In 2017, Manchester City’s new manager Pep Guardiola suffered his first trophyless season. In response to this, City open their chequebook for the next season, securing major name signings like Kyle Walker, Ederson Moraes and Benjamin Mendy. It is now a must-win season for City. Early on, they face tough games against Liverpool and Chelsea, and confront bad news surrounding a big new signing. — Amazon Prime
From the moment Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ documentary kicks off, the insight into what makes Manchester City Football Club begins.
Muscles tweak to accommodate a seemingly endless dynamism. Feet rove backwards and forwards, attempting to find the perfect space. Eyes search for a connection, a reciprocation that guarantees a mutual understanding.
However, this is not Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva looking for a precise pass. Instead, it is Pep Guardiola, Manchester City manager, striding, whirling, raving. His frenzied passion is the subject of what is just the opening minute of the show, yet instantly, an understanding is met. Not just between Guardiola and his players, but you, the viewer.
In this documentary, and at Manchester City, there exists an ultimatum.
As the series title encapsulates, it truly is all or nothing.
Before the first title sequence begins to roll, it becomes evident that Amazon have attained something truly remarkable in the realm of the football documentary. As the great Sir Ben Kingsley states in his opening monologue, this is the English Premier League. Top class, but brutal. Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid toward the documentary’s production team is that those words also ring true of their show, and its study of Manchester City. Even the most passionate City fans could not have known that beneath a public persona of composure and professionalism, Pep Guardiola is equally as invested in England’s foul language as he is its football.
This is the brilliance of ‘All or Nothing’. Dispensing with the pleasantries so often part of the media duties of all football clubs, the first episode cuts through an outer shell of publicity to hit the core of what makes football a game we all love. For though momentarily servicing the general City tropes of Mancunian passion, Middle Eastern investment and of course, Oasis, this first hour sees a remarkably human element rise to the top.
Yes, the ‘Great Expectations’ promised in the title are present, but what Amazon’s production makes clear is that they ultimately come married to the humanity of City’s players and staff. Football and family. The episode might notably cover instrumental victories over Chelsea and Liverpool, but it truly focuses on the friendships that make the team not just an efficient unit, but a remarkable group of friends.
Take for instance, the hotly anticipated arrival of Benjamin Mendy. Surely, Blues fans know all the details of what is to come for the Frenchman, but the intimacy of the documentary’s interviews with the jubilant City left back makes his season-ending injury wrench at the heart strings as if it were happening all over again.
To see the face of Mendy, usually the happiest person in the room, left completely stunned by his diagnosis by Dr Ramon Cugat in Barcelona illuminates just how stark a reality it was for both player and club.
“You always have plans, but whether or not you can stick to that plan is not your choice,” explains assistant coach Mikel Arteta.
There is no mistake that Mendy is initially highlighted as both a substantial investment by the club and the prime example of a true ‘Pep player’, able to exude confidence on the ball and take the game in stride in order to make Guardiola’s vision a reality.
However, in rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament, Mendy tore up the script, subsequently making a new one clear for those at Amazon. For it is his passion for his teammates, not his football, that has and continues to make Mendy a fan favourite. Guardiola himself highlights that on a rainy day, he didn’t have to worry about consoling his players. Instead it was Mendy who took it upon himself to message him, and tell him “Don’t worry coach, I will take care of my team.”
One would be easily misled to think that the Frenchman’s compassion is contagious at City, yet as a trip to the cryotherapy chamber makes clear, positivity is ingrained within the pillars of the club. There is something humbling about seeing club captain, Vincent Kompany, and kitman Brandon Ashton strip down to brave the freezing temperatures of Kompany’s rehabilitation routine together. Having led the Blues for seven seasons now, Kompany represents the zenith of City’s responsibility, yet when the plucky Ashton stands by his side, the two seem as close friends as if they had known each other since their school days.
“Brandon is kind of the heart and soul of the dressing room really,” says his mighty Belgian friend. “He has this ability to take pressure off.”
Perhaps to Ashton, a City servant since sixteen and likely a fan long before that, the chance to work alongside his heroes and idols works against his better judgement, as his cries from the cryotherapy chamber only serve to amuse club sports scientist Donough Holohan. But though he might be chilly, he has Vincent Kompany for company, and cannot help but let a smile burst through after he emerges.
“I would say the players are more close to the kitman, to the physio,” adds Kevin De Bruyne. It is what Kompany and Ashton serve to illustrate, that at City, the bond between player and staff transcends the professional to become the personal. They represent the ideal that football can be a path to friendship. If somewhat cliched, you get a sense that the two men would happily bare all to one another.
If there were one critique of the first episode, it would be that similar attempts to bare all to eager viewers do seem marginally condensed. Of course, this is to be expected of a production that hopes to compress fifty-seven games of football and all the surrounding drama into eight hours of television. Still, the dramatisation of City’s achievements does seem slightly diminished in only focusing on the games against Liverpool and Chelsea. It feels misconstrued that the Blues’s success should only be measured against a barometer of victories against ‘top six’ sides, as opposed to gathering steam and putting on a show in games like the 6-0 defeat of Watford, for example.
That being said, you cannot escape the elation that tears through the dressing room upon such major triumphs. Particularly, seeing every person, be they player, physio, or coach, chant Kevin De Bruyne’s name in the bowels of Stamford Bridge brings a catharsis to the episode. It is doubtless for the uninitiated that Amazon chose to contextualise City’s match against Chelsea with De Bruyne’s former ties to the London club, yet it succeeds in reminding us about what is at stake for both the Belgian and his teammates, subsequently making their celebrations feel all the more ecstatic. It is as if every City player wanted to win for De Bruyne, and in doing exactly that, they bring a stern definition of determination.
After surveying the workings and desires of Manchester City for much of the episode, the climactic victory against reigning champions Chelsea reminds us of the steely resolve that made the Blues such worthy champions last season. For through their friendship, they all remain resolute in their desire for victory, to win for both the team, and the man next to them.
“The greats are capable of going anywhere, and making the other team think, from the first minute, ‘Shit, these guys have come here to win’,” Guardiola utters ominously.
You have to say that in Amazon Prime’s documentary, that same resolve exists too. From Guardiola’s intensity, to the players’ certainty, we are assured not just of victory, but of just what victory means to the people at Manchester City. It’s in this manner that the show becomes one that, in just this first episode, commands the attention of football fans, not just those who wear the sky blue. With its unparalleled access and remarkable insight, it promises to reveal the makings of champions, and the makings of a team, too.