All or Nothing? Filling in the blanks in Amazon’s Tottenham series
By Charlie Eccleshare and Jack Pitt-Brooke 3h ago 16
At the start of Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing documentary series on Tottenham Hotspur, viewers are told that the filmmakers had “complete access to the entire club”.
This, of course, wasn’t the case, and nor would it be realistic to expect it to have been. As anyone who watched the Manchester City series from the All or Nothing franchise will know, a major Premier League club is clearly going to exercise a degree of control.
The Tottenham version of All or Nothing featured many interesting insights into how a Premier League club operates. We saw arguments between team-mates, discussions of transfer targets, and pre-match, half-time and post-match team-talks.
But there were also plenty of moments from the season that weren’t covered, or that require additional context.
Why wasn’t Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking covered in greater detail, for instance? Was Jose Mourinho muttering “fuck off” to the TV genuine or staged? Has Tom Hardy always sounded like that?
If, like us, you had a lot of questions while watching the series, this is an attempt to fill in some of the blanks.
Why was Pochettino so peripheral?
Despite managing for almost a third of the season, Pochettino features for only half of the first episode (in other words 1/18th of the nine-part series) before being, in TV parlance, killed off. That might sound a bit morbid, but it chimes with chairman Daniel Levy saying, slightly jarringly, in episode seven, that “Mauricio’s no longer with us”.
Some sources have called the lack of coverage of the club’s most successful manager of the modern era “disrespectful”, while others have asked why his sacking was hardly covered, with no fresh footage or insight.
To get a sense of why the Pochettino era was shown like it was, it helps to rewind to July last year. It was then that representatives from the production company 72 Films first went to Hotspur Way to have meetings with the club about following Spurs for the 2019-20 season. By the end of the month, during the pre-season Audi Cup in Munich, Pochettino was made aware that the documentary was likely to happen.
Pochettino was not thrilled by the prospect — he was concerned that he and the players would not be able to be natural in front of the cameras. Some of the players had similar reservations about being part of the documentary, before eventually being convinced.
Pochettino was already in a tetchy mood at the time, reeling from the Champions League final defeat by Liverpool and angered by the club’s summer transfer business. He even said at the Audi Cup that his lack of influence on transfers means his job title should be changed back from manager to head coach.
There were logistical issues to be ironed out, so it was not until October that filming began for real — principally at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Spurs’ training ground Hotspur Way, and away grounds (the trip to Anfield on October 27 was the first to be filmed).
The timing of the filming was part of the reason why the early part of the season is barely covered. The catastrophic League Cup defeat by Colchester is not mentioned (as Colchester’s official Twitter feed delighted in pointing out), while the doomsday 3-0 defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion on October 5 is only referred to fleetingly in a later episode. Neither game had the full film-crew treatment, which for viewers is a big shame since it was the Brighton game when the relationship between Pochettino and many of his players broke. “The place is a regime and they’re sick of him,” a dressing-room source told The Athletic at the time.
Instead of coverage of the Brighton game, the first episode shows us footage from the Oakland Raiders vs Chicago Bears NFL match that took place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the following day. Part of Spurs’ eagerness to take part in the documentary was to boost their profile in the US — something that last week’s signing of USWNT superstar Alex Morgan should also help with. In All or Nothing, Tottenham wanted to showcase their NFL offering, which shows the commercial influence over the series. Early in the series, Levy shows NFL commissioner Roger Goodell around the stadium.
Later in the first episode, Tottenham launch their own NFL Tour experience at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which comes after the traumatic draw at Everton and receives as much air-time. Son Heung-min’s devastation at inadvertently causing a serious injury to Everton’s Andre Gomes is not mentioned.
Which makes you think that even if the cameras had been at the Amex Stadium for the Brighton humiliation, there’s every chance no behind-the-scenes footage would have been shown in All or Nothing. None of Spurs’ subsequent matches under Pochettino contains anything from the dressing room.
Partly, this was because the production company wanted to tread delicately in those early weeks, and partly it was down to Pochettino’s preference for a degree of privacy. His hostility towards the project has perhaps been overstated, but he and his staff had the chance at a meeting each morning with club officials and the film crew to discuss what they were and weren’t happy with being filmed. If the coaches didn’t want a half-time or full-time team-talk being filmed, they could say so. There were also areas at Hotspur Way without cameras so that meetings could be conducted in private.
It’s understood that there was still plenty of footage gathered from the Pochettino era, such as interviews and set-piece routines from training sessions, including from before the Everton draw that helped to seal the former manager’s fate. The show’s series producer Clare Cameron said on the Fighting Cock podcast that the 72 Films team conducted several “brilliant interviews” with Pochettino. In the end, though, only a 30-second talking head made the cut.
(Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Pochettino’s sacking was covered with similar swiftness — the brevity has been described by some sources as “brutal”. There had been rumours that there was footage of his sacking itself, but these have been dismissed by the programme’s producers. They’ve said that there was no filming on the day Pochettino was sacked because it was an international break and there weren’t many people at the training ground. Filming did not take place every day during the production.
As for the scarce coverage of the early part of the season in general, it’s understood that the first episode initially featured more of the Pochettino period but it was not deemed as compelling.
Perhaps the biggest reason for how little air-time Pochettino receives is the man who replaced him, and the desire of those with a stake in the final product — the club, the production company and Amazon Prime — to promote such a telegenic personality as much as possible.
Was this, in reality, The Mourinho Show?
As The Athletic reported at the time of his appointment, it is understood that as part of Mourinho’s deal with Tottenham, he indicated he would be willing to open up his methods to the Amazon cameras. As then evidenced in the programme, this included having a microphone attached during training sessions.
Contrary to the perception of Mourinho relishing the cameras, it was more a case of him accepting it and appreciating the programme’s importance to Tottenham and their growth. He has only watched bits of the final version and wants to put it in the past and focus on the coming season. As Mourinho told reporters on Friday: “You ask me if I love it. No, I hate it. You ask me, ‘Did I watch?’ No, I didn’t and I’m not going to, but I believe that is very interesting for people’.”
Mourinho also had to make peace with difficulties, such as introducing himself and his backroom staff to the players in front of the cameras.
But despite his reservations, he was more amenable to the project than Pochettino had been, and more willing to lay bare his philosophy and modus operandi. This came as no surprise to anyone who’s attended a Mourinho and Pochettino press conferences. Where Pochettino prefers to talk in generalities and avoid specifics, Mourinho will happily explain why he made a decision or why a particular player is performing in such a way.
In any case, come Mourinho’s appointment in November, the players noticed a lot more cameras and mics at Hotspur Way. “There were twice as many cameras as before,” according to one dressing-room source, with microphones placed on tables in the canteen to pick up the players’ “private” conversations.
The greater visibility extended to Mourinho’s office where the cameras were never turned off. On the day of his arrival, he is shown watching experts questioning his appointment before turning off the television and saying, “Fuck off”. This was one of the most shared moments of the series, and the generic-sounding punditry led to its authenticity being questioned. The Athletic understands that the scene did take place as presented but that the punditry audio had to be re-voiced because of a licensing issue.
Mourinho’s office is also the setting for one-on-one chats with players such as Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli. The squad are said to have got used to the cameras around the place, but some sources close to the team have questioned how natural you can be knowing that you are being filmed. One view put forward is that the dressing room scenes were generally where you saw players at their most unfiltered. “Once you’re in a dressing room it’s hard to act,” says a source.
But even if Mourinho was more open to being filmed and the players couldn’t hide their emotions pre-match, there were still external restrictions that the filmmakers had to deal with (on top of the fact that not all the scenes that were filmed could be used).
If, for instance, you were wondering why the seemingly important storyline of Mourinho returning to Old Trafford is brushed over, part of the reason was that Manchester United banned filming in the dressing rooms. This might explain why the match is covered in less than 20 seconds, compared with the six minutes that were dedicated to the following weekend’s 5-0 win over Burnley. The fact Tottenham lost 2-1 at United might also have been a factor.
Later in the season, there were filming restrictions at Bramall Lane for Spurs’ 3-1 defeat in July. On this occasion the away dressing room was moved into one of the stadium’s executive lounges because of COVID-19 social distancing protocols, which is quite a way from the home dressing room area and meant the Spurs players entered the pitch from halfway up the main stand, while Sheffield United used the tunnel. The logistics of getting the camera crew to where Tottenham were based were ultimately too complicated.
All of which is completely understandable, but a shame as a spectacle since Mourinho is believed to have ripped into the players after their limp defeat — as he did in public after the match.
In general, Mourinho’s team-talks in All or Nothing focus more on his attempts to instil a winning mentality in his players rather than revealing too much about tactics. The series also avoids mentioning some of the controversies he found himself in throughout the season — including the argument with Southampton goalkeeping coach Andrew Sparkes on January 1. The tension between Mourinho and midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, meanwhile, is not mentioned until the final episode — more on that later.
For a programme designed partly to increase the Tottenham brand, it’s unsurprising that Mourinho is portrayed in a very positive way. His natural charm in front of cameras also makes him a compelling protagonist. More revealing, perhaps, are the moments when he shows weakness, such as in episode eight when he says about the coronavirus-induced lockdown: “The thing that scares me more is my mental side.” One of Mourinho’s favourite areas of management is the physical contact with his players and being tactile with them. He is said to have particularly missed that area of the job during the lockdown.
It was also interesting to see him not be especially confrontational in the one-on-one meeting with Danny Rose. This tallies with what some who have worked with Mourinho say, which is that he doesn’t especially relish one-on-one confrontation and prefers to challenge his players either as a group or via other channels (such as the media).
As for how the players come across in All or Nothing, it’s unsurprising that it’s Rose who appears the most unfiltered. Rose has always been extremely open in speaking his mind and by the time of his meeting with Mourinho, had become a divisive figure at the club. A bit of extra context before the meeting is that on the previous day, Mourinho had said Rose had been injured for the Watford game, but The Athletic was told, and reported, that he was fit to play.
An additional insight we get into Rose is the way he challenges his team-mates, at one point shown in the dressing room saying: “He gives the ball to Toby (Alderweireld), he gives the ball back to Paulo (Gazzaniga) and then he goes long. What’s the point? We need to stop doing this.”
This was something Rose has never been afraid to do, and he was especially vocal in demanding more from his colleagues at half-time of the 2019 Champions League semi-final against Ajax when Tottenham overturned a 2-0 deficit to win the game 3-2.
Would the real Daniel Levy please stand up?
Many viewers watching the documentary were surprised by the disconnect between Levy’s public persona as a hard-nosed negotiator and the more timid, often awkward way he came across on screen. His sense of awe around Mourinho drew comparisons between the David Brent-Finchy dynamic from BBC sitcom The Office.
There are a few elements to unpick here. The first is that he and Mourinho have a good working relationship, and that there is a real feeling of admiration from Levy. Interestingly, the dynamic is said to be similar to Mourinho’s previous relationships with senior club staff. At Manchester United, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward behaved in much the same way.
On the awkward point, this is one of the interesting elements about Levy: someone so powerful and forthright in negotiations can come across uncomfortable in social situations. “Socially awkward” was a phrase we heard a few times when putting together a profile of Levy in July.
He is someone much more comfortable in small groups and does not court publicity. People who have worked with Levy since ENIC first invested into Tottenham have said that he has never been especially comfortable talking to big groups. This is apparent in episode four when Levy gives a short speech at the club’s Christmas party that appears straight out of the nervous father-of-the-bride handbook.
Another element the series reveals is how much Levy revels in being involved in a big transfer. One source describes him as being “like a kid in a sweet shop” when it comes to the thrill of completing signings, and you can see that play out in All or Nothing.
In episode five, we see Levy hovering behind new arrival Steven Bergwijn and his family, beaming as his new signing has a FaceTime conversation with Mourinho. “Mustn’t let him down now,” a proud Levy says with a grin, before having to repeat the comment.
The scene gives some insight into why Levy’s enthusiasm for the recruitment side of the business is viewed as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great to have a chairman so invested in who comes in and leaves the club, on the other, it contributes to a feeling that he has too much control and should delegate a bit more. This is part of the reason that Trevor Birch was recently brought in as director of football operations to help lighten his load.
Perhaps the reason viewers have been surprised by how Levy comes across is that they don’t get to see the other side of him: the uncompromising negotiator.
The closest we get is through the Christian Eriksen deal, but here, it’s more a case of telling rather than showing. Viewers see a lot of conversations between Eriksen, Levy and Mourinho and are then told that the Spurs chairman managed to negotiate the €20 million deal to Inter that he was after. However, there’s no sense of how he did it. He says, “I think fans generally have no comprehension of how hard it is to physically do a transfer”, but there is no further light shed.
As hinted at, the negotiations with Inter were said to be fraught, but the programme’s focus is more on the internal view of Eriksen’s departure. There is also some additional context to consider that wasn’t covered in the programme, which is that all parties wanted Eriksen to move on in the summer of 2019 but they couldn’t find a buyer. Spurs managed to sign Giovani Lo Celso but they had hoped to also shift Eriksen and bring in Paulo Dybala or Bruno Fernandes. In the end, none of Real Madrid, Barcelona nor Manchester United made an offer (not that Eriksen would have joined United).
We get a sense of Levy’s frustration at how the Eriksen situation unfolded when he says in episode three: “I was thinking about the Christian situation and for a club of our size to allow a player to leave here on a free, it sends a very bad signal to everyone else.”
Was Ndombele coverage fair reflection of his season?
If Eriksen was a headache for the club last season, it was nothing compared to the one that Ndombele created.
Tottenham’s £55 million record signing struggled to settle at the club and became increasingly peripheral under Mourinho. The situation is addressed only in the final episode when Ndombele opens up to Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko about the difficulties he’s experienced in his first season with Spurs.
(Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
Viewers then see a meeting between Ndombele, Levy and the club’s player liaison officer Roberto Balbontin, which comes, according to the narration, “after a meeting with Jose”.
The meeting with Mourinho is probably what most viewers wanted to see, but The Athletic understands it was not explosive. Ndombele, as he comes across in the series, is very reserved and has not wanted to confront Mourinho about his non-selection.
When asked by Mourinho in June about what was going on, Ndombele did express his frustration at not being picked and made it clear that he was fit to play, but as one source puts it: “He’s not someone who has hour-long conversations with people. He’s more a few minutes, that’s all.” The fact that Ndombele has not learned much English has not helped in his communication with some of his team-mates.
As for Mourinho, it’s been well-documented that the pair have not clicked, but Ndombele is understood to have appreciated the effort Levy has made with him. Mourinho has always felt that he has simply been trying to get the best out of the player — even if Ndombele appears not to have, as yet, responded to his demands.
For viewers watching All or Nothing who are less familiar with the dynamic between the two, several incidents throughout the season weren’t mentioned that would have provided some context. Mourinho first went public with his frustrations towards Ndombele on Boxing Day when he said after the 2-1 win over Brighton that the Frenchman “was not injured but not feeling in a condition to play”. Six days later, after a 1-0 defeat at Southampton, Mourinho said that Ndombele was “always injured”. As The Athletic reported at the time, Mourinho’s comments did not go down well with some members of the squad. Others at the club were supportive of the head coach’s position.
Then, after the 1-1 draw at Burnley in March where Ndombele was hooked at half-time, Mourinho criticised Ndombele in his post-match interviews for his perceived lack of effort. None of these is covered in All or Nothing, but this was the backdrop to Ndombele’s unseen meeting with Mourinho in episode nine. At around the same time, there were even reports in France of a training ground bust-up, but The Athletic understands these were overblown.
Why were lockdown issues avoided?
Filming during lockdown inevitably brought major challenges for the production company. There were weeks when they couldn’t film at the training ground, and even when they did, they had to observe social-distancing protocols.
Then, as mentioned previously, there was the Sheffield United away game where COVID-19 restrictions impacted their filming. In general, the fact there were no football matches meant a chunk of the season that was completely at odds with how anyone had foreseen.
But despite the lack of football, the lockdown period was hugely eventful for Tottenham, with the decision to furlough non-playing staff and subsequent reversal, the taking of a £175 million loan from the Bank of England, and a few lockdown breaches (including one involving Mourinho and Ndombele).
None of these is mentioned in the documentary, with the justification being that All or Nothing wanted to focus primarily on the football side of things. That makes a degree of sense in ordinary circumstances but is harder to do when there was a three-month period with no football. It’s understood that no filming of boardroom meetings discussing the furloughing took place.
Relating to Levy, it’s a shame for those wanting to get to know how the chairman operates that the furloughing issue is avoided. Levy received a huge amount of criticism for the original decision and was surprised and bruised by its ferocity. Seeing how the original decision was reached and then reversed would have given genuine insight into Levy’s thinking and illustrated that contrary to popular opinion, he is willing to listen and change his mind. In this instance, hearing the impassioned arguments from the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) had a big impact on Levy’s thinking.
On Friday afternoon, Tottenham announced a new brand store across Amazon’s websites in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. It’s a sign of the closeness between the two companies and the fact that All or Nothing, for which Amazon paid Spurs in the region of £10 million, has been a big commercial success.
Was it a proper warts-and-all documentary? No, of course not, and it was never going to be. The above is a snapshot of some of the other subplots and layers to last season, and I’m sure most people reading this had other queries and reservations.
In reality, the series was a glimpse into what goes on at a Premier League club and one that naturally doesn’t paint the full picture. Even if they had wanted to, nine episodes is not enough to do that, and though Amazon is said not to have given Tottenham veto over the final cut besides factual inaccuracies, when there are so many filming restrictions and commercial considerations, there’s always a risk of programmes such as these lapsing into hagiography.
But away from its dubious value as a production, All or Nothing was an important step in Tottenham’s global brand-building, and, typical of many Levy decisions, is one a lot of his rivals will wish they had made.
Reflecting on the series, one source says: “Everything was manipulated to show they are a big club.” The reality, though, is that Spurs are now a big club — and commercially, they are a massive club.
But as Sunday’s disappointing 1-0 loss at home to Everton reminded us, now it’s time for their on-pitch achievements to match their off-pitch ones. Results like that can’t be airbrushed in reality the way they can be in a documentary.