It’s a crisp day in November and an excited Jose Mourinho unpacks his personal items inside his new office at Tottenham’s training center in North London. Boxes of memorabilia are placed on the desk next to neatly stacked folders, as the Portuguese manager assembles his belongings with careful attention, all while preparing for his new job. Sky Sports News plays in the background on a big screen TV with the headline "Mourinho is Back." It’s the fall of 2019, on the cusp of a busy holiday period, but for Mourinho, today might as well be late spring. In a few minutes, he will meet the first team, who for the first time in five-and-a-half years is about to work under a new manager.
The TV continues to talk about him, Sky Sports analysts discuss his arrival, criticizing the decision and that perhaps, the manager has lost his way. Mourinho gets up from his desk, turns off the TV and walks away.
“F--k off,” he says to them and leaves the room.
The camera now cuts to the club restaurant, and Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and other members eat while waiting to meet the new man in charge. They’re all eager and nervous, discussing the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, a man they admired immensely. Suddenly, a big screen in the restaurant shows a video montage of Mourinho’s past achievements in the background. All the players turn and watch.
“You have to turn one chapter and open a new one,” says the club’s captain, Hugo Lloris. “And it’s Jose Mourinho. One of the most successful and biggest managers in the last 10 years. I take it like an amazing opportunity to work with him.”
As the montage continues, players can’t help but discuss what life will be like with The Special One.
“He’s going to be on us straight away,” says Harry Winks cautiously as he eats his meal. “I reckon it’s going to be so tactical.”
It’s a new day at Tottenham and although this isn’t the first scene of All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, it might as well be.
Narrated by Tom Hardy, produced by 72 Films and executive produced by Mark Raphael and John Douglas, Amazon Prime Video’s nine-episode series returns with a new club and a new story, mirroring past projects and the behind-the-scenes narrative of a prestigious professional football club. This time, premiering on Aug. 31, it’s Tottenham and its dramatic 2019-2020 campaign.
They have all been fine productions, thanks to careful directing and an exquisite narrative that allows exclusive access, and judging from the first three episodes, this one is no different. But what makes Spurs’ journey even more intriguing than its predecessors (Manchester City and Leeds United) is that the club, like the show’s production, had to face numerous obstacles on and off the pitch: from a tumultuous start to the season that caused the exit of a beloved manager (Pochettino) and the arrival of an enigmatic, complicated personality (Mourinho) to the biggest obstacle of all, the effects of a global pandemic that forced the suspension of normal life, including professional sports. The show’s release had to be delayed, but cameras continued to roll, and so for the first time since the world was affected by COVID-19, soccer fans can see up close and behind the scenes how a professional club dealt with an unprecedented situation.
Then, there’s Mourinho himself. Whatever anyone may think of his credentials and his abilities as a manager or a tactician, his resume speaks for itself. He's won 25 trophies including titles in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Portugal’s Primeira Liga and two Champions League trophies. But there are also present failures, with his last two jobs ending with him being shown the door. But for a behind-the-scenes series, where entertainment factor is ultimately is the driving force, there’s probably no one else you’d rather watch.
Tottenham’s story from last season, as we know, doesn’t begin with Mourinho. Rather, it begins with a man with different traits, Pochettino, and how his downfall at the club came as a result of reaching incredible heights the year before and having to deal with a gigantic mental hangover.
“After losing the Champions League final, it was a bit of a crossroads, and I think they came back at the start of the season (2019-2020) and it’s almost like, ‘Well, is that it? What happens now?’” Jason Burt, the Telegraph’s chief football writer, says in the show. “Picking themselves up again and go again for this campaign–I think some of the players found that quite difficult.”
Pochettino’s frustration continues to build, knowing that his team is crumbling, and some players are beginning to feel the pressure, hoping to jump ship. The first domino is Christian Eriksen, stating his desire to leave.
“Football is never ‘two plus two is four.’ Never. If one house falls ... then everyone sees it fall,” Pochettino says. “But you have to anticipate that the house is going to fall.”
Subpar performances continue in the first few months of the season, including a 7-2 destruction at the hands of Champions League winner Bayern Munich, and by the time November comes around, Spurs find themselves in 14th place, only seven points above the relegation zone–all while club chairman Daniel Levy continues to entice the NFL and other prospective partners to use Tottenham’s brand new 62,000-seat stadium (Roger Goodell has a quick cameo). Pochettino winds up being fired, a decision that Levy says was anything but easy.
“A lot of heartache is the honest answer. This is never easy when you must ask somebody to leave the club,” says Levy, speaking to the camera. “I think when you’ve been working with somebody for five-and-a-half years it’s difficult, and my heart was telling me, ‘don’t do it,’ and my brain was telling me, ‘I need to do it.' It’s the most emotional decision I have ever had to make.”
The decision to fire Pochettino is immediately followed by Mourinho’s arrival, a day later in fact, and just like that, this story takes another turn.
It’s important to remember, however, that despite the personnel changes and the multiple personalities seen on the show, the overall theme of the series deals with Tottenham’s continuous, well-known problem: its own mindset.
The term “that's so Spursy” is widely known, where the joke is that at some point, one way or another, Tottenham is going to stumble and mess up any kind of momentum. As Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said in a three-word, pre-match team talk to reassure his Manchester United side, "Lads, it's Tottenham." Juventus's Giorgio Chiellini, after a great escape vs. Tottenham in the Champions League knockout stage in 2018, said, "It's the history of the Tottenham. They always create many chances and score so much, but in the end they miss always something to arrive at the end."
It may be a caricature-like and cynical insult, but there is some truth to it, because more often than not, Tottenham’s biggest enemy winds up being Tottenham itself.
Who better to fix this problem, therefore, than a man who exudes and demands confidence more so than anyone else?
Mourinho is at Tottenham to change the way it thinks and perhaps most importantly, to change its psyche and the way players deal with criticism. That’s a key–and often forgotten–skillset that Mourinho brings to the table, his ability to be completely personable with a player and lay it all on the table.
“There are people who only like to have the positive feedback,” Mourinho says. “And my feedback is normally feedback without the filter. Players they know that for good or for bad, the guy is genuine and that’s the way I am.”
The show also allows you to see more of Mourinho’s characteristics as a manager on the training pitch. He hates to pronounce people’s names incorrectly because many do the same to him. He is a jokester and a workaholic, gives directions in numerous languages and loves to build personal relationships with his players so they to trust his process.
Above all, the series shows how Mourinho wants to change their Spursy mentality. He wants them, in a sense, to stop being so nice.
“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m wrong,” he tells his squad ahead of their first game under him. “I feel that you are honestly a very nice group of guys but 90 minutes, for 90 minutes, you cannot be nice. For 90 minutes you have to be a bunch of a-----s. Intelligent ones. Not stupid a-----s.”
A successful soccer series requires four central figures in order to fully portray what a club represents: the players, the manager, the staff and of course, the supporter. Some projects prioritize one over the other in order to fit the show’s narrative, but one way or another, they all must be present. All or Nothing’s formula shifts. With Man City, the focus was on Pep Guardiola and his players, while Leeds United highlighted the fan and city. Here, at least for the first three episodes, it seems Tottenham goes for the former and places the club’s stakes and unbalanced campaign at the very top.
But because we are dealing with a personality like Mourinho, the character relationships are far more engaging. And Mourinho is right, the players seem like nice, kind and well-meaning people – but there is no fire. Mourinho, at the very least, gets that out of them. That’s why the best parts of the show are the one-on-one scenes where he sits with them and provides an honest conversation. Eric Dier, for example, speaking in perfect Portuguese (due to growing up in Lisbon) frankly gives his side on the story why he wasn’t a favorite with Pochettino. Or with Dele Alli, when he urges him to be a better version of himself. “You don’t reach what you can reach,” he tells him. “You should demand more from you.”
This is where Mourinho excels: he gets you out of your shell and demands a personality. The Special One always wants you to be special too. Take Son, for example, one of the most likable players in the league, who is a superstar in his native South Korea. The third episode shows how one fan traveled all the way from South Korea just to stand outside the training ground and wave to his hero. The club must also arrange weekly tour meetings with thousands who visit him in London.
“I don’t like to really talk about me,” a blushing Son says. “People expect that I am a superstar, but I mean ... I’m not.”
Son also shows you his frustration, as we see the scenes of him after getting sent off last season against Chelsea due to violent conduct against Antonio Rudiger. The camera tracks him walking into an empty dressing room, in shock and despair. It’s a short but effective example of a player at his most vulnerable.
Amazon’s All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur shows another fine product, but if there's a criticism of the opening few episodes, it's that the star of the show and his message often overshadow others, so there is no room to properly highlight other personalities. Perhaps this will change as more episodes come into play, especially with the inevitable COVID-19 storyline, perhaps not.
But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. Because as a fan of the game and a glutton for entertainment, whether you love Mourinho or detest him, you just want to keep watching.