With unprecedented access and replete with drama, the All or Nothing docuseries has been a success for Amazon. But now in its fourth football-centric season, we have to ask — is it getting stale?
Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo are at lunch. A disappointing Juventus season is drawing to a close and the coach and goalkeeper are in a reflective mood. They are talking about modern day football and how it’s a different world from the one they inhabited. How the needs of today’s footballer go beyond just playing, winning, and training. How the priority today is the phone and Instagram followers.
“One thing that I fucking hate is seeing people on their phone before a match,” Pirlo says. The contempt is tangible.
While their fitness belies their age, the exchange gives away their status as dinosaurs of the game. Given that this conversation is being recorded for Amazon’s All or Nothing: Juventus docuseries, a show millions will be streaming on their screens, there’s a tinge of irony to it.
Pirlo and Buffon are right — football has evolved rapidly over the past few years. For starters, it’s no longer a 90-minute affair. It’s a product that’s been commodified for 24/7 consumption. Clubs are media companies and players double up as influencers. We don’t just watch football, we binge on it.
The All or Nothing brand is a cornerstone of today’s football content landscape. While football docuseries have been around for a long time, the All or Nothing: Man City series that released in 2018 opened the floodgates to a newer, more immersive form of storytelling. The level of access was unprecedented and the cinematography unparalleled. The next installment of the series that focused on Brazil’s Copa America triumph in 2019 followed the same template albiet with lesser success.
All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur, released in September 2020, was a smash hit. While the style remained intact from its predecessors, the tone was different. It was more reality TV than docuseries. Released during lockdown last year, Jose Mourinho and his histrionics were the perfect antidote to a COVID-ridden season bereft of drama. It was destined for virality; the memes and clips it spewed remain ingrained in today’s footballing discourse.
The latest installment of the series, focused on Juventus’ ’20-21 season, came out in late November this year. If that comes as a surprise to you, don’t worry you aren’t the only one. Despite Juventus being the first Serie A team to become part of the All or Nothing machinery, the show has gone more or less unnoticed on the football radar (save for Weston McKennie’s preferences on pizza).
Juve is the most successful club in Italy and the fourth-most followed club on social media. The docuseries features global superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon. So clearly, the show’s diminished reach isn’t down to its lack of star attraction and popularity.
It isn’t an issue of source material as much as it is one of timeliness. Everything about today’s football content industry is focused on the now. Goalkeepers run matchday vlogs, every fan group worth its salt has an instant reaction podcast, and journalists break transfer stories on Twitch streams.
Placed against that backdrop, All or Nothing feels dated. Here’s what happened in the six months between the Amazon cameras leaving Turin in May for the last time and the release of the series: Ronaldo returned to Manchester United, Pirlo was sacked as manager, Allegro was re-appointed, Chief Football Officer Fabio Paratici joined Tottenham, and Italy won the Euros. The seismic shifts in the intervening months impeded the narrative tension of the show.
Timing is a key factor in sports docuseries.
COPA90’s hit show Derby Days dives into the history and traditions of some of the world’s most iconic football rivalries. Produced like a travel show, Derby Days involves the host sampling the local footballing culture and history before attending the derby. The turnaround is quick and is usually within a fortnight of the game being played.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have a show like The Last Dance. Released 22 years out from its source material — the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls season — the show is completely immersed in its retrospective lens. It allows for more depth in narrative and character. The aging process adds to its richness.
All or Nothing falls bang in the middle on the timing scale. Too soon for nostalgia, too late for it to trend. Take the Juve installment for example — the central plot line of the show is that it’s a super team in a season of transition under a rookie manager who was a legend at the club. But, a look at the Serie A table will tell you that the Old Lady of Turin is still undergoing a makeover. For a team that recently won nine league titles in a row, the last couple of years have been borderline traumatic. Wouldn’t a more compelling way to document Juve’s transition have been to spread it across two or three years and fully commit to long-form storytelling?
The All or Nothing brand was built on its unprecedented access into the inner workings of a football club. But at a time where most clubs have their own in-house production teams and are relentlessly posting behind-the-scenes footage, the all-access pass template has begun to feel slightly redundant.
Add to this the fact that a lot of the footage is air brushed. Take for example Ronaldo being dropped for Juve’s must-win game on the last day of the season to secure UEFA Champions League qualification. It was a massive talking point at the time and furthered speculation of his exit from Turin. But in the show, his being dropped is restricted to a footnote. No footage of his conversation with Pirlo, no discussion, nothing.
But perhaps the most jarring omission is that of the Super League fiasco. Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli was a driving force behind the creation of the league that sent tremors across the world. While most clubs eventually pulled out of the deal, it should be noted that Juve haven’t withdrawn their hand. In the series, the delicacy with which the Super League issue is covered is almost laughable.
We have just one shot of Agnelli addressing the squad about the decision to join the league and a few soundbites of why he thinks it is the way forward. Players’ reactions to the news, their discussions amongst each other, the fallout after the Super League fell apart — all storylines that could stand alone as separate episodes — are reduced to a four-minute clip.
But should we really be surprised by authenticity being compromised?
Without proper balance, documentaries of any subject become PR packages wrapped as content. In the world of football, a docuseries allows clubs to reach audiences they normally don’t have access to and also help in bringing corporate sponsors on board.
“When you’re in a dialogue with someone based in the Far East or Latin America, rather than presenting to them on PowerPoint over Zoom; you can say, ‘Take some time out and watch a couple of episodes and you’ll really get a feel for who we are and what we stand for and the power of the club and the city,’” Leeds United MD Angus Kinnear said on the power of docuseries.
Are football docuseries made keeping existing fans in mind?
To answer that, you only have to ask Arsenal fans if they’re looking forward to the next All or Nothing installment.