As football clubs have grown from sporting institutions to global brands, the drive to reach wider audiences has seen plenty take unusual steps to tap hitherto unchartered markets.
In addition to kicking a ball around a field for 90 minutes twice a week, some have branched out into things like lifestyle and fashion, like Italian champions Juventus and France’s Paris Saint Germain. Some teams have taken on social media personalties, with the likes of AS Roma, Borussia Dortmund and others engaging in sparring matches through Twitter. But the most curious phenomenon has been the ascent of the documentary series.
There are plenty to choose from, and they span all genres. There’s unabashed saccharine reality TV, like the dreadful “Being: Liverpool”. There’s telenovelas, topped by Netflix’s “Boca Juniors Confidential”. There’s tragedy, through the medium of the acclaimed “Sunderland ‘Til I Die”. And there’s comedy, albeit unintentionally, in the form of “Inside FC Barcelona,” which sits you through a whole series of what was meant to be a long march to glory, before, right at the end, its protagonists are emasculated in front of your eyes by a Scouse ball boy, Belgium’s eighth best striker and a geriatric Leo Messi once described as a “donkey”.
Tottenham Hotspur’s “All or Nothing” could not have been better timed. It has come in the off season period, just as the nation wobbles on the brink of possibly entering a renewed series of lockdowns, when TV viewing is up and football is under the cosh. Narrated by Hollywood star Tom Hardy, it’s a no expenses spared behind-the-scenes spotlight on the inner workings of a top Premier League side. And, like all the others that came before it, it is an attempt to sell an ambitious club to potential fans and customers.
But, unfortunately for Spurs, it was commissioned for the season after the club’s biggest ever moment — reaching the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool. This being Tottenham Hotspur, naturally, they lost, and a series meant to showcase the dawn of the club’s brightest side instead follows the ups and downs of a turbulent season, where players, management and fans try to come to terms with falling short having jumped so far.
The series only gets going when manager Mauricio Pochettino gets the chop — the man who spent very little and won even less, though did manage to guide the team so close to silverware the season before. Killing off your main character so early on is pure theatre — very “Game of Thrones” —and he is replaced by a man who is nothing if not box office.
Jose Mourinho, in stark contrast, has won rather a lot, but spent even more. His style of play — nasty, gnarly, cynical — is the antithesis of the flowing, attacking approach Pochettino curated in his five years in charge. So different, in fact, that one half wonders whether Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy hired the former Chelsea and Inter Milan boss with one eye on the TV series. The rest of the show is all about the self-styled Special One.
While the world awaits the return of football proper, this is the perfect tonic. Most people do not support Tottenham Hotspur, including some of its own fans. These people will revel in watching the mishaps and, frankly, embarrassments that are inherent to this particular team, but also to teams more generally when they take themselves too seriously. The naffness of the motivational talks, the weird way the players dress and conduct themselves. The dearth of personalities; the personalities that, when they pop up, are not exactly good. And, of course, Spurs losing football matches.
But they will also enjoy observing the little things that most people don’t really envisage when they conjure up the image of elite sport in their minds. Harry Kane stringing together a series of sentences in the club canteen. Mourinho unpacking cardboard boxes of tat in his new office, or telling the TV to f**k off when a pundit says something he disagrees with, neither of which, I’m sure, he staged.
Spurs fans, though, will enjoy it for different reasons. Having watched the side begin to slide, Mourinho’s arrival was meant to galvanise, and a glimpse behind the scenes of what was a bitterly disappointing year might go some way to alleviating fears that the side were regressing. His address to the team in its first proper meeting with him, in which he brands midfielder Dele Alli “lazy” and tells the players that though they are “nice guys”, on the pitch they need to be “a bunch of c**ts”, is exactly the thing fans hope managers say — the sort of thing they wish they could shout at their overpaid idols in person, and not just from the stands.
Sadly, for the time being, they won’t even be able to shout from the stands, which the show touches on too. For now, this little window into the soul of a club is all they have. And, being football fans, they will mainline it for all its worth.