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City Watch Review: ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ Episode 6 (The Beautiful Game)


Other ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’ reviews: Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 7

Despite having a trophy in the bag and a big lead in the League, City persist. Pep’s signature attacking style is on full show against Arsenal and Chelsea. City are still on for the treble, but the UCL draw presents a tricky tie against a familiar foe. A well-earned break gives the players an opportunity to rest in warmer climates. — Amazon Prime

“‘We are tired!’ Fuck you!”

God help anyone who was feeling drained by the cinematic onslaught found within Amazon Prime’s astounding series ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City‘.

Having borne witness to a wealth of title race titillation, motivational moments and cup match climaxes, one could be forgiven for thinking that ‘All or Nothing’ had already shown off the enormity of behind-the-scenes action that it’s title had promised to encompass.

This makes it all the more astounding that the sixth episode of the series, ‘The Beautiful Game’, goes above and beyond to excel in its documentation of City’s season, despite it seeming that the Blues having done more than enough to display their dominance.

Nevertheless, therein lies the aim. Fresh off of their first piece of silverware in winning the Carabao Cup, City must fight in order to maintain their own desire for more success as they return to their title challenge amidst the cumulative chaos of their remaining fixtures.

Indeed, complacency is made public enemy number one. As Pep makes clear to his players in no uncertain terms, their hunger is tantamount to their victory: “You are not tired, guys, if you want to be champions.”

In many ways, the managers words echo the viewing experience — ‘All or Nothing’ has provided more than enough insight for any typical sports documentary, yet the value of City’s season is to be found in their persistence. For there can be no let off, for players or viewers, if dedication is to breed development.

With every passing episode, there is a sense that Amazon made some sort of deal with the devil in order to secure inside-track on Manchester City’s 2017/18 season. Whether Jeff Bezos’s soul currently languishes in some dark dimension is unknown, but the rewards are almost beyond understanding. Whilst the level to which the documentary series is able to dramatise the year’s events is no doubt a credit to the production team, it seems that auspicious circumstances were present in every department of City’s fairytale season. From football played to weather swayed, all factors conspire to grant ‘All or Nothing’ every air of a cinematic epic.

Take for instance, City’s league return after their Carabao Cup victory against Arsenal. Like a spectral phantasm, the Gunners return from their League Cup demise eager to seek revenge and haunt Guardiola’s men at the first sign of complacency. Accompanying them, the last throes of winter bring harsh weather on the winds, threaten to turn the Blues the same colour as their uniforms. Making the trip down south once more, fate itself seems to have conspired against City.

Given the eventual 3-0 scoreline, one could argue that the eventual victory could have been dismissed from the programme on accounts of a forgone conclusion, such has been City’s general dominance. However, the focus granted to the return to London sets a precedent in tune with Guardiola’s own philosophy, emphasising momentum as necessity to maintaining the mentality of success.

“It’s eleven months, guys,” harks the Catalan. “It’s eleven months working for that title, and today, you know the step we make forward.”

No matter the result or emphatic the victory, it is evident that success remains a Sisyphean task for Guardiola. For a side affectionately dubbed the ‘Shark Team’ by Benjamin Mendy for the manner in which they gobble up the opposition, there is, and must always be, a bigger fish.

This persistent pressure from City’s coach is perhaps the defining characteristic of the sixth episode. Once again, though the characters and events found within ‘All or Nothing’ are not dramatised themselves, the sheer innate qualities of Manchester City and it’s personnel come across larger-than-life as if they might have indeed been scripted.

For such is his intensity, Guardiola has come to be the omnipresent star of the series, the permeance of his philosophies all-encompassing from the supremacy of his football to the ardour of his acolytes found both on and off the field. Truly, Guardiola can tolerate nothing but total commitment to the cause if a footballing masterstroke is to be accomplished. Likewise, Amazon’s production team cannot allow anything but total belief to be fostered in the Catalan’s ideology if the series is to be successful.

As such, whether hearing players like Bernardo Silva or Kyle Walker wax lyrical about the genius of their coach, or witnessing long time confidants in Manuel Estiarte or Carles Planchart pour out their admiration for their close friend, the impacts of Guardiola’s drive are far-reaching both philosophically and editorially. The comprehensive praise and commitment from those at City may tread dangerously close to sounding fanatical, yet it is important that they lay these dogmatic foundations if the severity of the undertaking of Guardiola’s team is to be appreciated.

It is by this token that Pep’s fervent speeches occupy a space similar to William Wallace on the Scottish Highlands or Maximus Decimus Meridius within the Colosseum. They may have become a commonality of Amazon’s footage, but their recurrence sees the City manager’s words hang in the air every time, lingering in the brain as if compelled to do so at the Catalan’s personal behest. Some might say that the motivational formalities of these speeches indulge tired clichés of sports management, compared favourably to Any Given Sunday to ironically with David Brent from The Office. To this writer however, witnessing this litany of speeches as Guardiola drives his players to go to battle for him time and again merely reflects the onslaught with which City are faced, their aching limbs and weary heads routinely needing the fuel of a maniacal Catalan to inspire them once more.

In fact, one would like to imagine that this is precisely what Guardiola means to say when dishing out handfuls of ‘Fuck You’ to his fatigued Man City squad. After all, in the lead-up to that crunch fixture against Chelsea, there is no greater need to rouse a team of potential champions-elect than when facing the champions-incumbent. As product of these cumulative pressures however, City’s triumph brings Guardiola closest to resembling a familiar figure amongst the dressing room. As opposed to an impassioned extended monologue, Pep is reduced to something most akin to an expectant father, his lips curling hesitantly to summarise neatly: “I am so proud.”

Perhaps if there is one thing of note to comment on, it is that the tropes of Manchester City are slowly coming into flux. It is a tricky predicament from a televisual perspective, as it has been largely a plaudit that Amazon have not entertained many clichés about City’s club history or media reputation, instead letting their football do the talking. This elusion of conventional stereotypes has allowed Guardiola and the 2017/18 City squad to inhabit their own stage, free to invent their image how they see fit.

To that extent, the image of Manchester City Football Club is allowed to meld more and more with that of Pep Guardiola, for better or for worse. It admittedly feels a missed opportunity to mix in more of the community perspective as to how City are evolving under the Catalan’s stewardship, though that can only ever be indulged by the lengths to which Mancunian culture is really evoked in such an increasingly international team, despite the best efforts of Wonderwall to reappear every so often.

On the contrary however, Guardiola’s attempts to reconcile his own history with that of Manchester City are hardly found in bad stead, especially when they take inspiration from one of the greats of football history — Johan Cruyff. Amazon evidently wish to make the similarities evident between the former student Guardiola and his mentor from Barcelona, as framed beautifully in a pair of mirrored shots demonstrating just how literally the Catalan resembles his Dutch tutor.

However, the greater substance is found within Guardiola’s words about the man he has literally idolised in statue-form on his managerial desk. “Johan’s legacy has always been present”, he says. “We never adapt ourselves to who we are playing. Our concern is what we can do to attack better.” To a fault, this is no longer the Cruyff way nor the Guardiola way. It is slowly becoming the City way, too.

When executed perfectly, the results can be devastating, as ‘The Beautiful Game’ highlights in City’s unbelievable 52 pass move to score against West Brom. The shift in focus from domestic fixtures to European competition though only serves to emphasise though that whilst the practicalities football may reach a zenith, they are useless without a weaponisation of conviction.

A loss to Basel in front of the home fans at the Etihad is greeted with a chorus of boos, a phenomenon which Guardiola welcomes. Without consequences, there can be no change if City are to increase their level and reach their potential. After all, these higher standards are one of the crucial factors that interested City in hiring Guardiola, though it is made clear that the greatest challenge facing City in Europe is not a question of potential, but of belief. The City manager can see it clear: “The only difference between Madrid, Barcelona, and us… is that they are fucking believers”.

As valuable face time is given to Sheikh Mansour on a warm weather training trip to Abu Dhabi, the alignment in ambitions between Catalan and Emirati are left unsaid yet are nonetheless obvious. Both Guardiola and Mansour are firm believers in City’s phenomenal potential, the latter having reiterated only recently that the aim remains to make City the foremost football club on the planet.

‘The Beautiful Game’ is an episode very much devoted to enforcing an objective belief of City as a force to be reckoned with, a club with complete devotion to the footballing ideals of some of history’s most successful coaches, yet it remains an open question if that belief is subjective within the club also. Indeed, the Champions League draw exposes a slightly humourous weakness yet a weakness nevertheless, as a draw against Liverpool sees Txiki Begiristain’s face fall quicker in dismay than a sack of cement.

Taking a precursory trip to Merseyside with a league match against Everton, it is not happy viewing for a side hoping to defend their title this year that Guardiola’s mind is plagued with worries about the attacking threat of the team on the red side of the city, as City must currently keep pace with a Liverpool side further reenforced in the summer. Admittedly, City are able to their fears of form to rest as they dispatch Everton in an authoritative 3-0 display, but as the cameras pan across the red smoke of Anfield, it is clear that convictions will be tested like no other in the foreboding matches that lie ahead.

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