Guardiola is careful to maintain City’s incredible run as they enter a relentless run of games over Christmas. Meanwhile, David Silva grapples with unexpected personal issues. Guardiola warns his players about Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve. City later travel to Anfield to play Liverpool, where they have not won for 14 years. — Amazon Prime
Despite it’s ominous title, the third episode of Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ does not find our faithful footballers in the fictional faraway lands of Westeros. Bereft of any HBO lawsuit, ‘Winter is Coming’ documents Manchester City battling the cruel fixtures of the holiday season, as coach Pep Guardiola prepares his players for their number one enemy — complacency.
Standing resolute against the crisp December air, Guardiola and his Manchester City players know that despite their privileged career and financial positions, they ultimately cannot have it all. The wintertime sees their fortunes flipped, for whilst the people of England enjoy festivities and food in the company of their families, those at City must brave physical and psychological tests as they are left out in the cold to prepare for their upcoming matches. All involved know they face a test of their mettle if they are to triumph come the sunnier days of May.
Guardiola though, ever anticipating the next move, remains the most sceptical.
“It’s not about the physicality, it’s preparing mentally. Mentally being there”.
“We have three games a week until February, so it’s impossible, at the end you have to drop points”.
With those statements, the air lies as ominous as it does cold by the time the titles roll. As if by prophecy (or by script), City are about to find out just what they’re made of.
The first glimpses of the episode are more tailored toward City’s financial composition however, as club CEO Ferran Soriano, Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain all convene to settle the defensive infrastructure of the team. As we have seen, the injuries shown to be mounting up are no secret, placing a significant strain upon squad depth in the lead up to the season’s most demanding run of games.
Yet it is the surgical manner by which these defensive inadequacies are seen to be remedied that proves the talking point here. Confirmation is given that City were indeed interested in then-Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, but a transfer sum (astutely withheld from the documentary’s final edit) is nonetheless received as out of the question. Immediately afterward, Al Mubarak is keen to remind viewers that despite their substantial financial might, City are “perfectly comfortable in walking away” from any deals that don’t fall in line with their valuations.
From a cynical perspective, these initial moments sever the human connection that the first few episodes have worked hard to establish as City look to flex their PR muscles to better define their popular image. Though only brief, it serves a cool reminder that ‘All or Nothing’ is by no means any sort of interrogative docuseries in the vein of BBC’s Panaroma, but much rather a heavily pruned answer to the generic questions regarding Manchester City and it’s football.
Is Liverpool’s defence improved with the addition of Van Dijk? Why of course, he’d have to be decent if City were interested in him.
Does City’s heavy financial backing mean they are to be held to ransom? Certainly not, for Manchester City is a club that holds all the cards, and they only play to win.
Are City still the spending club that made their name splashing the cash to make it in the big leagues? Rest assured, they are one of the only clubs in the world to have undertaken a “paradigm shift” in establishing themselves as one of football’s elite.
This is not to presume that every episode of Amazon’s Manchester City documentary should be seeking to interrogate the club’s board over monetary minutiae or sponsorship stipulations, but it goes without saying that despite the best intentions of trying to improve public perceptions, the series shines brightest when letting the footage speak for itself.
No more could this be said than of the intimacy the camera fosters with Pep Guardiola in it’s opening ten minutes. In three separate scenes, we are able to witness the Catalan in a manner not previously seen in the documentary, casting new light on the man previously thought to be an endless supply of fervour.
First, we see admiration. As the continuing grandeur of Sir Ben Kingsley reminds us, fifteen wins on the bounce for City sees the staff call upon all the good luck charms and superstitions they can, including those of their manager. So often larger-than-life whilst delivering impassioned team talks or stalking the touchline, all it takes is a pair of shoes for Guardiola the head coach to recede from view. Instead, sat cradling a set of football boots from his longtime coach mentor, Ajax and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff, we see Pep the man. Unassuming, diminutive, in awe.
Present once again is chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, who seems to misunderstand the nature of the boots. The Emirati joking compels Guardiola to keep wearing them, as if they possess a magical quality capable of ensuring victory. However, Pep remains fixed upon the bundle of laces and leather he holds before him, unable to maintain eye contact with Al Mubarak by virtue of his preoccupation with the shoes.
“That’s why we win”, assures Pep. However, his footwear does not guarantee success, rather it inspires him toward it. “That’s why we win,” repeats Pep. “For Johan.”
This more reserved side to Guardiola continues as City take time to showcase their own legend — the Spanish magician, ‘El Mago’, David Silva. A pillar of the club since 2010, the brilliance of Silva is firmly on display as Amazon take viewers back through the years of the Spaniard’s career, from a memorable curling effort against Hull to scoring in and subsequently winning the Euro 2012 final against Italy. But with the extreme premature birth of his son, Mateo, Silva will not be available for the crunch match against Tottenham, leaving Guardiola with a headache.
Though first instinct would be to assume this concerns simple team selection, Amazon’s behind-the-scenes access reveals to us that Pep Guardiola’s concerns extend beyond the purely tactical. It should hopefully not be a surprise to see a manager that cares for his players, of course. But whether a matter of their shared bald scalps or their Spanish nationality, it is remarkable to see just how connected Silva and Guardiola seem to be. For instance, training ground footage shows the two walk arm-in-arm as if they had decided to pop out and take the dog for a walk. More moving though, are the two almost-consecutive shots of the two men, who though separated, share the look of a family member enduring emotional strain, though only one can claim to be related to little Mateo. Silva, the father, rummages through his possessions in search of his phone, his gentle smile barely hiding the strain of a man who waits to hear if his son shall live or die. Guardiola, in the company of close friends Domènec Torrent and Carlos Planchart, hunches over as he details the updates on young Mateo’s health, rubbing his hands together as if it was he himself who was preparing for the worst.
“Family is the most important thing”, Guardiola tells the reporters in his public press conference. “Family and friends.”
It is in private that Guardiola’s humble words become a rallying cry. In front of City’s dressing room, the bonds shared between men transform to become the glue which unifies the players as a team. Guardiola gathers all who are present, demanding first team, resting squad, and staff alike stand to give audience.
“Today we have to win for one reason”, booms the Catalan. “We have to win for David Silva and his girlfriend Jessica. He’s fucking suffering with life. When you go out there, you enjoy, enjoy… you enjoy it for him. And if you go out there and we suffer, suffer for him. But remember the situation. Today I want a win for David Silva! And his girlfriend and his family!”
The City manager paces back and forth as if looking to command an audience at the Globe Theatre, his outstretched finger emphasising every demand.
“Is that clear?”, he concludes.
If the affirmative nods and claps were not proof enough of their agreement, City’s players do their ‘talking’ on the pitch. As mentioned before, this is where ‘All or Nothing’ soars. With both players and viewers stoked by Guardiola’s passion, the actual football serves as both execution of dominance and testament of team spirit. Indeed, this is no highlights reel. City’s second goal against Spurs speaks volumes, a rifled shot courtesy of Kevin De Bruyne one of an eventual four to assure the Blues a convincing victory in honour of the absent David Silva. De Bruyne’s goal dedication is the more pivotal though, gesturing a symbolic ‘21’ with his fingers that certifies that whilst the City fans may sing the Belgian’s name, the team are only thinking of their teammate.
These may be but the opening ten minutes of what sums a forty five minute episode, yet they provide us with a revealing narrative that highlights both coach and squad of Manchester City for how they look to come together under one club. Freed from the teething problems of Guardiola’s first season, City are a side transformed, now at one with their goals in more ways than one.
Their passion fuels their success. Noel Gallagher remarks that there has never been anything like it at the club before; Khaldoon Al Mubarak is convinced that City stand at the precipice of change; Frank Lampard observes that Guardiola has elevated the club to new heights. Amazon Prime however, allow us to see beyond the clichés and platitudes. Their access, however construed, foregrounds the life experiences that have helped bring the team closer together. From the inspiration of a mentor, to the compassion of a friend, to the brotherhood of teammates, City is a team that finds harmony in it’s humanity.
Perhaps this is a testament to why wins over Leicester, Bournemouth, and Newcastle come accompanied with visits to children’s hospitals and Christmas celebrations. The academy is foregrounded for it’s amazing facilities, and it’s budding production of young stars like Phil Foden. It would seem that the winter fixture list is no match for the likes of Manchester City, who themselves stand insurmountable, their Premier League winning streak at a league record of eighteen games.
To return to the editorial involvement though, a notorious debate is subtly introduced. Presumably after defeating Newcastle, Amazon call upon footage from a vlog produced by City Watch Podcast host, Ian Cheeseman, to face all time Premier League top scorer, Alan Shearer, with a question: “Are [City] the best team you’ve ever seen?”
What follows is a dignified answer from the Geordie: “I wouldn’t say they’re the best team I’ve ever seen as of yet — I would think they’re playing some of the best football the Premier League has seen. You can’t say they’re the best team ever because they haven’t got a trophy in the cabinet. But they’re playing some sparkling football, some football I’ve not seen in the Premier League, some of the best football I’ve seen in the Premier League. So they’re one hell of a side, with a great manager.”
In one fell swoop however, Shearer has handed Amazon’s team with gold. Somewhere in an editing room, there was a chuckle as Shearer’s dialogue fell into place, for at the culmination of eight episodes, there certainly will be trophies.
Guardiola too, senses the significance of the occasion. “Making history is right in front of our faces,” he declares. Yet straight after, he advises the players. “Don’t drop it. Keep it.” For with their new-found recognition comes an unfamiliar caution. Now that City have been billed as at the top of the pyramid, a famous phrase springs to mind.
‘The bigger they come, the harder they fall.’
The pyramid metaphor remains a pertinent one in relation to the episode, as it reaches it’s midpoint on the cusp of a certain New Year’s Eve fixture away at Crystal Palace. From an objective point of view this makes for great drama, with the culmination of City’s efforts being met with the immovable object Guardiola had no doubt long since warned them about.
In fact, the most surprising and thus bittersweet revelation comes in that same previous post-match discussion from before following victory over Newcastle. Despite looking to the future and the prospect of making history, it is when Guardiola calls to the past that City are brought back down to earth, the Catalan ushering in video analyst Carlos Planchart. Having been a constant at Guardiola’s side since his Barcelona B days, the likes of Leroy Sané and Bernardo Silva sit open-mouthed as the staff that have faced the highest calibre of European opposition relate three ominous words — “Wow, Crystal Palace.”
Yet all the awe is for naught. The same wide-eyed and eager expressions that seemed to have heeded Guardiola’s teachings all season are reduced to frustration, as the Blues seem to take no heed of their warnings in scraping a 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park. Admittedly, the injuries to Gabriel Jesus and Kevin De Bruyne make the result easier to stomach, yet they remain as much of a gut-punch as though they had happened just the other day. Indeed, the condensed timeframe of the documentary reopens more of a psychological wound for City fans — how might the season have gone if crucial injuries didn’t occur?
Of course, the answer is not much better. However, the injury situation nevertheless unearths some hard-hitting truths for those watching at home. In a time where football can often be quite cold and statistical, the sight of seeing Gabriel Jesus reduced to tears after having to be substituted due to injury foregrounds both how much of a emotional strain an injury can place on a player, and to what extent City suffered the strain of injuries last season as a whole. Combined, witnessing the young Brazilian so crushed truly does show just how far this team still has to come, not just in terms of experience, but maturity too.
Having erased the 1-1 draw to Everton from the early episodes, Amazon’s coverage of City has been fairly flattering up to this point, duly enhanced by the overall quality of their season also. By this same token however, the dropped points at Crystal Palace (and the subsequent surrender of their winning streak) allows us to see City at their lowest ebb, stripping back both gloss and artifice to reveal the team at their most vulnerable. Consequently, for a product that has been principally advertised on it’s apparent verisimilitude, this roadblock to City’s dominance finally allowing the highly publicised words of Guardiola to ring out and ring true.
“Of course I am going to defend you until the last day in our lives in the press conference. But here I am going to tell you the truth.”
It is not to say that the preceding content from Amazon has been a fabrication, yet as soon as the manager sounds this out to his players, it is though the prior successes of the season have been a fever dream. The earlier warnings of Guardiola and his staff grant the Catalan the air of Nostradamus, as though he might foresee the trials and tribulations that will befall City and calculate how best to combat them accordingly. Though not quite prophetic, it bears well to remember that this is a man who probably come close to seeing it all, a man who knows how to win. Certainly then, what comes across most strongly is that if City are to improve, and to win, then they must truly learn from their manager.
As Guardiola emphasises, “I don’t need to tell you at halftime what you have to do to play amazingly in the second half. It’s not time. You didn’t play the last time to realise here and every single day that you have to do that.” The Catalan is not here to hand hold, he is here to ingrain his philosophy and grow match intelligence.
The words from the opening montage resound again, this time directly as Guardiola chides his team. “It’s not about the physicality, it’s preparing mentally. Mentally being there.” For this is the philosophy; the mentality going forward must be one of dedication, constantly committed to victory and to improvement. Guardiola is specific — the desire to win is what will drive the players on. Yet it is the commitment to their footballing education that will ensure they stay sharp.
‘Education’ may indeed be the best definition of what the third episode offers for viewers. Despite reaffirming their grip on the league with a procedural win over Watford, it is a trip to Anfield that chastens City’s ambitions. City fans will be familiar with the scoreline, and the manner in which a brutal ten minute spell saw Guardiola’s men humbled unlike any before. However, when viewing through objective eyes, what was a dour occasion becomes a more intense scene.
On that dreary January night, the dynamic of the game changed when Fabian Delph left the field through injury. The same can be said, remarkably, of watching events unfold once more on Amazon Prime. From the perspective of a Blue, it is a brilliant move by Amazon to follow the Yorkshireman as he watches the rest of the game from the dressing room, his investment in his teammates spreading through the screen to pull us in closer. Though the goals against still stand as grim viewing, all the elements of Amazon’s filmmaking capabilities combine as the tide begins to turn. The presence of Kingsley’s narration. The resonance of the organ music. The ticking of the clock. Each plays a part in threatening to elevate a possible comeback to historic proportions, hope rising with each goal regardless of if you know the result or not.
Sadly, it is not to be. The whistle blows, and Sergio Agüero is left to rue a missed last minute opportunity that may have sealed the 14th of January as one of the biggest comebacks in Premier League football. What is not lost though, is the spirit. Unlike the match against Crystal Palace, City’s fightback displays the crucial desire and ability to pull themselves back from the brink and put themselves back in contention, even in the toughest arenas.
Guardiola leaves us with his parting thoughts; there are no truths to be told when City have shown it on the pitch. Tougher tests are still to come, but it is enlightening to see a team so dominant regroup from their darkest moment. It allows the manager to affirm his beliefs: “I am pretty sure we are going to win the Premier League, guys. We’re going to win the Premier League.”
For ultimately, ’Winter is Coming’ has brought sobering results and harsh truths for a team previously flying so high, yet in it’s finest moments reminds us just what it takes for champions to prevail. Before, the successes of City resembled a dream daring to become brilliant beyond belief. Indeed, moments within the episode seemingly dare to banish all hesitations of doubt, though ultimately, the drama of following Manchester City finds a way. There may be more good times than bad these days, but through them all, City remain a team defined by their ability to fight to the last, for friends and for victory. Setbacks have come in many forms, and defeat is new experience for both players and viewers alike. It’s through these trying times that a new understanding comes to light though, bringing an enlightening depth to both the team and the documentary going forward.