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Rediff.com  » Sports » Pep's All Or Nothing style makes Manchester City champs

Pep's All Or Nothing style makes Manchester City champs

September 17, 2018 12:42 IST

'By giving cameras unimpeded access to their world-class training facilities and coaches, and by showing off Guardiola's genius, All Or Nothing is a striking show of power, a declaration of their conviction of being the bigger club in Manchester,' says Dhruv Munjal.

Manchester City players celebrate winning a game. Photograph: Man City/Twitter

IMAGE: Manchester City players celebrate winning a game. Photograph: Man City/Twitter

'Money cannot buy you class' was Manchester United Manager Jose Mourinho's terse assessment of rival English football club Manchester City and their ambitious new documentary series project, All Or Nothing.

Only, Mourinho, who was snarkily dismissive of a female journalist following his team's meek defeat to Brighton last month, is perhaps the last person on earth you would want to take lessons on 'class' from.

'You must be fantastic in your job to have the ability to speak about chemistry between players,' he said in response to beIN Sports reporter Carrie Brown's question about the absence of cohesion and communication between United players.

Brown's query was perfectly legitimate, for United were a colossal mess against Brighton -- a catastrophic performance that seemed all the more grim when juxtaposed with City's 6-1 dismantling of Huddersfield just hours earlier.

And while Mourinho's ire has mainly drawn from the film's peppery portrayal of him as a visionless abandoner of special talent and a surly 'anti-football' man, All Or Nothing is not exactly a take on the United-City rivalry.

Yet, anything that even remotely presents City in a glowing light invariably does invite mention of United -- despite the vastly different trajectories their football has taken over the years, the fortunes of the two clubs have forever been intertwined.

Mourinho has vowed not to watch the film -- not in its entirety, at least. But given these times of strife, where both his employers and his best player, Paul Pogba, seem disillusioned with him, All Or Nothing -- eight engrossing episodes that chronicle City's record-breaking 2017-2018 Premier League season, during which it became the first team to amass 100 points -- may have some urgent lessons for the United boss.

 

All or Nothing

IMAGE: All Or Nothing, the Amazon Prime documentary.

The film's unique selling proposition was always going to be an opportunity to get inside the brain of City manager Pep Guardiola, one of the prophets of football's neo tactical age.

All fans know that his teams -- Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the past -- play beautiful football, but what drives the mad, football-consumed genius of Guardiola to make them play that way?

The first scene is a fair indicator: A fiery Guardiola is stood in the middle of the Wembley dressing room during half-time of last season's League Cup final, haranguing and inspiring in turns, belting out words almost too swiftly for his players to even comprehend.

"I know it's difficult, guys. But you must learn to play football with courage," he says.

In another scene, he explains how "great teams score lots of f***ing goals".

Other times, he talks about going short and finding space -- a Cruyffian trope of which now Guardiola is undeniably the modern-day master.

Pep Guardiola will be Manchester City's manager till 2021. Photograph: Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

IMAGE: Pep Guardiola will be Manchester City's manager till 2021. Photograph: Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

More than anything else, Guardiola's demeanour perfectly illustrates how difficult and demanding it must be for anyone to play for him.

"Detailed" is how City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne likes to describe him. This is exactly the kind of excruciating detail that impelled Bayern Munich's Xabi Alonso, as narrated by the ever-perceptive Michael Cox in The Mixer: The Story of Premier League Tactics, to spend entire training sessions just trying to win second balls.

While a lot of this Amazon Prime Original is steered by Guardiola's raging charisma and cuss-word-inflected erudition, the series is equally remarkable for the unprecedented access the crew manages to get.

You are welcomed into City's gymnasiums, medical rooms, recovery chambers and laundry baskets -- quite an achievement considering that official match broadcasters aren't even allowed a glimpse into the tunnel post match, let alone sneak into dressing rooms and listen to team conversations.

There are the requisite, endearing moments from players' personal lives thrown in: Sergio Aguero longing for his son Benjamin to visit him soon, and Fernandinho celebrating his daughter's birthday.

Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph

IMAGE: Manchester City's Benjamin Mendy, Fernandinho and Fabian Delph celebrate victory in an UEFA Champions League game. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

But every team has its characters, and at City, through this film, it is Benjamin Mendy and Fabian Delph who surprisingly emerge.

Mendy, a crucial player who was ruled out long-term very early last season, is shown as the team's chief cheerleader and easily the most likeable of all City players.

And Delph, a relatively small man, is a towering presence behind the scenes.

Both are portrayed as purveyors of a joyousness that eventually proved central to the team's success.

With frenzied singing and dancing, in the film every major victory is celebrated like a title win -- a kind of backroom camaraderie City's neighbours would do well to inculcate.

There are other possible takeways for United too.

The role of Txiki Begiristain, director of football at City, cannot be emphasised enough. The Spaniard is Guardiola's trusted aide who scouts players and sorts out transfers.

United haven't had someone in that position for years and their recent troubles in the transfer market are, hence, not much of a surprise.

And apart from his tactical sagacity, the one thing that shines through about Guardiola in the series is his ability to unite his players and considerably improve them -- something the coaches at United haven't always been able to achieve.

IMAGE: Manchester City fans hold up signs supporting their manager prior to the Premier League game between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium in Manchester, April 7, 2018. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

If Mendy and Delph are the flagbearers of delight, a Machiavellian Mourinho is expectedly painted as the villain of the piece.

First, the Manchester derby is billed as 'attacking flair versus parking the bus', the latter an oft-repeated reference to Mourinho's painful-to-watch, defensive style.

Later, the Portuguese is dissed for mishandling and eventually selling De Bruyne when he was Chelsea manager, with an old, irascible, classic-Mourinho press conference used to demonstrate his shocking lack of foresight.

While the sale of De Bruyne, who is now rated as one of the best players in the world, may well have been a mistake, the 'parking the bus' insinuation comes across as a churlish jibe at someone who has won so much and is routinely counted among the great coaches of the modern era.

The somewhat dumbed-down narration -- understandable given that City are looking at a global audience -- by Ben Kingsley, and the all-too-familiar sight of Noel Gallagher (the former Oasis guitarist and his brother, Liam, are lifelong City fans) are slight dampeners, but the series otherwise succeeds in putting forth a sparkling rendition of a sparkling season.

And while it may be easy for some to dismiss All Or Nothing as nothing but propaganda peddled by the club's Arab owners, that would really be missing the point.

City have been winning trophies for the past few years, so why the documentary now?

By giving cameras unimpeded access to their world-class training facilities and coaches, and by showing off Guardiola's genius, All Or Nothing is a striking show of power, a declaration of their conviction of being the bigger club in Manchester.

Unfortunately, for the red half of the city, the times are no longer changing. They may have already changed.

Dhruv Munjal
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