans are well known to be some of the most passionate and loyal. But what happens when they start to lose their club, too?”

The show has been made by Fulwell 73, life-long fans of the club, so expect the staying power of supporters to be accentuated over the struggles on the pitch.

Sunderland supporters watching on will hope that the show provides a counterbalance to the way empty seats were often presented as symbolic of their demise in recent years.

Initially, Ellis Short had agreed to the documentary on the premise that it may in the future attract investors.

The arrival of Stewart Donald at the end of the first series provided a perfect finale, the arc curving from the debacle of the pre-season friendly against Celtic to the positivity of a final-day rout of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

That potential that Short saw in the publicity has been seen by the new owners, with the cameras returning to hopefully document the beginning of the club’s rebirth.

A positive projection of the club, its support and its city could be a marketing and advertising goldmine.

Donald’s takeover and the impressive early start by Jack Ross and his team means the documentary has the potential to go from what may at one stage have seemed like a lament, to an uplifting tale of bouncing back from the brink.

Ross has taken a similar approach to Coleman with significant access behind the scenes, but team talks and dressing room discussions kept private.

Perhaps one day Ross will fulfill his potential at the top end of the game and allow it to be documented like Guardiola, but for now he is far too modest.

One can certainly forgive any manager a certain level of anxiety given the less than flattering depiction suffered by Graham Taylor in ‘An impossible job’.

Pep’s more surreal and cringe-inducing moments (“to be to the top dog team, you have to score the goals guys”) seem less David Brent-esque purely on the strength of his CV.

Articulate, grounded and measured, Ross will come out of the show superbly when the time eventually comes for a potential second series.

So while Pep-talks are unlikely to be much of a feature in either series, it is sure to be a fascinating watch.