Captain Vincent Kompany continues to motivate the City team and fuels their comradery, despite his injuries. The Carabao Cup provides Guardiola with an opportunity to showcase up-and-coming Academy talent. Former number one goalkeeper Claudio Bravo seeks redemption. — Amazon Prime
It has become a recognisable feature by which Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ opens its episodes, deploying teaser footage to provide viewers with a taste of what is to come in the forthcoming episode. Whether it is the infamous “noisy neighbours” quote as prelude to the Manchester Derby, or Pep Guardiola warning of the perils of winter before City clash with Crystal Palace, there has been a consistent desire to dramatise and emphasise coming events as a means to heighten stakes and investment in the multimillion pound football documentary.
To that effect, it is simultaneously expected yet surprising that the fifth episode greets us with the players of Manchester City engaged in a game of paintball. There is no neighbourly vitriol or prophetic narration, merely the smiles and laughs of City players as they enjoy a rare afternoon off.
Sure, it reaffirms what we’ve grown to expect from City as a team over the course of this documentary, being a group who thrive on their unity. But just as the openings of the other episodes have fulfilled, it underlines what to expect going forward.
Having suffered a demoralising loss to Wigan to drop out of the FA Cup, an injection of positivity is needed if the team are to pick themselves up and carry on in their journey to become champions.
More importantly, after a pretty sobering experience having watched events unfold at the DW Stadium, so do we.
What better way to grab a pick-me-up than on the ‘Road to Wembley’?
First and foremost, the lingering guilt of an FA Cup loss must be dealt with. It was a moment of madness for Fabian Delph and a lapse in concentration from his replacement Kyle Walker that proved enough to give both men a severe case of the blues. Hearing from the two as they recall their experiences on camera, two things stand out.
One, it is clear that even in a team as rampant as Manchester City proved to be in the 2017/18 season, results still remain on a knife edge. Personal errors cannot be afforded; every player on the pitch must play their part not merely for the sake of the team, but in order to best help their friends who play alongside them.
Two, and more pertinently, is that a higher standard of performance has been instilled at Manchester City. Of course, any player would feel guilty at having sacrificed a result in a cup competition, yet the extent to which both Delph and Walker remain haunted by their mistakes evidences the shared belief at City that anything is possible when the Blues are on song.
Certainly, hearing the narration of Sir Ben Kingsley is enough to butter up just about any result. However, Amazon’s choice of scripting proves particularly interesting insofar as how it chooses to document City’s failure to progress to the FA quarter finals, further substantiating beliefs that Guardiola’s men are on the cusp of greatness. Describing their defeat as an end to hopes of a previously unheard-of English quadruple may seem like simple dramatisation in a high value … such as ‘All or Nothing’, but it is sensationalism is nevertheless tinged with a growing sense of realism. Indeed, what we have seen so far has provided far more evidence in the case for rather than the case against City’s potential domination.
To such an end, ‘Road to Wembley’ comes to the fore as a surprisingly important episode. Whilst the failure to advance in one trophy competition will have stung, the shift in focus to some of City’s more unsung heroes reminds us of the importance of the entire squad to maintaining sustained challenges across four trophy competitions. It therefore shouldn’t be seen as an insult to say that what marks the fifth episode as different from the other ‘All or Nothing’ instalments is a disengagement from the sustained pressure of following City’s continued assaults on higher profile competitions such as the Premier League and Champions League. Instead, it stands to Amazon’s credit that we are able to take a step back from the series’s overarching drama to better appreciate those who have contributed to sky blue successes in unlikely ways, as attentions turn to the Carabao Cup.
Whether they be icons of the club’s post-takeover history or relative revelations in the more recent seasons, it would be fair to says that the lower pressures of the fifth episode would allow its stars to shine away from the pitch as well as on it.
That is of course if they don’t push the envelope themselves.
This is of course the case with the much-maligned Chilean goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo. Whilst the match action in ties against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City proves fairly non-eventful, it is remarkable to say that both matches went to penalties given the general gulf in capabilities, and even more so to say that the previous City number one was shootout hero on both occasions. Though they don’t quite come to justify his £17 million fee from 2016, it is undeniable that City were able to eventually secure last year’s Carabao Cup as a result of the South American’s heroics, going at least some way to recoup the faith that was lost in him from his poor debut season in Manchester.
It doesn’t make for pleasant viewing when Amazon are eager to remind us of his past mistakes (a failed clearance at Old Trafford and a red card in the Champions League alone almost enough to immediately denounce any regained support) but being reminded of Bravo’s personal trials does cause some reevaluation of what the Chilean brings to the team. Regardless of his mistakes in sky blue, the experience he brings to the team is invaluable, both on and off the field, his old soul providing the perfect counterbalance to the still raw potential of Ederson. Though he might not get as much match action since the young Brazilian’s arrival, Bravo is one who illustrates City’s renewed depth when they are able to field a Champions League goalkeeper in the domestic cups, that which is crucial to maintaining a grip on all competitive fronts. After all, it can’t all just come down to the hidden genius of Richard Wright, goalkeeper coach extraordinaire.
All joking aside however, old heads are indispensable when dealing with a side filled with as many young talents and club newcomers as Manchester City, as ‘Road to Wembley’ makes clear in showcasing the contributions of club icons Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany. When Pep Guardiola has done so much to bring down the squad age to one of the youngest in the Premier League, it is worth remembering that the values of the club must be maintained for when those from the title winning squad of 2011/12 have all gone on to greener pastures. Indeed, what two players could emphasise those more than Toure and Kompany?
Though both men came to Manchester at different times, they have both come to affirm the attitude of a club that has transformed from a morose pessimism of letting things slip to a slightly more optimistic pessimism where a Goonies-esque ‘never-say-die’ lives within the belief that they still might die anyway.
Toure particularly is one of those who came to imbue the Etihad with a growing superstar quality, arriving in that famous summer of 2010 from the European champions of Barcelona, then managed by Guardiola. Seeing him stand before young City academy players makes a stark contrast to Amazon’s choice to foreground Guardiola’s famous youth prospect of Lionel Messi, yet maybe makes the greatest point too. Toure, with his surging power that broke through so many Premier League lines, is surely as much a different calibre to that particular Argentine as is every player on the planet. However, the Ivorian’s character is one that speaks to directly to the DNA of Manchester City far more than some generic ‘galactico’ signing that other rich club sides might indulge. The reason the kids cry for Yaya is that along with Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Agüero and others, his fighting spirit has come to define Manchester City as they have reestablished themselves in the modern game.
Perhaps it is impossible to avoid comparisons to other big spending clubs like Real Madrid or PSG when City are backed by the spending power of a Gulf state. The financial impetus of the City Football Group certainly has the capacity to rival those club superpowers for players of the highest profile. What bears consideration though is that disposition of player mentioned before, a recurring theme in Amazon’s more character-driven episode. In the absence of custodians like Toure, it is a refreshing sight to see Raheem Sterling joking around with Oleksandr Zinchenko, two players who have been embroiled in differing situations regarding their stay at the Etihad. In anticipation of when the old guard are no more, contract negotiations and loan moves take on a fresh dynamic when considering who will go on to become City’s new custodians.
Though Sterling’s situation is more uncertain, ‘All or Nothing’ definitely causes viewers to rethink their evaluations of Zinchenko, who had been heavily linked with moves away from the club this past summer. His roles have been limited and out of position, but all noises regarding the Ukrainian’s potential move seemed to sound out that Zinchenko had a particular passion to remain in Manchester. Now, even though it might be somewhat embarrassing for him, seeing Zinchenko bark like a dog for his club sees Amazon reveal exactly to what lengths he will go for his club.
The montage we are shown paints what might be one of the most solemn accounts of a City footballer’s life story, with Zinchenko enduring war, fleeing his home country, and practicing his football alone on the streets of Moscow before he came to Manchester. His isolation when first arriving moreover highlights the existing challenges of a new player being foreign to both a club and its group of players.
However, that all changes at the mention of Vincent Kompany. Zinchenko’s eyes reflect a respect toward the camera, and further still, an allegiance to the captain who he refers to like a close friend. Ultimately, Pep Guardiola’s elite team only has enough space for so much footballing talent, but the indications of Zinchenko’s devotion share a deeper connection to captain Kompany. If fans were asked to define the Belgian’s legacy in a single word, a litany of injuries would be dismissed for words such as ‘leader’, ‘icon’, or ‘servant’. The bond between the Ukrainian and Belgian serves to illustrate that whilst players can always be bought, loyalty cannot.
It beggars belief that a player of Vincent Kompany’s calibre actually came to the club before the takeover of Sheikh Mansour, much more that it was only for a measly £7.5 million fee. Having arrived just over a decade ago now, Kompany has become ingrained into both City and the city, marrying into a Mancunian family and gaining a Masters degree from Manchester Business School as he lead the Blues to 3 Premier League titles, 1 FA Cup, 3 EFL Cups and 2 Community Shields.
Whilst his playing contributions to Manchester City over those ten years cannot be underestimated, with headers against Manchester United and rallying cries toward lifting titles defining the Belgian’s career, a small section within ‘Road to Wembley’ helps to show Kompany as a man who has surveyed the metamorphosis of Manchester City unlike any other. Cynicism would suggest that Kompany was best suited to talk to a visiting party of school children for his captaincy or availability from injury, though it is swiftly made clear that the Belgian remains the ideal representative of the club through merit of his own humility and intelligence.
The children do greet him with his personal chant of “Here’s to you, Vincent Kompany, City loves you more than you will know”, yet it is impossible even for fans to fathom just what the Belgian represents to the club. To echo a notorious chant, City’s number 4 has indeed been with us from the days when the club were still relatively shit, as he reminds viewers when recounting how the old training facilities didn’t even have toilet doors.
“It’s a bit of a different club now, but still the same people”, resounds captain Kompany.
Kompany is one of those people, becoming the consummate backbone of the club in his stay in Manchester. The most powerful moment of his meeting with the school children comes in educating the youngsters on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the Belgian being nurturing yet honest with the young fans about the South African’s troubled history. His manner around this children exemplifies that Kompany is the definitive article of what it means to be a Manchester City player, for he remains honest about the truth whilst wanting to aid growth further still. He holds a unique understanding of where the club has come from, and with it, where it wishes to go. Amazon are pitch perfect as they demonstrate the immensity of the man who has lead and accompanied City in the most successful decade of their history. The question is, who will fulfil the Belgian’s duties when he goes himself?
As has become apparent through analysing ‘All or Nothing’ over these past few reviews, Amazon’s mission to produce a sports documentary about Manchester City does not engage as heavily with televised journalism as it does with readjusting how the club is itself documented. There are of course remits to fulfil when attempting to recoup a reported £10 million outlay, and in the sake of drama, it is to be expected that certain aspects of the 2017/18 season are left on the cutting room floor.
This is probably why the first leg of the Carabao Cup tie against Bristol City is not shown, allowing the David-And-Goliath battle of Championship versus Premier League side to play out in the reverse fixture at Ashton Gate. The battling Robins even manage to pull level at 2-2 for a time before the might of Manchester City prevails.
However, these shrewd editorial choices reopen debate as to the transparency of Amazon’s filmmaking. Having already faced eventual Championship winners Wolverhampton and previous Premier League champions Leicester City, City’s matches against Bristol City represent a chance to foreground the mismatched beauty found in England’s domestic cup competitions. Yet on the contrary, there is no mention of Bristol’s veritable heroics in the Carabao Cup up to that point, knocking out a wealth of Premier League opposition including close rivals Manchester United. The first leg of the City-on-City tie is itself only given a summarising sentence of narration.
Consequently the trip to the South West of England is robbed of its nascent energy, the eventual victory feeling largely routine despite the close scoreline as courtesy of its coverage. Though City getting a win certainly serves the narrative better for a series documenting their triumphs, it should not come at a cost of denying the scale of the team’s achievements; insults can easily be levelled at a side playing in a lower league, but the defeat of a noble opposition would only further emphasise City’s extraordinary qualities.
To return to opening statements though, it is likely one giant killing was enough for Amazon’s producers. Having been knocked down a peg by a lower league side, City’s integrity would have potentially faced one question too many should they have visibly flirted with a similar exit in the Carabao Cup as they did the FA Cup. ‘All or Nothing’ primarily remains an entertainment product, and with Bristol depicted as mere stepping stone, it is evident that a bigger occasion awaits.
The main event thereby arrives when City have to face Arsenal in the culmination of the episode — the Carabao Cup final at the prestigious Wembley Stadium. It is hence a feature of irony that given both intentional and unintentional attempts to make the episode ‘Road to Wembley’ a calmer affair, the literal journey unfortunately does not hold the grandeur one might expect of a cup final.
“To be the best […] you have to feel the pressure,” says Guardiola in the team’s London hotel. “Pressure is a privilege.” It is a shame that the stakes do not feel as high as they could for the Catalan’s first English trophy, albeit a minor one given the reality of the eventual outcome.
For indeed, such was the relative ease by which Manchester City beat Arsenal 3-0 on that February afternoon (perfectly exemplified by Shkodran Mustafi’s woeful defence of Agüero’s chipped opener), the highlights of the final have to be seeing Pep Guardiola’s dispute with Arsène Wenger, the former telling the latter to ‘shut up’ for trying to protest the first goal. In fact, with backroom staff shown to have to tell Guardiola to calm down later in the match, you wouldn’t be blamed for questioning whether debates surrounding the prospective involvement of managers in VAR should be avoided.
The match nevertheless makes for great viewing. For all the fanfare given to the arrival at the national stadium, the greatest joy simply comes from seeing City exert their authority on a match not seen since prior to their humbling by Wigan. No more penalty shootouts. No more drawn-out lower league ties. Just Manchester City, taking the game to a top class team and showing them who’s boss.
Unlike the former fixtures shown in the earlier parts of the episode, here it feels as if City have been reunited with their unbeatable desire to win, and harmonious with the superb qualities that make them unplayable on their day. After lasting through the tough tests that the Carabao Cup has thrown their way, the final statements of the episode come at half time.
Here, Amazon takes the time to reaffirm viewers and fans precisely why the last five episodes of ‘All or Nothing’ have been so captivating, returning to the team talk that started it all off as Guardiola is seen to whirl around the changing room once more.
Here, it takes on new meaning.
“You have to learn to play football with courage.”
Guardiola’s words, marketable as they may be, speak greater volumes of City’s journey on their own ‘Road to Wembley’, as they have sought to reengage with the passion that had made them so formidable in their campaign. “Courage” is precisely what was needed. Despite a wealth of footballing talent, players are only human in thriving off of confidence, something that had been heavily knocked in squandering a chance at a the FA Cup. That courage is crucially restored, for there is simply no better assurance to be found in losing out on a domestic trophy than going and winning another, moreover in emphatic fashion. It even transcends poeticism to see Vincent Kompany and David Silva, two of City’s most fervent footballers, be the ones to put Arsenal to the sword.
To witness City thus emerge victorious, smiles abound as the boys in blue lift the Carabao Cup, personifies what has been a cathartic experience for both players and viewers. Just as Amazon circle back to the impassioned scenes that invested viewers in the programme, City return to the fine form that saw them in contention for all silverware possible, for it is that same passion that proves the perfect antidote to faltering.
As the episode concludes, it is clear we’ve come full circle. Their ‘Road to Wembley’ has been fraught with potential pitfalls, but City have banished any ghosts that threatened to haunt them, reestablishing themselves as the team to beat once more. Those words do sting with the pain of what is to come, but for now, City are back where they should be. Confident. Courageous. Champions. Just the way we like it.