As someone who grew up in a living room directly facing the Maine Road Social Club at Manchester City’s tatty former home, and who has supported the club for four decades, it’s fair to say that I’ve watched enough end-of-season compilation DVDs to know that, unless you’re an avid fan, they’re probably pretty boring.
So why should anyone other than the most blue-blooded Mancunian watch Amazon's new documentary All or Nothing: Manchester City? Because, thankfully, the producers have delivered something as far from an end-of-season compilation DVD as is humanly possible. Yes, there are clips from games, great goals, and the obligatory lingering shots of (spoiler alert) Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany lifting the English Premiere League trophy at the end of a victorious 2017/18 campaign. But the real high points of this eight-episode documentary take place off the pitch.
It is, above all, a story about human beings, and with unfettered access to the club’s dressing room and training facilities, the board room, and even players’ homes, we get to see far beyond the shirts and shin pads, and the bling and excess that usually accompanies players’ off-the-field activities in popular media coverage, and instead meet some genuinely fascinating, normal people.
From visiting the affable full-back Benjamin Mendy in his Barcelona hospital bed while he watches his teammates take on Chelsea without him, to following the drama of mercurial midfielder David Silva’s odyssey as he attempts to balance his commitment to the club with the needs of his family after his wife gave birth to a child several months prematurely back in Spain, it really feels like no barriers have been put in place to digging deep into the lives of this bevy of multi-talented millionaires.
The club's top brass get their time in the limelight, too, as we watch club chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak and his lieutenants Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain dealing with the day-to-day matters of contracts, finances, and simply ensuring the players and club are in the best possible place. It's not all balance sheets and contracts here, though – in one of the documentary's stand-out anecdotes, Al Mubarak reveals that, in a rare moment of not being at the centre of the action, he learnt of City's title win thanks to a phone call from club owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed. Al Mubarak had been on a flight when Manchester United lost the game that meant they could no longer catch City, handing them the title in the process.
Fascinating though it is to meet the players, staff from boot boys to soft tissue specialists, and executives, the real star of this show is City's manager, the much-acclaimed Catalan Pep Guardiola. Pep is clearly a driven man, a footballing mastermind, a man-manager par excellence and, like a lot of geniuses, possibly verging on the insane. The opening scenes of him giving an animated team talk as he excitedly moves magnets around a metal pitch have more shades of Back to the Future's Dr Emmet Brown revealing the secrets of his time travelling DeLorean than the reserved footballing mind Pep is known as.
Pep truly is one of the documentary’s revelations, alongside Fabian Delph, a seemingly unassuming squad player who, despite his highly successful conversion to an emergency left-back following Mendy’s serious injury early in the season, is a squad member most fans would probably see as something of a peripheral player. In fact, it turns out he’s one of the most powerful personalities in the dressing room, which few could have expected.
The documentary really does have something for everyone. Humour, such as club captain Vincent Kompany watching United hand City the title on a sofa next to his United-supporting father-in-law, drama both on and off the pitch – Oleksandr Zincenko’s tale of escaping the civil war in his native Ukraine and ultimately finding success in the Premier League after several months unable to play as a refugee in Russia is a level above the usual rags-to riches footballer back story – and genuinely fascinating, and utterly three-dimensional real-life characters, and of course, plenty of football for the fans.
Another striking aspect of the documentary is just how much of it is subtitled as the club’s host of international stars from Brazil, Spain and beyond tell their stories. It’s a far cry from the Moss Side back street club of my youth, although local lad Phil Foden, one of the youngest players to break through to the first team at just 17, and the Golden Ball winner at last year’s FIFA Under-17 World Cup, helps ensure the club remains rooted in the local community, as do the players’ frequent visits to schools, hospitals and even the local pub to celebrate their success.
Perhaps the biggest compliment for the documentary came from an unexpected source. Over the weekend, the perennially displeased Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho went to the UK press to denounce the series as “classless.” Jealousy is a dangerous thing, Jose. But it’s nice to know you care so much.