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Review: Man City’s Amazon Series Is An Illuminating Look At Pep Guardiola And The Day-To-Day Of A Super Club

All or Nothing: Manchester City will be released through Amazon Prime on Friday, Aug. 17, and after watching the first four episodes of the eight-part series, it’s evident that the show qualifies as can’t-miss TV. With a camera crew embedded amongst the Citizens throughout a historic, record-breaking 2017-18 campaign, All or Nothing is so wonderfully and dramatically produced that it’ll appeal to even the most casual of fans, but it’s also littered with revealing moments that’ll fascinate football obsessives around the planet.

There are so many awesomely subtle scenes: an inside look at City players awaiting the Champions League Round of 16 draw, kit man Brandon Ashton (who just sort of fell into the position at the age of 16) getting up to all sorts of hijinks while rubbing shoulders with the world’s best, suits Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Omar Berrada negotiating transfers and traveling to Bilbao to land Aymeric Laporte, the laundry crew discussing Gabriel Jesus’ knickers, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane responding to horror tackles while receiving treatment in the dressing room and a fascinating discussion between Pep Guardiola and assistant Mikel Arteta (who really looks like an excellent manager-in-waiting) regarding Raheem Sterling’s brilliant reaction to his terrible miss against Burnley and his issues using the left foot.

The strength of All or Nothing: Manchester City is in its scope. As a drama covering the entirety of City’s 2017-18 season, it wonderfully convalesces with some extremely poignant moments.

The first episode could aptly be referred to as The Benjamin Mendy Show. You’re given a tantalizing glimpse of the left back’s play at Monaco and the buccaneering style which drove Guardiola to sanction a $66 million bid for the Frenchman. The viewer is fully aware of the impending misfortune that’s about to befall the young defender at the end of September — when he tore his ACL in a match against Crystal Palace — so the time leading up to that point is equally as harrowing as it is immensely personable.

Mendy immediately beds in with his teammates. He’s jovial, irrepressible and hits the ground running in the Premier League. A series of interviews with his teammates reveal a man that’s equally admired on and off the pitch, but then tragedy strikes.

This leads to a truly tremendous scene which takes place only seven days after the grueling injury. City travel to Stamford Bridge to take on the defending champions on match day seven, and Mendy is in Barcelona undergoing surgery.

The scene cuts between highlights of the match and clips of Mendy watching the game from his hospital bed. Kevin De Bruyne’s goal in the 67th minute wins the three points for City, and Mendy’s joy is unbound.

This sort of Hollywood drama reaches its apex through David Silva. The Spanish maestro is in the midst of perhaps the finest season of his professional career, but his head is elsewhere: his son, Mateo, was born 25 weeks prematurely. There’s a heart wrenching scene in which you see Silva frantically searching through his locker for his cell phone while the audio of an interview is played over the top: “I was worried all the time because news could come whenever,” Silva says. “You look at things in another way. For sure. You learn to prioritize the little things.”

On Dec. 13, Silva scores a brace against Swansea City. On Dec. 16, the Spaniard is absent for a massive clash against Tottenham — he’s flown back to Valencia to be with his wife and child. We’re given a glimpse inside City’s locker room before the game: Guardiola is extolling his team and issuing last second tactical reminders, but he finishes with a clear message. “We’re winning this one for David Silva. Is that clear?”

The dressing room responds emphatically. City hammer Spurs 4-1. On the third goal, Silva’s midfield partner De Bruyne scores and sprints towards the camera while holding up two fingers on one hand and one on the other — a gesture for Silva’s number 21 shirt. 

There are times when the dramatics can fall a bit flat, mostly because of City’s dominance. After winning 18 straight, the music that accompanies the club’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on New Year’s Eve is something you’d expect from a movie depicting humanity’s final moments. 

Muscle injuries are almost Requiem for a Dream-esque in their representation — does Fabian Delph have to recover from a thigh strain or overcome a crippling heroin addiction? Still, the frustration felt by a youngster like Gabriel Jesus when he injures his knee in a World Cup year is palpable. 

All or Nothing: Manchester City review

This'll become your second home while you binge watch All or Nothing. Photo: Shutterstock

Finally, and most importantly, we approach the series’ depiction of Guardiola. Again, this is where the dramatics of the show might cause some rancor amongst those desperate to see the inner workings of Guardiola’s training methods and tactical preparation — it’s not really there. That'd probably be a bit too dry for TV.

Instead, the show has done a wonderful job capturing what can only be defined as the spectacle of Pep. His energy, his obsession and his demand for detail all ooze through — on game day, he’s absolutely manic. He approaches his tactics board in a state of wild intensity, dragging the circles around what equates to massive distances on the pitch in a flurry of unintelligible movements: "Here? NO. Here? YES! Here? NO!" 

Without any sort of context as to the necessity of such actions and the week of preparation that proceeded it, much is lost on the viewer. Most of what’s digestible has to do with City or its opponents playing three, four or five at the back. He wants Delph to pass it to Silva to pass it to Delph to pass it to Silva to pass it to Delph ad infinitum. Or, get the ball to Fernandinho. Always get the ball to Fernandinho.

It’s not exactly a tactical master class, and it's hard not to suppress a laugh when Guardiola is gesticulating wildly, emitting a series of footballing onomatopoeia grunts, dropping an occasional F-bomb and the camera pans to quizzical looking group of players. 

On game day, Guardiola’s love language is certainly physical touch. He makes a point of seeking out every player, wraps his arms around them and violently pats their cheeks, whispering tactical sweet nothings or words of wisdom that invariably draw smiles and looks of gratitude.

“I’m going to tell you something that’s absolutely true: I don’t have all the answers,” Guardiola tells the camera. “Often when I don’t know something, I act in front of the players as if I do. I do it so that they believe I have the answers and that gives them the confidence to play.”

But the confidence, the attention to detail and the meticulous preparation all shine through. While the program paints Liverpool in a generous light — Jurgen Klopp is to be feared; one scene shows Guardiola and his assistants marking out pretty much every Reds player for praise — the treatment of Manchester United isn’t as magnanimous.

City = beautiful, United = park the bus. 

De Bruyne encapsulates the dichotomy between the side’s managers when he explains his time at Chelsea under Mourinho: “I was only 20 years old when I decided to sign for Chelsea,” he says, “and I got my chances in the first few games and I thought, OK, things are going well, I play OK, we won the games. But then one day it stopped.”

This quote is substantiated by a clip from back in the day of a particularly peeved Mourinho criticizing journalists for asking him about why De Bruyne isn’t playing — he didn’t like the way the Belgian played in the last match, he didn’t like the way the Belgian trained all week and then he storms out of the press conference. De Bruyne was back in Germany come January. 

And City’s 2-1 victory over United at Old Trafford is marked by a particularly foreboding message from Guardiola: “We have neighbors who, for 15 or 20 years, have always won. I think my biggest challenge as a manager is to change that.” Any candid Red Devils fan should be terrified at this sentiment. 

The final episode of the first four ends with City’s shock defeat to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup. Here, shit threatens to well and truly hit the fan for the first time all year. Delph’s red card leads to this halftime reaction from Guardiola: (In an ironic twist of fate, the episode shows Delph crying out for some “fucking aggression” just before the match starts.)

Regardless, a major takeaway from the opening half of the series is the strength of City’s English core.

Walker, Stones, Sterling and Delph all come through as immensely composed, confident and likable men. Any criticism of the group’s on-field mentality — particularly Stones and Sterling — seems hugely laughable after watching these episodes. It’s abundantly clear why Guardiola rates them all so highly.

In the end, that’s the lasting impression this show leaves on you — the amount of work, pressure and competition in these players' daily lives is staggering, and the forces all combine for the framework of a team that has to support each other through it all. It’s enlightening, enjoyable and hugely entertaining. 

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