The Inbetweeners: Why Man City's Amazon series did not live up to its title
To their immense credit, Manchester City have been one of football’s great media innovators since they were purchased by Sheikh Mansour in 2008.
Deep pockets and a desire to build a different type of club brand have fostered a spirit of innovation. Every development has been trumpeted but not all have worked.
I remember sitting bored through the much-heralded Blue Moon Rising, their movie back in 2010. It was flimsy, more of a decent outside production made by BBC North-West than the “game-changer” of its billing. Yes, there were wonderfully detailed shots of the in rain in a state-of-the-art high-definition picture. But it made little difference when there is so little narrative hook.
That experience, the overall hype over this new series and the distinctly ho-hum “First Team: Juventus“ on Netflix early this year did not fill me with much hope for All Or Nothing: Man City, which debuted on Amazon just before the start of the 2018/19 Premier League season.
These days a good series on one of the OTT platforms not only provides a “just one more episode” mentality as the credits roll and that timer ticks down. It also calls you back when you are away.
I have a busy job, a social media addiction and two lively children who need my attention or they will go the same way. However I still completed the new series of Black Mirror in about 36 hours.
All or Nothing: Man City was consumed in four days. (By way of reference, I did not get past episode three of that Juventus thing.)
The format was familiar fly-on-the-wall territory but it was executed with care and attention. The standard locations (dressing room, training ground, canteen, the odd star’s house, focusing on one player each episode, making sure the kit man/laundry ladies show the salt-of-the-earth and the fans show the down-to-earth.
The star was Pep Guardiola who taught, teased and cajoled City to a record-breaking Premier League season. What appeared to be locked-off cameras in the tactical briefing room gave us great insight, along with the more standard, but in this case plentiful, dressing room shots. The owners, CEO and front office also featured heavily.
But then this was always reported to be a project with exceptional buy-in from the top. In addition to the owners enlightened attitude to content, Mediapro, one of the production companies of All or Nothing, is part-owned by Pere Guardiola, Pep’s brother.
Access is always a make-or-break for insider documentaries and there was clearly an almost unprecedented “in” here. Yes there were still some signs of fragility after a match at Crystal Palace in which only Luka Milivojevic’s last-minute penalty miss stopped City falling to their first Premier League defeat of the season. It began during the interval when Guardiola’s words were audio-only behind shots of a shut dressing room door. At full-time, the cameraman was inside the inner sanctum but seemingly shooting as if hiding behind a whiteboard with the manager only partially visible. These may be real or a rouse as the Catalan was calling-out a couple of his players for individual mistakes. Either way, I was prepared to be fooled.
As ever, the most interesting scenes always arrived in tandem with the more challenging moments. Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure spoke candidly in a shocked dressing room after the 3-2 defeat by Manchester United when the club were ready to secure the title, then Guardiola had to step in as tensions rose.
In fairness that deeply disappointing day was built-up as a narrative but elsewhere, the club line was toed. Footage from the FA Cup defeat at Wigan included some thunderous tackles from the Latics while the Champions League defeat at Liverpool pointedly mentioned the lack of protection for the City bus as it arrived and some dubious decisions from the referee.
Most hypocritical of all was the lauding of the youth section then Guardiola fielding a six-man bench in another game as “there was no-one” who could play.
In the end City solved their “left-back crisis” by writing a cheque for a reported £57m to acquire Aymeric Laporte, who we saw arriving on a private jet.
While winning the Premier League is always tough, I did find the “story of struggle” difficult to swallow given this side has more resources than any in English football history. If you wanted to find real triumph over adversity in the topflight during season 2017-18 then it might have been better popping a few miles north to Burnley.
However I do not want such gripes to overshadow a series that kept even football cynics such as myself coming back for more. All or Nothing: Man City achieved its club aims of opening its doors, telling its story and, in turn, widening its fanbase.
It may have lacked the brutal honesty of ESPN’s Hard Knocks or the HBO 24/7 series that accompany a big fight. However it will live longer in the memory than, for example, “Being Liverpool” in 2012.
All or Nothing: Man City might be as good a club-made insider documentary as we will see. At least from a major club.
And even then it still illuminated the two contradictory laws of putting flies on your own dressing room walls.
You need your ownership group involved to open the all the doors and provide you access. But you can’t have your ownership group involved or you’ll pull some punches, either as stipulated or unconcsciously.
This documentary series was not “all” it might have been but it was certainly more than “nothing”.
In fact, it was a very decent something inbetween.