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Sunderland ‘Til I Die swaps chaos for competence and delivers a heart-wrenching twist

Sunderland’s co-owner seemed to be voicing the lament of the executives of a streaming giant. “I think Roy Keane would have been fun, definitely good for the Netflix series,” said Juan Sartori, part way through the first episode. It could have been, he said, a third “disaster series”. Which would surely have suited Netflix fine; the simple presence of Keane on camera, win or lose, comedic or caustic, explosive or excoriating, might have done wonders for subscriptions.

Instead, Sunderland ‘Til I Die showcases the quiet competence of Alex Neil, the decidedly sensible choice as manager to replace Lee Johnson: first and last spotted on the show looking mournful after a 6-0 defeat in the third tier, arguably the lowest point in Sunderland’s history. “We are totally embarrassing,” declares a fan on a phone-in at the start, but this is no anger drama. It shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler to say the 2021-22 season ended Sunderland’s four-year stay in the third tier.

The neutrals may find success less compelling entertainment than failure. A sequel is shorn of schadenfreude, lacking in hubristic errors. Nor are there characters who acquire their own brand of infamy, courtesy of a documentary. The players are a likeable bunch: Luke O’Nien, with his puppyish enthusiasm, the American Mackem Lynden Gooch, the loan ranger in search of a home, Patrick Roberts, and Ross Stewart, both amused and bemused by his nickname, the ‘Loch Ness Drogba’; there is no successor to Jack Rodwell and Darron Gibson, who may argue their depiction as villains of the piece were unfair but who filled that role.

Nor has anyone adopted the mantle of Martin Bain, the David Brent of chief executives. Conspicuous by their absence, too, are former owners Stewart

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