COMMENT: Amazon Prime's latest sports documentary series All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur is an excellent – and revealing – portrait of the club's ambitions, fractures, and most interestingly, its charismatic coach José Mourinho, writes Joel Kulasingham.
"I don't want Spurs to be memed to high hell," a sceptical Tottenham fan told me recently. His comment – tinged with the internet vernacular of the modern football fan – was about Amazon Prime's upcoming nine-part documentary Tottenham Hotspur: All or Nothing, the latest instalment of the series which follows the club during the 2019/20 season.
The fans' scepticism in anticipation of the documentary's release – an inferiority complex built deep into the veins of every Spurs supporter – is why the team, at this time, presents for perhaps the most interesting test case for the series to date. Spurs have been a top-six Premier League perennial for a few years now, but the club has still yet to win anything of worth for decades. This season, the series is telling a different – and more compelling – story.
Since its first instalment in 2015, when the series followed the Arizona Cardinals, the All or Nothing franchise has covered some of the best sports teams on the planet. It painted a picture of the persistent excellence of the All Blacks, a host of other NFL teams, and most recently, Premier League big spenders Manchester City. The Spurs version, is about a humbler club striving to join that elite group.
The first episode begins with the soothing voice of narrator Tom Hardy: "This is Tottenham Hotspur, a football club that has always believed in flair." Many of the club's main characters are introduced, from pugnacious chairman Daniel Levy ("I've run lots of businesses, running a football club is the hardest business I've ever run") and its star players, to sacked manager Mauricio Pochettino.
The documentary picks up from the internal unrest around the club's struggles under Pochettino, a fan favourite and one of the most highly rated managers in world football. After leading Spurs to the Champions League final in 2019, the club plummeted to the bottom half of the Premier League table. The conflict between Pochettino and Levy is soon laid bare. "It's the most emotional decision I've ever had to make," Levy says about the decision to replace his manager.
But the undoubted star of the show, as he often is, is Pochettino's successor José Mourinho – the most interesting man in world football. Mourinho has had his fingerprints all over the Premier League since he first joined Chelsea in 2004. But lately, he's become somewhat of a controversial figure in England, having been sacked in the Premier League twice. Love him or loathe him, it's hard not to fall prey to his undeniable magnetism. "I'm falling in love with the guy despite my better instincts," says a fan in the documentary.
Over the years, Mourinho has had up and down spells at English clubs. He coined the term "park the bus", only to become one of the reviled tactic's biggest proponents years later. He's been accused of having a coaching style that isn't in touch with the 21st century footballer. He tends to become bigger than the clubs he manages – Spurs v Chelsea becomes José v José's former team. He's also, of course, won 24 trophies in his career.
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Mourinho's genius, shortcomings and cult of personality are displayed in all its glory thanks to the unprecedented access given to the documentary crew – and it makes for thrilling TV. Fans get to witness unseen footage of Mourinho's tactical white boards, his one-on-one motivational speeches to players in his office – "By being with me, I can help you explode," he tells striker Harry Kane – and his fiery, foul-mouthed team talks where he often scolds his players for being "too nice".
One of the best things about the documentary is the microscopic dissection of the flawed Mourinho philosophy: his fascination with players who outwardly display desire; the "kill the game" mantra he's employed over the years; his Machiavellian control of the fawning media. The first three episodes, during a time when Spurs were improving on Pochettino's slow start, is almost gushingly complimentary of the Portuguese manager. But as we all know, the season doesn't quite go to plan for Tottenham.
The documentary also takes time to focus on certain players – the third episode on Korean forward Son Heung-min was particularly charming – and will eventually cover Spurs' role in one of the craziest seasons in Premier League history, thanks to the pandemic-enforced sporting shutdown. It all makes for one of the best iterations of the All or Nothing franchise so far.
Spurs ended up finishing in a disappointing sixth, missing out on their goal of Champions League qualification. With Mourinho at the helm, who knows where they're headed next. There will probably be plenty of memes to come. But at least it's never boring.
All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur will be released on Amazon Prime Video on Monday 31 August, with three new episodes available every Monday until 14 September.