When Kevin de Bruyne was asked to describe Pep Guardiola's management, he opted for one word: "Detail." It could be applied to All or Nothing, the Amazon Prime documentary of Manchester City's record-breaking 2017/18 season. It is about the details, big and small, that normally remain hidden from the outside world. A glance at the inner workings of a club offers insight.
It is there in the sight of Sergio Aguero at home with his collection of the spoils of his success, the match balls for his various hat-tricks, reflecting on the distance from his son, Benjamin, who lives in Argentina, and in Guardiola’s half-time team talk in the League Cup final against Arsenal. The Catalan can be animated in public. In the privacy of the dressing room, he bounces around with nervous energy, looking to demonstrate the passing movements that will allow his side to build from the back.
It is there in the moments Guardiola is filmed at his beloved tactics board, illustrating the importance of attacking full-backs to his system and how, by taking opponents back, they can insulate his side against counter-attacks. “Close the channel,” the manager orders his defenders as they prepared to face Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the 5-0 Premier League win over Liverpool.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his exuberant personality, one of the stars of the first episode is Benjamin Mendy, a footballer whose season was disrupted by injury. A year on, with the Frenchman fully fit again, City can savour the chief operating officer Omar Berrada’s revelation that not only was Mendy their first-choice left-back in the 2017 transfer market, but there was a substantial gap to the second.
Injury adds another level of poignancy. De Bruyne attended Wednesday's premiere in Manchester on crutches, the product of a knee problem that will sideline him for much of the first half of the campaign. One of last season's defining results came at his former club, Chelsea, in September. The Belgian curled in a brilliant winner. Amazon's cameras in the inner sanctum of the dressing room captured his teammates bouncing around the midfielder, chanting: "Oh, Kevin de Bruyne." Guardiola joined in, while receiving a FaceTime call from the eccentric Mendy, but the central character, jumping on a table, was kit man Brandon Ashton.
De Bruyne is often among City’s most serious souls, so there is something revelatory in the sight of the midfielder clowning around with Ashton, precisely the sort of person who is obscured to the outside world, but pivotal within the camp. “Brandon is the heart and soul of the dressing room really,” captain Vincent Kompany said. “He has this ability to take the pressure off.”
Ashton’s role as comic sidekick is summed up when Kompany cajoles him to into joining him in a cryotherapy chamber with temperatures of minus 130°C. It was designed to help the injured defender recover quicker. The unfortunate Ashton, however, was not injured; just very, very cold.
It gave outsiders an idea of City’s spirit. “They’ll realise we’re a crazy bunch who had fun and worked hard,” Kompany said on Wednesday. The Belgian provided a spoiler for future episodes, which are all available from Friday, by revealing the cameramen were filming him and his wife’s family on the day Manchester United lost to West Bromwich Albion, handing City the title.
The first instalment illustrates the level of planning that set up that eventual triumph. If Ashton offered some of the comic relief, the more meaningful discussions took place at board level. Guardiola was long confronted with questions if his style of football, honed in Barcelona, could work in England. “There might be a type of player that works for the Spanish league and not for the Premier League,” director of football Txiki Begiristain admits.
It showed the shift in thinking, how the intellectual challenge of conquering England appealed to Guardiola. Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak revealed the toll a fallow first year in England took on a manager he described as a genius: “It was very hard for Pep. Last season it wasn’t easy for him. Mentally, psychologically.” A glorious second season brought different emotions in a series that promises to be study of success and a glimpse into the group who achieved it.
WATCH: Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak on Pep, new players and retaining the Premier League