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Premier League Review- Empty Heart Of Pep's City Project Exposed By New Documentary

Premier League Review- Empty Heart Of Pep's City Project Exposed By New Documentary
By Gavin Cooney
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Who knew that an eight-part documentary about the work of a bearded ideologue funded by the Middle East would leave viewers feeling conflicted?

This column expected to have a couple of issues with All or Nothing: Manchester City, what with its neat narrative and glitzy production values accentuating the fact that all of this amounts to a handy bit of image laundering for City's Abu Dhabi owners.

At the end of eight episodes, however, there lingered another realisation: while the documentary is primarily for City fans, the football it portrays really isn't.

Peering into Guardiola's burgeoning City dynasty in the documentary, it is interesting how rarely the supporters are mentioned by Guardiola. Across the eight episodes, Pep refers to the fans just twice: once in the final episode when he waxes on about the beautiful football he has given them, and once in the dressing room when encouraging his squad to go all out in a league game against Everton so as to allow City win the league at home to United as "our fans" would want.

The latter is the only point in the six-odd hours that the fans are invoked as a reason for actually doing something. Instead, the Guardiola Project is one dedicated to the propagation and promulgation of Johan Cruyff's principles.

In the documentary, Guardiola says that everything he does is for Johan, and shows off the mini-Cruyff statue that sits on his desk. As his biographer Marti Perarnau testifies, Pep sees himself as a kind of obsessive auteur on his own, righteous mission:

He has a special character. In the new book I talk with many experts of art, paint, music and everybody says the mind of Pep is like the mind of artists.

He is happy during the construction of his opera. Not at the end.

He loves the journey of the construction of the cathedral - not the end of the cathedral. It is a special mindset.

The "special mindset" is profiled in opposition to the self-styled "special one" in the second episode of the series, which is given over to a kind of dialectical battle with Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. Narrator Ben Kingsley describes Guardiola's attacking principles as facing off with Mourinho's "parking the bus style", with the victory succeeded by Guardiola saying that he is showing that his principles work in English football and a series of "park the bus, Man Uniiited" chants by City supporters.


Mourinho is drawn flatly, to the point that on-screen trivia rebuts Jose's cavilling about the referee and points out that United's possession stat in that game was their lowest since records began.

Among the striking images of the documentary is the unity of the squad, as they wildly celebrate results together in the dressing room. And while they don't ignore their fans altogether - they celebrated Gabriel Jesus' 100-point goal against Southampton among them - the players' first responsibility is eviently to their teammates.

Raheem Sterling, recalling his dramatic late winner against Southampton, says that he "could have spent five seconds celebrating with fans", but the fact he ran to his teammates "shows what we are all about".


In a world filled with as much confected nonsense as football, it is good to see a man of such unflinching conviction as Guardiola. But in the gleaming, antiseptic environs of City's training ground and stadium, it all feels a little... alienating.

Guardiola has given City fans a style of play which sublimates efficiency and brutality to beauty to an extent the Premier League has never seen before, and there is ample testimony in the documentary to show that it has brought the supporters deep joy.

Perhaps it doesn't bother City fans at all, but the documentary shows they are well down their manager's list of priorities.


Guardiola has been handed the keys to City's "global project", and given all of the tools he needs to create an iconic, enduring football team watched around the world. It could, however, be happening just about anywhere.

There could hardly be a more apt metaphor for all of this than City's biggest supporter innovation of recent years: Tunnel Club, where supporters pay to stand cooing with noses pressed against glass, watching their array of stars go by...ignored.

Stray Observations 

  • How important it is to have Jamie Carragher back on Monday Night Football. Amid the many highlights of last night's show, a fine Gary Neville dig at Sam Allardyce went somewhat unnoticed. Responding to Allardyce's miserable assertion that building from the back is "stupid", Neville said "I saw Sam Allardyce's comments after the first game, Unai Emery isn't trying to get eight points from five games to avoid relegation. He is trying to build a team with a style to win the title, not lump it long".
  • Post MNF we gained an insight into the tragic paradox raging at the heart of Roy Hodgson. The Palace manager correctly railed against the post-game style of questioning of forcing managers to give half-informed and fatally myopic opinions on marginal refereeing decisions, while at the same time giving exactly those opinions. The highlight was Hodgson's assertion that Palace should have had a penalty as Van Dijk "cleaned out" striker Sorloth, which was met by Sky with concurrent footage proving him totally wrong. Roy Hodgson: rarely has a man's faults been so crippled by the irony of his perception.
  • Elsewhere, Declan Rice was dropped entirely from the West Ham squad as Manuel Pelligrini persisted with Mark Noble and Jack Wilshere, a midfield partnership that might have worked in 2008. More of a worry for Martin O'Neill is the fact new Hammers signing Carlos Sanchez will likely be ensconced in the West Ham midfield for the rest of the season, likely denying Rice the option of playing in a position in which Ireland desperately need him to excel.
  • What was more jarring at Chelsea/Arsenal at the weekend: the absence of Wenger, or the sight of N'Golo Kanté playing as a kind of attacking midfielder?
  • And a final, troubling revelation from the City documentary. Sergio Aguero's son, who counts Leo Messi as his godfather and Diego Maradona as a granddad, asks his Dad to make sure he brings home...Jamie Vardy's shirt.

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