Manchester City Netflix documentary review: Charges loom over everything but show lacks insight


Manchester City’s eagerly anticipated Netflix documentary, titled Together, Treble Winners, has been released to audiences around the world, and for those who are not fans of the club here is the headline: no, there is not much detail on Those Premier League Charges.

The people behind the documentary (aka, the club) do mention them, of course; voiceovers of television and radio presenters add a sense of drama and narrative at a point in last season where City did not look like winning anything at all, let alone the treble they ended up with.

Footage of manager Pep Guardiola’s press conference at the time is the closest we get to City’s reaction to the charges, and in fact, what shines through the most is just how much the issue galvanised the team exactly when they needed a jolt.

City had lost at Tottenham Hotspur the day before the huge news broke and they had looked to be losing their way in the Premier League title race, but an us-against-the-world mentality kicked in. Guardiola, who had previously stuck up for the club in front of the media, delivered a rousing speech to his players:

“First: every single game now, starting today, when we are together before the referee starts the game, you hug each other in the centre circle, close to the referee and the opponents,” he tells his team before the first game after the charges were brought. “Somebody, it doesn’t matter who, start to talk. You look each other in the eyes and say that we are going to win every single game, or at least try.

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(Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

“Second: I love this club. Don’t tell me why. Everything we have won, guys, has been on the pitch, always. I love the club. I love you too.

“Let’s go.”

Unfortunately, that second bit was released already at the end of last season, so it is not exactly breaking news, but it is certainly one of the standout moments.

Another of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is Guardiola and his leadership.

He can be extravagant to the point of being deranged at times around his players, at one point early in the season repeatedly shouting, ‘Rodri! Bernardiki (which appears to be his nickname for Bernardo Silva)!’, after a goal is scored in training. “Guys, I am going to retire,” he yells. “You won the Premier League. I’ve seen my team play how I want, I don’t want to win any more.”

Rather than providing answers, because Guardiola is only interviewed once throughout and it happens after this season has started, the documentary begs the question of how he manages to keep going year after year, and how he keeps coming up with new things to tell his players.

“I have a feeling that I have to do the meeting because they pay me a lot of money to do something. But I could not say anything, because you know exactly what to do,” he tells the team before their Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich last April.

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After City beat Fulham in November 2022 despite playing with 10 men for more than an hour, a performance The Athletic described around the time as a key reason why he signed a new contract a couple of weeks later, he was in tears in the dressing room as he thanked his men for their efforts.

With only brief, sometimes out-of-context references to his tactical plans, this insight into his communication is by far the most interesting aspect of the documentary.

Perhaps the most revealing glimpse into Erling Haaland’s psyche was that he, at half-time of the then goalless Champions League final against Inter Milan last June, told Rodri to relax because Guardiola would “fix it” and the team would win. Rodri went on to score the game’s only goal.

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(Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

The six-part series was made by City and initially intended for release last year, but Netflix bought it. Netflix then took several months to film and edit in a series of talking heads — usually journalists — to explain everything in basic terms for those watching the show who have little prior knowledge of the club or indeed the sport.

Those of us who know what the Champions League draw is probably do not need it explained by The Times’ chief football writer, Henry Winter, but the first two episodes, in particular, are weighed down by things we already know, or an interview with the guy who called Haaland a “tremendous Nordic meat shield” during pre-season. These no doubt mean that more useful content had to be cut elsewhere.

And that poses the question of who this documentary is for.

It is far from a warts-and-all account of City’s historic 2022-23 season, as you would expect from what began as an in-house production. City have been making documentaries like it for years and they are a hit with their supporters, as they show a more intimate side to the players and Guardiola than is available via non in-house media.

Given these season reviews almost always end with City lifting a major trophy, there are plenty of scenes that bring the fans closer to their heroes.

There is more of that stuff here: Jack Grealish takes exception to Haaland suggesting he is a “bad guy” by reminding him that he had to go downstairs in their apartment building to collect the Norwegian’s takeaway order; somebody prints out and pins to the wall a Sky Sports graphic that had photoshopped Manuel Akanji’s head onto Bernardo’s much smaller body; reserve goalkeeper Scott Carson reminds Julian Alvarez during training that he “used to be good”.

Grealish and Haaland are interviewed a lot over the six episodes but Carson, now 38 and over two years removed from his most recent first-team appearance but an England international from 2007-11, is a fascinating character who deserves more airtime; he calls fellow ’keeper Stefan Ortega Moreno ‘Stephen Nettle Tanned’ — a literal translation of his name.

One ‘prank’ shown involves the players dressing a mannequin in Rodri’s clothes, but the most interesting element is how the others thought the Spaniard might react to it. “I think he’s gonna be angry,” Phil Foden says, offering a faint glimpse into how the players interact with each other. In truth, there was too little of this, but the team talks and celebrations are bound to appeal to supporters nonetheless.

Documentaries like this are less worthy to those, such as journalists writing reviews of documentaries like this, who are looking for some of the grittier details, not necessarily even related to City’s Premier League charges.

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There is no insight regarding Kalvin Phillips’ struggles to get into the team, for example, and the biggest omission — that we know of — is Joao Cancelo’s loan exit to Bayern halfway through the season, following a massive bust-up with Guardiola and criticising some of the team-mates who took his spot in the team. It is not even acknowledged that he left.

The highlight of the show, though, did come in adversity.

Guardiola has called the 2-0 Carabao Cup defeat at Southampton, who ended up relegated, in January last year the worst performance of his time at the club, and his dressing room dressing-down is worth watching.

“Tell me the explanation for today,” he opens. “Tell me. Do you think it is normal, the way you performed? Do you think it’s normal, for the guys (fans) who travel, who don’t have money to pay their heating at home, they come here, to follow us, to perform in this way?

“Wow.

“My team does not perform like that,” he says, wagging a finger.

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Guardiola was not happy with the fact his players did not defend Lewis against Spurs (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

As his players sit deathly quiet, Guardiola lectures them about body language, he tells them to come back down to earth, to be humble and threatens them that they will be replaced with academy players.

“In less than two and a half days, we go to Old Trafford. Ten years, they have been waiting to kill us — 10 years. Have you prepared well? Because they have something that you showed me today that we don’t have.

“They are hungry. They are starving. We are not.”

Guardiola then eyeballs his players before departing the room with an ominous message.

“Maybe I was confused.” (City also lost that looming derby against United, 2-1.)

It all came to a head later in January when Guardiola referred to his players as “happy flowers” in a very public press conference dissection of their complacency.

One aspect of their performance in a 4-2 win that month against Tottenham he did not like was that his players did not stick up for 17-year-old midfielder Rico Lewis as the game got physical. But rather than focus on Guardiola and the players’ reactions to that match too heavily, the documentary took the opportunity to show us Lewis training at his dad’s Thai boxing gym.

That helps to sum up the series overall: a ‘nice’ story in place of something a bit more detailed. But then, that depends on what you want from it.

Across the six episodes, particularly the final two, as City prepare for the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League, the actual human element of their recent years of success is there for all to see.

The irony is that those who treat City’s, and Guardiola’s, achievements as foregone conclusions and/or the result of too much money, even cheating, will never watch this series.

If they did, they would see that the players are not avatars to be moved around on computer games such as Football Manager or EA FC. They are humans, who have achieved greatness through their hard work and talent. They get nervous, they make mistakes, and they have had setbacks at times, too.

Another irony is that the documentary, a promotional tool to show how great and successful City are, probably does not delve into these areas as much as it should because it is too concerned with showing the world how perfect everything is.

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(Top photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)





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