What Tottenham Hotspur lacked in success over the 2019/20 season, they made up for in attention. The hiring of José Mourinho in November 2019 proved a turning point for both the club’s season as well as the future of Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing sports documentary series. The season’s first three episodes see Mourinho almost single-handedly carry the series’ drama and excitement. So far, reviews have been generally positive, though not rapturous. A primary criticism levied against this series is its high-stylisation rendering it unrealistic; however, through emotive music, crying players, endless swearing, and a handsome, charismatic 56-year-old Portuguese manager, ‘Spurs: All or Nothing’ successfully blends Hollywood-esque twists and turns, football, and slick sports business.
The series begins with a fast-forward through Spurs’ prior season. The documentary is revelatory in revealing the extent of previous manager Mauricio Pochettino’s glumness coming into the ultimately disappointing 19’/20’ season. “If a house falls down, everyone sees it fall… but you have to anticipate that the house will fall” Pochettino says in an interview, awkwardly avoiding the camera’s watchful glare. Luckily, this contender for history’s most depressing fortune cookie message falls away to the tune of Mourinho’s almost Christ-like entrance into the Tottenham scene. Mourinho brings energy, brutal honesty, and a winning mentality. Over the course of the three episodes Spurs surge up the table, qualify for the 19/20’ Champions League round of sixteen, get within three points of fourth place and then, characteristically, at the end of episode three, begin to unravel. Tottenham’s 2-0 loss to Chelsea, marks a bittersweet wake-up call for Mourinho and Spurs. The tension comes from how a serial winner in Mourinho will handle a serial underachiever in Tottenham.
The series also reveals emotional insights into the players. In the second episode, you can see the anxiety that central defensive midfielder Eric Dier feels upon being substituted off at 29 minutes against Olympiacos in the Champions League. Here one is reminded of the brevity of a football career alongside the sharp decline in fortunes a player can experience. Other insights into player’s lives: Jan Vertonghen helping out at a food bank and Serge Aurier appearing at a special needs school are equally refreshing, albeit unbalanced in the selfless image they paint of a multi-million-pound business. Whilst moments of tension do arise in the show, one gets the sense that Tottenham’s portrayal, rather like a ‘Welcome to LSE’ brochure, is sugar coated to the extreme. Yet, paradoxically, this forms part of the show’s success. So slick is the PR here, that at times the documentary appears as an embodiment of the smirking face emoji. With Tom Hardy narrating the series, the movie-like quality of the documentary is palpable.
The star of this film is unquestionably Mourinho. Ruthless, yet likeable, Mourinho commands the stage from the onset. Not a scene passes without Mourinho gesticulating wildly, kissing a player, saying something confident or swearing at his team (“I want you to be bastards…I want you to be a bunch of c**ts”). Club captain and world-class striker Harry Kane’s team talks are forgettable: a permutation of the words ‘lads’, ‘let’s do this’ and ‘f*cking’. This disparity highlights Mourinho’s importance as a manager and leader. Levy’s selection of Mourinho has brought fans and attention towards the club and will continue to do so as long as Mourinho remains manager. From a sports business perspective, Mourinho brings the correct mixture of style and substance on the pitch and screen. The legacy of All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, rather like Mourinho’s career at Tottenham, will depend on how the next season unfolds. All that can be concluded now is that the prominence Mourinho brings to Tottenham is excellent sports business.