As a Manchester City supporter its impossible not to take some pleasure in the documentary but it pulls its punches, fails to probe and is nothing but a gloriously glossy club commercial
Why am I so reluctant to watch All or Nothing: Manchester City? The eight-part Amazon documentary series covers my team’s season mirabilis – 2017-18 when we won the league with record points, wins and goals, playing the beautiful game more beautifully than it’s ever been played in the Premier League. Fellow fans tell me it’s incredible and rivals say it’s a must-see. Even non-football fans are waxing lyrical. Perhaps that’s part of the problem.
This week I sat down to a seven-hour love-in with my cherished Blues. I know City’s fabulously wealthy owners have bought some of the best players in the world and hired arguably the greatest manager in the world but now I’m going to find out exactly how they broke all those records. The narrator, Sir Ben Kingsley, promises “a never before seen look inside the world of professional football” in All or Nothing – an American franchise that has previously documented teams in the NFL.
This is Sir Ben at his most Sir Ben-ish – imperiously over-enunciating, pompously over-explaining. It sounds more like Richard Dimbleby’s commentary on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II than reflections on a footy season. Sir Ben may have grown up in Manchester (OK, Salford) but his narration bleeds all the Manchester out of City. I would have opted for Eddie Large myself but I guess he doesn’t have the same global reach these days as Gandhi.
As a City fan it’s impossible not to take some pleasure in All or Nothing – the wonderful goals, the sheer likability of the players and the astonishing professionalism of a club that the captain, Vincent Kompany, says had only one boxing glove in the gym and no door on the toilet when he arrived a decade ago.
Then there is the star of the show – Pep Guardiola. The doc starts as it goes on, with Pep at his whiteboard moving magnetic counters at dizzying speed, while addressing the squad in a tone as incomprehensible as it is impassioned. If Guardiola’s intention was to give no trade secrets away, he succeeds brilliantly. No matter how many times you replay his motivational speeches, you can never be quite sure what he’s saying except for the multiple fucks and the concluding “OK guys let’s go”.
His performance is every bit as compelling as his team’s – slapping his hands, stomach, chest and forehead to make his point (we must score goals, we must win, we must show courage, we must have the biggest balls). He stands in the changing room, unconsciously clicking his feet, duck walking and dancing in demented circles like a shaman with OCD. Occasionally he’s terrifying (when he walks into the changing room against Wigan at half-time and screams, you half expect him to be pointing a gun at them) but more often he’s loving (has a manager ever kissed his players so regularly or tenderly?)
There are some genuinely touching moments. Sergio Agüero shows us his son’s bedroom, who visits one week a month, and the Argentinian says most of the time he is alone in Manchester (one of his few close friends is the United goalkeeper David de Gea). In another scene, Guardiola tells the players they have to win for their midfield maestro David Silva and his girlfriend, who has just given birth to a dangerously premature baby.
There are also genuinely funny moments. Raheem Sterling sits in his huge Merc singing “Raheem Sterling, he’s top of the league”, while my favourite scene is Kompany watching City win the league (by virtue of their Old Trafford neighbours losing at home to West Brom) at the terraced home of his United-mad father-in-law who is in a proper sulk by the end.
But ultimately All or Nothing is neither dramatic nor revealing enough to be a great documentary. The fact the Premier League title was a procession means there is little by way of tension.
More importantly, despite the appearance of limitless access, it pulls its punches, fails to probe and turns the camera off at vital moments. Apparently the crew were there to catch a milk carton being thrown by a City player at José Mourinho when the United manager walked into the City changing room to complain about the Blues celebrating too loudly after winning at Old Trafford. Just capturing that would have given the documentary instant classic status. But there is not even a hint of a reference to it.
As a piece of journalism it is cowardly. It never addresses the fact City have given fans such as me so much joy in recent years by buying success, or that they are owned by the royal family of a country with a grim human rights record. City visit Abu Dhabi for a mid-season break, and we are led to believe it is simply the destination of choice rather than they are there to thank their paymaster and fulfil contractual obligations. When Guardiola meets HIS HIGHNESS SHEIKH MANSOUR BIN ZAYED, the capitalised subtitling of his official title is so big it takes up virtually the whole screen.
At one point Guardiola tell his players: “If you hate me, hate me guys. Some of you play better when you’re angry with me.” It’s a great soundbite but we don’t see what prompted it, and there is no evidence that any of the players even dislike him let alone hate him. (Surely, Yaya Touré, who accused the manager of racism after he left City, was willing to have a good bitch about Guardiola).
Basic questions are never followed up. So when John Stones insists his price tag did not affect his form, there is not so much as a “really?” When Guardiola’s confidante Manuel Estiarte says “Pep is a pain in the arse” he is not asked in what way. We get no real insight into the private Guardiola, or what drives him. Is he like this at home? Does he drive Mrs Pep crazy with his intensity? When Sterling is at the wheel of his car happily singing, it’s the perfect moment to ask why he thinks the tabloids pick on him more than other players for driving flash cars.
When Kevin De Bruyne jokingly feigns an injury, he screams: “Agh, I cannot do a commercial today.” Perhaps he was referring to an unnamed advertising campaign but he could just as easily have been talking about All or Nothing. For in the end, this is nothing but a gloriously glossy commercial for Manchester City – a great big blowy for the club from run-down Kippax Street determined to become the world’s leading football brand.
Read more: www.theguardian.com