As one door opens, another one will close. With the quick return of the Premier League this weekend, we also have the final installment of the All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur documentary to digest. Episodes 7-9 spans the most time chronologically, covering the Champions League and FA Cup exits, the COVID19 pandemic and Project Restart, among other things.
Thus, we have to do some more winners and losers for the final three episodes. Generally speaking I will reiterate that I found myself more weary about the mentality narrative that continues to get shoved down the audience’s throat throughout the series. I appreciate the sentiment of wanting to establish a sense of identity in what was a tumultuous season but the presentation felt more surface level rather then overly insightful as I am sure it was intended (just the perspective of one viewer here). The production value remained top notch throughout and the Amazon crew couldn’t have picked a more eventful season to cover. With all the eyes that the series attracted, you can hardly call it anything but a success from a public relations perspective. Irregardless, here are the final winners and losers:
Dubbed by José Mourinho as “the Korean King” we saw Son return to the training center from injury and quarantine (in some very nice drip in his peacoat I might add) to a warm reception from the squad. His goal and assist in the North London Derby was certainly a highlight of his on-field performances this season. However, his inclusion under winners is centered more around the confrontations he found himself in during these episodes.
In a heated 11 v. 11 training session after a loss to Sheffield United, Son picked up a knock from a hard tackle from Eric Dier and to my surprise when the latter apologized to Son about it, the apology was not immediately accepted. Even when Mourinho tried to pick up his spirits in the physio room Son could only muster bitterly “I am so angry I swear.” Additionally, the headline-grabbing “bust up” with Hugo Lloris during the Everton match was equally intriguing. The on-field confrontation we saw carried into the locker room where they had to be physically separated after Lloris was critical of Son’s effort at the end of the half.
Authenticity is my reason for including Son here in what could be perceived as detrimental behavior with these incidents. We appreciate Son as the laughable, extroverted character that he is, but it may be lost at times what kind of competitor he is as well. Whether it’s his frustration with injuries, his defensive and confrontational behavior with Lloris, or his hat trick performance against Aston Villa with a fractured elbow, he seems to carry himself behind the scenes with the same personality as on the pitch. I appreciate that what you get on a surface level with Son isn’t open to interpretation; he is who he is regardless of the setting and it doesn’t feel performative. When he’s asked about the Lloris incident -“I’m not a guy who likes to fight or shout back, on the pitch I am the guy who wants to work and who wants to win everything…in football we are more than family…I think it’s normal.” I think that interplay between convivial jokester and hardened competitor can serve as a counter example to the “nice guy” narrative as a detriment to success. He seems to just be himself and to me that is what makes Son so engaging.
At last! With less than an hour left in the entire series, we finally get our first mention of Tottenham’s record signing, Tanguy Ndombele. He’s become one of the more polarizing players at Tottenham in recent history and many, including myself, felt his omission from the series to this point to be ominous at best. Refreshingly, we get some quotes from the man himself about his transitional first year in England after moving from Olympique Lyonnais in July 2019. His public silence has bred countless speculation about the player’s commitment to not just Spurs but to José Mourinho as well.
I included him in winners from an empathetic point of view. In contrast to Son, he seems a much more reserved figure and the burden of his heavy price tag in a foreign country seems to have affected him by own admission. Injuries, a different level of intensity, and the change of manager as rationale to his slow transition have been whispered about publicly, but it was somewhat reassuring to hear from Tanguy himself that these were issues he was dealing with rather then a lack of commitment. The utter lack of any on-screen communication with Mourinho is still worrying, and his one-on-one discussion with Daniel Levy was at times uncomfortable (more on that later). Thank goodness for his countryman and teammate, Moussa Sissoko, who seems to have taken him under his wing as a mentor to help guide him. Ndombele remains a mysterious figure but in these episodes it helped provide necessary context for a young man that appears to be struggling with this transition at a very human level; the documentary takes real strength from its ability to humanize these public figures.
This goes out to academy graduates Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Japhet Tanganga. All three have now had individual screen time on All or Nothing that will only help their public perception. With academy graduates, it doesn’t take much to garner sentiment amongst the fan base, and I think the Amazon crew was aware of that. Harry Winks talking about joining the club at age 5, going to White Hart Lane with his Spurs-supporting dad, and the journey to captaining Spurs against Wolves, all while helping out a local retirement home checks all the boxes you would want. Citing his emotional attachment to the club that exacerbates the highs and lows, it’s not anything we haven’t heard before with Winks but, it still warms the heart.
Japhet Tanganga signed a new contract with his Dad getting screen time about how his son was courted by Arsenal before joining Spurs almost seems like too easy of a narrative to build. Nonetheless, Japhet continues to be one of the main winners of the series in part thanks to his innocence and meek personality. Finally, we got a return from injury for Harry Kane along with a nice gender reveal (the prevalence of these generally speaking is an argument for another day) at the training facility which only cements the character of Harry Kane that we should now feel justified in building. In all, any time an academy product can not just breakthrough but solidify their place in the first team will be something worth celebrating and the Amazon producers rightly did not shy away from this.
The soft spoken mastermind behind this whole project I think might be surprised about how his appearances in All or Nothing will be perceived and that may speak to why he finds himself under losers. To me, he continued to seem detached from Mourinho and the players, and in his interviews was often times defensive. “We have spent in the last 12 months circa 140 million pounds of net investment in the team, which everyone seems to completely forget” and “Tottenham were much smaller when I took over, I always saw them as a sleeping giant.” Both quotes are completely factual but optically speaking it doesn’t match the main narrative that the series wants to push on its audience: creating a winning mentality. You can argue about the legitimacy of pushing this narrative by both the producers and Mourinho, but Levy gives the impression of someone that wants validation on what he’s done rather than seeking what he could do.
It is not the intention here to get into #LevyOut territory because that can quickly become a black hole of a discussion. However, he doesn’t always seem to read the room the best based on what we are presented. Most notably I found his one v. one discussion with Tanguy Ndombele incredibly awkward. After Tanguy expresses confusion about the feedback or lack thereof for limited playing time, Levy responds that this is all normal because Moussa Sissoko went through something similar when he arrived. Those are not exactly reassuring words to dismiss his concern. Levy then goes on to try and compare his own academic struggles in grade school to that of Tanguy’s burden of validating his record signing fee. Levy says he needs to be more of a fighter like him, which Tanguy bluntly responds with “I’m a fighter, I’ve always fought. I’m here today because I fought.” Tanguy’s body language is pretty clearly negative at this point and Levy continues to reiterate how he needs to take more accountability. All the while I am personally thinking – why is the chairman acting as man manager here, where is José Mourinho? Obviously this doesn’t mean that the manager hasn’t spoken to Tanguy but I am just basing this on what we get access to. Levy never comes off as uninterested or lazy, if anything he looks like someone stretching his responsibilities across too many areas and in the end, he often appears detached and aloof during personal interactions.
This is a vague one but is more of a critique of what was deemed suitable for screen time. I understand the sentiment that with the COVID pandemic, how to navigate these last three episodes was always going to be quite difficult. That being said, some of the footage they dedicated a lot of time to compared to more compelling topics in my opinion was a bit confusing.
COVID19 obviously got a lot of screen time and was presented in a way to create suspense but with the benefits of hindsight, that suspense was never present. We got extended cuts of the countless announcements and delays of world football but there wasn’t nearly as much insight to how training was going to change, how the home workouts played out, or what the return back from COVID19 lockdown was like as I would have hoped.
Additionally, the small snippets of fan cams we got, most notably during the North London Derby didn’t feel earned. These fans were presented without context with the intention I am assuming to try and grasp that local diehard fan perspective; but, without any background these clips drowned into obscurity. In contrast I found Netflix’s Sunderland Till I Die documentary did a much better job of tapping into the local fan base by having reoccurring fans and their insight throughout the season. In the case of All or Nothing, these fan insights felt like a wasted opportunity.
Finally, the more public relations pieces I found pretty laborious. The Dare Skywalk section felt entirely unnecessary, and I found it unsatisfying that the Tottenham Academy essentially got the same amount of coverage as a tourist distraction. Obviously the directors had a bit of an impossible task with the unprecedented events of the season but as I stated in the beginning here, some of the narratives they choose to create ended up feeling forced rather then an authentic retelling of the season.