At the beginning of the 2017-2018 English Premier League Season, Manchester City Football Club allowed a camera crew to film in their most private spaces—in pre-match strategy meetings; inside the locker room during half-time talks and post-game celebrations; in the homes and cars of players; and in hospital as they dealt with injury after injury. The result is the latest installment of the Amazon Prime original docuseries All or Nothing.
The eight-episode season captures a team fighting for four different trophies and the emotional highs and lows that come with both winning and falling short. Led by arguably the best manager in the world—and one of the most entertaining—Pep Guardiola, in his second season with the club, the pressure on the players is enormous: to play quick-passing, high-pressing, always-attacking football without mistakes.
Last season, Man City was nearly unstoppable, shattering one Premier League record after another. But the demands of going deep into the other competitions—the FA Cup, the League Cup and, especially, the Champion’s League—provided a roller-coaster of emotions for everyone attached to the club, including fans.
And while it’s certainly Man City fans like me who were most likely to binge all eight episodes on the weekend of its release, the behind-the-scenes look at one of the biggest football clubs in the world will be both a fascinating learning experience and, increasingly, a model across all sports. This is Amazon’s sixth season of All or Nothing, which launched in 2016 with a look at the Arizona Cardinals. They’ve since captured the seasons of two other NFL teams, the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys, as well as the University of Michigan’s football team and New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks. The job of the modern athlete has become more than just training and competing. In All or Nothing: Manchester City, we see photo shoots and press conferences and visits with youth clubs and, of course, interviews for the documentarians’ cameras.
Their lives of intense training and a rigorous competition schedule are on full display, narrated with sober import by Ben Kingsley. We see personalities like Benjamin Mendy, the always-smiling Frenchman who spent most of the season rehabbing a knee injury and entertaining fans on social media; John Stones, the highly touted English central defender who shows up at a golf course in a giant bunny suit; captain Vincent Kompany, the club’s natural leader; and Sergio Aguero, who invites the camera into his home, which feels a lonely place with his son living with his mom back in Argentina three weeks each month.
One of the stars to emerge from the docuseries is Brandon Ashton, who takes care of the players’ kits—their uniforms and cleats (boots). He joined the club as a teenager and, along with the trainers, coaches and facility staff, feels as much a part of the club as the players, especially since their tenures will typically be longer.
While the filmmakers don’t shy away from highlighting player mistakes and personal struggles, they don’t spend any time digging into the more controversial aspects of global football. When the team travels to the United Arab Emirates to visit owner Sheikh Mansour, the nation’s deputy prime minister, there’s no mention of UAE’s human-rights abuses, such as the alleged jailing and torturing of Emirati dissidents or mistreatment of migrant workers. There’s a celebration of Yaya Toure’s tenure with the club, but no mention of his accusations of racism aimed at Guardiola. Even the digs from opposing managers like Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho are downplayed, though he could have served as the perfect reality-show villain (he’s even complained since the documentary’s release, “You can be a rich club and buy the best players in the world but you cannot buy class and they showed that clearly, that was really obvious”).
Still, for anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a professional athlete or just appreciated the feats they’ve witnessed on the field (or, in this case, the pitch), there’s much to love about the chance to see how some of the world’s best players work and live. For those of us who are already fans of Manchester City, it’s a truly special experience.
All or Nothing: Manchester City is now streaming on Amazon Prime.