Given that Tottenham Hotspur have not won any silverware in 12 years – nor a league title since 1961 – they are a curious subject for Amazon Prime’s latest All or Nothing series. Spurs’ season, finishing a modest sixth, would appear on paper at least to lack the jeopardy and scale of previous iterations of the show, from New Zealand’s all-conquering All Blacks to Pep Guardiola’s title-winning Manchester City.
And yet, whether by accident or design, Amazon have landed on their most captivating and dramatic series to date. The first three episodes of the nine-part series, which is narrated by Tom Hardy, air on Prime on August 31 and capture a barmy, rollercoaster-ride of a season that begins with Mauricio Pochettino’s dismissal and ends with final-day-of-the-season Europa League qualification – with a global pandemic thrown in between.
The biggest talking point of all, though, was the arrival of Jose Mourinho. From both the trailers that have been released and the early episodes, it quickly becomes clear that the self-proclaimed Special One is the star of the show – and not in the arrogant, egotistical even domineering way his reputation might have you expect.
Tottenham fans may find it a little jarring how quickly Pochettino’s tenure is dispensed with, with Mourinho introduced after barely 20 minutes. But both the show’s focus and the managers’ respective box-office potential are summed up neatly in that moment: We are never shown Pochettino collecting his things – instead he is ushered out off-screen – but we do see his replacement meticulously unpacking and laying out his own belongings in his new office.
While he does so, a pundit on Sky Sports News can be heard declaring that he is ‘past his best’ which prompts the two-time Champions League winner to get up and turn off the television, uttering ‘f*** off’ as he does so. Mourinho is in charge now, this is his show, and he’s far from finished.
Pochettino always seemed guarded and wary of the presence of the cameras, but Mourinho is a natural. What makes the show doubly compelling, and unlike previous All or Nothing documentaries, is that Spurs are in such a state of upheaval and change that we learn about the players – and their struggles – as the new manager does; the usually Machiavellian and calculated coach showing a lighter and more human side as he gets to know his squad.
This is where we start to see more than previous documentaries have allowed. Mourinho’s great strength – and weakness, when things start to unravel – has always been his man-management and the way he forges the kind of relationships that have seen previous players run through walls for him, and the way he quickly identifies the players he needs to get on-side first, is genuinely captivating.
Every one-on-one chat – of which we were shown scant few from Guardiola – shows a different side of the manager, the different ways in which he looks to push buttons and motivate players. Harry Kane is urged to embrace his celebrity potential in one conversation, while Dele Alli is branded ‘f***ing lazy’ in another. He speaks exclusively in Portuguese to Eric Dier and even mocks Davinson Sanchez for ‘s***ing himself’ when the two met in the Europa League final three years ago. Almost every player is treated to a different Mourinho.
The previous Manchester City documentary only gave flickering glimpses behind the curtain, but Mourinho and Spurs pull it back almost completely. The team meetings are, frankly, astonishing, and you would be forgiven for thinking the Portuguese coach had walked straight out of Bobo’s Restaurant in Curb Your Enthusiasm and onto Spurs’ Enfield training ground, dropping F-bombs like an Iberian Danny Dyer.
Guardiola largely kept his team talks and tactics guarded and you were left with the feeling that the juiciest, most insightful moments were left on the cutting-room floor, but Spurs and Mourinho leave almost everything out in the open. While City blurred out transfer targets from PowerPoint presentations, Tottenham show moments like chairman Daniel Levy telling Christian Eriksen he can leave the club – and even the fee they would be prepared to accept for him.
There are so many aspects that viewers of any club persuasion will find fascinating, from the canteen gossiping among players to the moments when they are entirely alone. So often the sport’s biggest stars are hidden away behind media training and well-worn clichés, but here they are themselves, more vulnerable, more human. There’s the softer side of Serge Aurier, or the agonising of Jan Vertonghen as he considers uprooting his family and leaving at the end of his contract.
What All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur provides in bucketloads is conflict and despair, setbacks and disappointments – and Mourinho’s drive to overcome them. And ultimately, for most fans, that’s what sport is, it’s getting punched in the gut when you get knocked out of the FA Cup by Norwich City and doing it all over again the next week – the heart ruling the head.
There’s only so much value in seeing a team succeed and there is something altogether more profound about watching a team suffer – and their attempts to turn things around. While Amazon may have spent a year following another trophyless Tottenham season, they have shown there’s just as much entertainment value in winning nothing as winning it all, particularly when Mourinho is your leading man.
All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur
Amazon Prime Video’s new series will take sports fans behind the scenes of Tottenham Hotspur and follow all of the key events, including the arrival of Jose Mourinho as the club’s new head coach.
The series launches on Monday 31st August, with three new episodes available every Monday until 14th September.