The first person you see, when you sit down to watch Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing: Manchester City, is Pep Guardiola. He is delivering a team talk; he is twitchy and intense. Half-coiled spring, half-evangelical preacher, half-prowling leopard, and, yes, that adds up to 150 percent of a person. He’s a presence.
The second person you see is Sergio Agüero, who might be staring at his manager with rapt attention. That’s what all the other players around him are doing. But he might also be gazing off into space, his mind elsewhere. He has a crooked half-smile on his face, and it’s hard to tell.
From moment to moment, All or Nothing is engaging enough. The players all seem pleasant, Guardiola’s Guardiola impression is extremely good, and there are occasional moments of genuine (if extremely safe) revelation. This is what a team talk looks like. This is how video analysis works. These are the thousand different intonations of the word “guys” that can make you a successful manager. And look! Here’s Benjamin Mendy at the Super Bowl!
Overall, however, it is a strange thing: bloated, portentous, yet impossibly smooth. It is a great frictionless airship, gliding past your eyes, asking you to do nothing except gaze at it and giving you little back in return. And its subject, City, emerge as a kind of show football club. Everything in its right place. All features present, correct, and fully modernised. Parking spaces included.
Moments of personality escape here and there, and many of them belong to Agüero. Early on last season, Agüero scored against Napoli in the Champions League to become City’s all-time leading goalscorer, and the documentary makers use this as the hook to have a poke around his off-field life. Which, it turns out, consists mostly of sitting on his own in his house watching mafia films. Sometimes he hangs out with Nicolás Otamendi, sometimes with David de Gea. One week each month, his kid comes over from Argentina.
But he doesn’t watch horror films, he says, because he’s usually alone.
For one disorienting moment, the life of the elite modern footballer swims into focus, and we are forced to confront just what a strange business this all is. How football — and football’s money — moves people around the world. How even here, in the midst of one the most aggressive team-building projects in the game’s history, there are moments of isolation and dislocation. How — oh, here’s the kit man. Look! He’s having his beard tickled.
Perhaps it makes sense it should be Agüero at the heart of this brief shudder since he’s always seemed slightly disconnected from the whole Guardiola project. In part this comes from the lingering sense that Guardiola doesn’t really have any time for proper strikers: His goalkeepers are midfielders, and so are his defenders, and his midfielders definitely are. Maybe his strikers should be too. This is the manager who sold Samuel Eto’o, who stuck David Villa on the left, who decided he couldn’t tolerate Zlatan Ibrahimović.
This is the manager who brought Gabriel Jesus to City — a much more midfieldery sort of a striker — and then started picking him ahead of Agüero. Not always. But sometimes. In September 2017, Guardiola praised Agüero’s finishing — “he will die scoring goals” — but added:
All we can say is just to convince him to be involved in the way we want to play — not to be (just) like a striker heading the ball in the box and scoring a goal, but to try to make one high press in the right moment to help to win the ball as quickly possible, to attack as quickly as possible and to be involved in the process to play football. I like the strikers who play in the process.
It’s probably a little too cute to draw a parallel between Agüero sitting at home on his own watching mafia films and Agüero skulking around the box, isolated from the process. In any case, City’s No. 10 seems to have made the adjustments Guardiola has wanted: he’s still there, he’s still scoring, and he’s still indispensable, if not quite undroppable. He’s become more Guardiola, while still staying Agüero. Not bad for a 30-year-old.
Perhaps this late-career adjustment is just another manifestation of that mysterious obsession that drives all great strikers: that need to kick the ball into the net as many times as possible. That internal calling that will lead a man to stick a head into a cloud of boots. An act of admirable and obsessive bloody-mindedness.
Not that you’d know it from All or Nothing. Agüero, and his evolving place at City, is just one of many smaller stories passed over in favour of the smooth, broad sweep of the season. How does it feel to be a club’s all-time leading scorer, to be one of the finest strikers of a generation, to be the closest thing to Romário since Romário … and to be placed on the same level as a newly arrived kid? How does the kid feel? And how on Earth does Guardiola manage that? Oh, hey, John Stones is dicking around with chalk.
To be fair, just as Agüero isn’t in this world to play at centre-half, so All or Nothing isn’t here isn’t here to dig down into anything much. This is a glossy sales catalogue come to life, and it says not “look how interesting our football club is,” but “look how good at being a football club we are.” Hard to argue with the thesis: City are an exceptional team, and apparently a very well-run club, and if you can persuade Ben Kingsley to intone those facts at considerable, portentous length, then why the hell wouldn’t you?
But the overall package is so studiously correct, in the story it tells and how it chooses to tell it, that it cannot help but seem utterly generic. Here’s the manager, playing golf while the title is on the line. Because where else could he be? And here’s the captain, watching with his family and friends, including a United fan. Because where else could he be? Cute moments. But not enough Agüero, and not enough friction. Too much all, and a whole lot of nothing.