The Amazon docuseries, All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, directed by Anthony Philipson and produced by 72 Films, has a purpose that can’t be ignored. You can hear a small Gollum whispering in your ear: “Like us,” it says. “England’s biggest newest stadium,” it says. “José Mourinho is really a good guy,” it says.
Wait, stop. Run that by me again? And that’s a thread that ran through my mind the whole series: why would Tottenham create over 7 hours of promo for José Mourinho, the once-adored, now-maligned former (FIFA 2010) best manager in football? Simply put, it’s all about global branding.
It’s unusual to build a global corporate brand around a villain (unless the evildoer is Zlatan, who has a lot of comedic appeal). When filming started, Mauricio Pochettino had been perhaps the best manager in Tottenham’s history, but he was dismissed on Nov-19-2019 after the club fell to 14th in the 2019-2020 Premier League table. Mourinho was brought in the next day.
There is little mention of the turnover, and the focus turns to Mourinho’s techniques and man-management in climbing back up the ladder. Instead of ruthless and dour, we see José as hard-working and demanding but always honest, extremely photogenic, and often smiling.
Promoting the Tottenham Hotspur brand
The motivation for this show is the archetype for sport docuseries on the biggest streaming platforms, Netflix and Amazon. Through these platforms, the clubs reach millions of viewers worldwide, who may not care about soccer, but they like stories of drama and overcoming challenges.
In the case of Sunderland ’Til I Die, the drama was equally about promotion and the business side of the club. Take Us Home: Leeds United was largely about promotion and showed a favorable side of Leeds ownership and executives.
This Tottenham series ends up being about Mourinho’s effort to climb into the top 4 of the Premier League in order to qualify for the 2021 Champions League. The last 2 episodes cover the effect of the pandemic. Owner and Chairman Daniel Levy gets a lot of screen time as he weighs in on the many player injury and contract issues that arise throughout the series, and then of course he must respond to the pandemic.
Levy joined the Tottenham board almost 20 years ago and eventually assumed control with < £50 million total investment. Today the club is valued > £1.3 B. Levy focused on building the training facility, the stadium, bringing in the NFL, and the docuseries. I was thoroughly distracted that Levy looks so much like Jeff Bezos, and I suspect one of their biggest similarities is ambition.
The 2019-2020 season
Mourinho’s efforts are derailed by constant and lengthy player injuries amongst the star players: GK Hugo Lloris dislocates his elbow, Harry Kane tears a hamstring, and Heung-min Son fractures his elbow. There are also lengthy suspensions such as Eric Dier’s climb into the stands to go after a fan, and Son’s red card for VC (violent conduct).
There is also continual wrangling and speculation about player contracts. The series does not focus on anyone’s backstory, so it fails to mention that many of the star players had been brought up from the academy by Pochettino or had transferred in early in their careers. Many had been at Tottenham 5 years or more. The series makes it clear that a player who wants to go somewhere else doesn’t get playing time unless the club is desperate, as Mourinho feels the player will not give 100% when worried that an injury will curtail a transfer.
The series fails to mention that Chairman Levy is well known as a hard bargainer: Alex Ferguson said that dealing with Levy “was more painful than my hip replacement”. As in the Sunderland series, I wondered how much of Tottenham’s roster problems were due to inability to retain or recruit players because of the chairman’s negotiations.
In the end, Tottenham fails to break into the EPL top 4, although finishing 6th qualifies them for the 2021 Europa League. It’s never clear why the team struggles before or after COVID, but you sense there is a malaise. When Mourinho exhorts his players to be bastards, or to be honest in dealing with losses, or to give 100%, I never got a sense how they responded to him either on or off the pitch. Even how the players are dealing with the pandemic is muted. It is too much of a Mourinho showcase without seeing the real player reaction, and it is not possible to weigh how successful he really is in his management.
The production and the football
Besides watching Mourinho in a new light, the most striking parts of the filming are the insider views of the stadium, the posh dressing room, the gorgeous training facility, the cafeteria, the digital technology used in strategy sessions, and the 10 physios on staff. Most of the interior filming is through remotely-operated cameras, which feels quite a bit like spying, especially in the dressing room. There is also promotion of visitor attractions such as the stadium tour (very popular with Korean fans) and the Dare Skywalk.
There is little coverage of the local fans; they aren’t really included until the games are played behind closed doors and they participate in zooms or social media.
The football scenes are mostly of goals by Harry Kane and Heung-min Son. Although there are many short clips where Mourinho gives tactical instructions, the game footage doesn’t give a sense of how the team plays. Based on the clips, you might believe that Tottenham is an attacking team. There is also little coverage of away games, perhaps because Tottenham won only 4 Premier League away games that season.
For an excellent review of the series and whether or not it is an honest or a highly curated portrayal, listen to the Football Today podcast episode.
Perhaps the most interesting episodes are the first 3. The 8th episode, which reflects the reality of a club dealing with coronavirus, was useful but depressing. Since I’m not a Tottenham fan, I didn’t feel all 9 episodes were worth 7 hours of my time, but I enjoyed seeing a different side of José Mourinho.
Why has no one yet produced a comedic docuseries about the making of a sport docuseries? There must be thousands of hours of footage that couldn’t be used but would make great comedy or drama. I suppose that’s true for any reality show. But wouldn’t we all like to hear about the conflicts that couldn’t be shown? Such yarns could be very entertaining and a lot more revealing than the docuseries themselves. Just a thought.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7