Tag Archives: Manchester United

The Blackwood Redemption

11 Oct

The celebrity version of the game show Pointless that aired this week gave us a beautiful glimpse into the most important aspect of any narrative.  Redemption.  Watching the protagonist rise again, having withered the storm. 

Few people have withered more storms than Richard Blackwood.  They say success is getting up one more time than you fall over, and nobody’s fallen over more times than Richard Blackwood.  From a critically and commercially unsuccessful pop career, to a critically and commercially unsuccessful acting career, by way of a critically and commercially unsuccessful comedy career.  Blackwood has stared into the abyss so many times they’re practically on first name terms with each other.  But he keeps coming back.  He won’t die. Every dog has his day.  Fittingly, Celebrity Pointless was to be his.

Blackwood was pitted against an absolute titan.  Only Tim chuffing Rice.  Only an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy winner.  The doyenne of the west end musical.  That Tim Rice.  No boxing board in the world would have sanctioned this fight but, sadists that they are, the British Broadcasting Corporation not only filmed it, they beamed it to a daytime television-watching public.

Blackwood had clearly had an apparition just before the lights went on, though.  He’d seen a chance to win back some of that lost respect.  All that was between him and a second bite at B-list celebrity was Tim Rice’s jugular.  And, my word, he absolutely went for it.

Much like his 2000 hit “1-2-3-4 Get with the wicked”, RB ran the show.  Rice was floundering from the off as Blackwood pulled out an impressive “unaware” when asked for an obscure word ending in “-are”.  A follow-up teaser on the land-locked countries of South America left Blackwood, the picture of concentration, unphased.  “Paraguay” put Rice into further trouble.  By the time a question on So Solid Crew came around, the Legend of the Musical knew he was on the ropes.  Of course Blackwood knew the bloody answer.  21 Seconds (To Go) was meat and drink to the big lad.

There’s something wonderful when, against all odds, the underdog stands up and says “you know what, I’m not having this anymore, not today”. Blackwood was up on his hind legs throwing punches like his career depended on it.

This was a man who, in May 2003, appeared on Channel 5’s Celebrity Detox Camp and self-administered a coffee enema, which involved him being filmed pumping 18 litres of coffee solution into his stomach via a non-traditional entrance.  Without ever achieving fame yourself, it’s difficult to imagine how far a star must fall before they feel compelled to appear on Channel 5.  Clearly, Blackwood was not enjoying a halcyon. 

Yet here he was, going to toe-to-toe with Tim Rice – an artist so successful he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999 and named a Disney Legend in 2002 – and besting him.  Allowing himself to dream for a minute, you could sense this critical moment would form the turning point in Blackwood’s as-yet-unwritten autobiography, “Blackwood Battling Back”.  The book could be ready for Christmas.  Britain’s answer to Will Smith on the cover, wearing that half-desperate, half-maniacal look of a man prepared to do anything, anything, to keep a career alive.

What Tim Rice made of being comprehensively beaten by a man wearing a skin-type muscle vest underneath a velvet blazer, we’ll never know.  All we know is he was helpless in the face of a Blackwood battering.


I mention this warming tale because the big premiership teams are getting “Blackwood-ed” left, right and centre at the moment.  Davids everywhere are playing Goliaths off the park.  Not just a cheeky tweaking of the nose, either.  Some real whoopings.

West Ham United went to White Hart Lane on Sunday and pulled Tottenham’s trousers down.  They didn’t turn up and grab a plucky 0-1. They taught them a lesson.  While Spurs’ all-star cast and their gravel-voiced manager huffed and puffed, the team from the unfashionable end of London showed Tottenham  a clean pair of footballing heels.  Despite having not scored an away goal all season (nor having registered a win at the Lane in fourteen long years), the Irons put three past Spurs unanswered. 

And this is the point.  Upsets happen every year in football, but this season we are seeing unfancied sides also outplay their supposed superiors.  Everyone likes to watch an underdog prevail but it’s gratifying in the extreme when they do so in style.  West Ham were simply better than Tottenham.

Cardiff seemed to have Manchester City completely figured out when the teams met on Game Day 2.  They looked like they could soak up the pressure all day long and City continually over-exposed themselves trying to break the Bluebirds down.  As a result, getting caught repeatedly on the break led to corners being conceded and, consequently, goals scored. Pellegrini’s men looked like a ball of wool in the hands of a crafty Welsh kitten.

It was no better for Manchester United when West Brom came to visit. Having gone a goal down, United duly equalised and then a very strange thing happened – West Brom went back on the attack.  Rather than hang on to their precious point for dear life, as is customary for small teams at Old Trafford, the Baggies were having none of it.  They smelt blood in the water.  Here was a collection of rudderless yesterday’s men, they sensed, there for the taking.  West Brom duly took ’em.  It was as startling as it was heartening.

Before Arsenal became flavour of the month[1], Paul Lambert’s team of toddlers dismantled the Gunners 3-1 on the opening day of the season.  At the Emirates[2].  Gaby Agbonlohor tore them apart.  It was brutal enough for many members of the national press to start reading Arsene Wenger his last rites.

This was a Villa team whose courting of the drop-zone was last season’s biggest flirtation outside of Jose Mourinho’s unrequited ankle-flashing in the direction of the vacant Manchester United manager’s seat.  Yet, within six games of the new campaign, Villa had had already beaten Arsenal and followed it up with a victory against, you’ve guessed it, Manchester City. 

Scalps are going to be piled high this year and that’s a great thing.  Football thrives on its unpredictability, in both passages of play and results.  And it’s currently more unpredictable than it has been in quite some time.  Competition has replaced procession.  Big teams stumbling is not indicative of a league losing its talent; it means that the division is strong. 

Whisper it quietly, but this season we might even witness the majesty of a record low winning points total in the modern era[3].  Maybe it’s fanciful to conceive that Manchester United’s 75 point haul of 1996/97 will be “bettered”, but it’s pretty exciting to think we could dip below 80 – something that hasn’t yet happened this century.  The team that wins the league loses an average of 4½ games en route.  Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have lost six between them already.

Diversity isn’t just a dance troupe.  It’s a concept, too.  One that is alive and well in the top flight of English football.  There’s strength and variety throughout the division.  We are all richer for it.

Blackers knows I’m just playin’.

[1] They’re now bookmaker’s 3rd favourites for the title, having leap-frogged Manchester United.

[2] It’s interesting to note that all three of the above-mentioned victories were masterminded by Scottish managers (Steve Clarke, Malky Mackay and Paul Lambert). 

[3] Since the inception of the Premiership in 1992/93.

Transfer Window

10 Sep

The transfer window has once again, in the excitable vernacular of Sky Sports News presenters, “slammed shut”.  The sticking plaster of new signings is no longer available.  Managers will now have to rely on old fashioned constructs such as tactics, training and motivation.  Credit cards back in wallets, gents.  Cones out on the practice pitches.

But which teams had a good window?  And who got a bit spend happy in the hot weather?  Too Good give its two cents on the best and the worst of the business conducted in football’s summer marketplace…

It is one of the game’s great curiosities that everything gets done at the very last moment in the transfer window.  Whether this is due to the relative infancy of a restrictive window[1], brinksmanship, teams getting caught in a chain of purchases, or a combination of all three, you would struggle to find another setting where hundreds of millions of pounds are spent in a less orderly fashion. Investments that will make or break a season (careers, even) are thrashed out via the charmingly obsolete method of facsimile while the available hours and minutes ebb away.  Too Good knows little about the fast food industry, but we would be more than a touch surprised if, minutes before shop opening hours, McDonalds’ franchisees were still frantically scrambling around for beef patties.

It was therefore pleasing to see Manchester City do their business early and effectively this summer.  Whether you agree with their signings or not[2], City’s ability to get the job done long before the September 2nd bun-fight was most gratifying.  Less than a decade ago, “Manchester City” and “businesslike” would show up together about as often as the phrases “John Prescott” and “twerking”.  More and more, though, the club seem to approach things in a timely and professional manner.

By contrast, it is a testimony to Scottish thrift that the first new manager of Manchester United in over quarter of a century couldn’t seem to liberate his wallet from his trouser pocket until the very last day of the window.  Even then, like many of his compatriots, Moyes must have been at the malt when he finally managed to prise open the purse strings.

Rare are the days I look to Robbie Fowler for thoughts and inspiration on the beautiful game.  However, like a broken watch, the former Scouse marksman was bang on for a brief moment when he said that “Marouane Fellaini is a good player … just not a Manchester United player”.  I couldn’t agree more.  There’s something unseemly about the league’s showpiece team signing a player who is best known for “causing a lot of problems” for opposition teams and generally being “a bit of a handful”.  These are not the deft words of precision football that are synonymous with Manchester United.  These are mid-table words. Words that aren’t necessarily bad in the right context, but Moyes needs to recognise that a change in mindset is in order.  Managing Manchester United is only the same as managing Everton in the way that an evening under the bed sheets with Jessica Alba is the same as one with Kerry Katona.  On one level, they’re identical.  But, on a fundamentally more important level, they really aren’t.  You’re shopping in Waitrose now Moyesy; buy the best eggs available.

Arsenal have put all of their eggs in one rather delightful, if a touch pricey, basket.  Mesuit Ozil will provide lashings of guile and vision in the middle of the Emirates’ park.  It must have killed Arsene Wenger to sanction a cheque of that size.  But Ozil is no Francis Jeffers or Antonio Reyes.  This is a German international at the peak of his career.   Wenger is a border-town boy, only falling within the French boundaries by the width of one of his spindly fingers. With Ozil joining fellow international team-mates Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski, all of a sudden Arsene’s beloved Gunners have a distinctly Teutonic feel.  And Germans have a habit of winning football matches.

Too Good would like to have heard another bleep of Wenger’s barcode-scanner that ensured Olivier Giroud stayed in a tracksuit and on the bench for the forthcoming season.  Maybe Yaya Sanogo will do this.  Sanogo is a raw 20 year old without a full season to his name.  But with an eye-opening 10 goals in 13 league appearances for Auxerre last year, Too Good is pinning its rosette for “Potential Find of the Summer” on the lanky French youngster.  This year might still be a little early for Sanogo.  However, if there is one place you would want to learn your craft when you’re a young French footballer with buckets of potential, it’s ensconced in the warm bosom of Monsieur Wenger.  All in all, good job, Arsene. 

Rather than buying a youthful striker with bags of potential, Chelsea instead chose to get rid of one.  Romelu Lukaku was farmed out to Everton for 12 months and four-time African Player of the Year, Samuel Eto’o (now nearly 33), has been asked to do Lukaku’s job instead.  Chelsea’s quota of out-and-out centre forwards therefore remains at a paltry three (Eto’o, Torres and Ba).  One old, one crocked and one that was never good enough in the first place.  If this doesn’t concern Jose Mourinho, it really should do.  Eto’o is the only member of the triumvirate that can be relied upon.  Even then, whether Eto’o’s undoubted ability is still there despite his advancing years is a question to be answered.


I’ve been on enough dates in my time to recognise the look of someone who doesn’t really want to be somewhere.  All the best restaurants and sharpest chat-up lines aren’t enough when the object of your affection just doesn’t have their heart in it.  Tottenham Hotspur saw Gareth Bale staring into the middle distance and rightly got down to the business of demanding the biggest fee possible to compensate for their jilting.  £86 million is a phenomenal figure and Daniel Levy is to be praised to the hilt for squeezing Real Madrid like a sponge. Madrid’s adolescent attitude to money is exactly how I would behave if I was implicitly backed by the Spanish government and, as a result, Spurs have been granted a fantastic war-chest.  Sensibly, they took a calculated gamble on the sale of Bale and brought in a wealth of talented reinforcements based on the expected proceeds.  It is now up to Andre Villa-Boas to mold his new team and heave them that all-important one step further up the premier league ladder.

A wise footballing prophet decreed in May of this year that James McCarthy and Aroune Kone would be shrewd buys, available at affordable prices.  Someone agreed and, as chance would have it, that someone was the very person who managed the pair of them last season.  Everton now have more than a hint of Wigan about them.  Let’s hope it was the good bit. 

The Toffees may benefit from something of a managerial portmanteau this season.  On the one hand, they should still have the defensive resilience drilled into them from years of management under David Moyes.  Now coupled to this, the incoming Roberto Martinez will seek to overlay the attractive passing style that has become his trademark.  It will be interesting to see if these two schools of football connect or collide.

A lot of anticipation this summer surrounded the premier league’s increased purchasing power (due to the improved TV deal) and how it would manifest itself.  This was to be the transfer window where the premier league flexed its muscle and gave the other European Leagues a good look at their big shiny cheque books.  In the end, the dominance at the cashier’s desk was most keenly observed not at the high table of the premier league elite, but at the clubs at the lower end of the division.  Southampton, Sunderland and Norwich all signed key players from larger teams abroad.  Pablo Osvaldo (Italian international from Roma, £14.6million), Emanuele Giaccherini (Italian international from Juventus, £6.5m) and Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Holland international from Sporting Lisbon, £10 million) each gladly dug out their passports and left bigger fish for the lure of the pound and the premiership.  A seismic shift, if perhaps not the glamorous one some fans expected to see.  Great news, though, for England when the inaugural Platini Plate gets off the ground.

It remains to be a farce that the transfer window does not close until after the season starts.  Clubs cannot be expected to begin a campaign while an all-out fire sale is being conducted on their most valuable assets.  The window should shut before the first ball is kicked and avoid this unseemly game of musical chairs three games into the season.  In any case, shut it now most certainly has.  Time to take the plastic off the new purchases and see if they were worth the outlay. Game on.


Clubs ready themselves for the final twenty four hours of the transfer window.

[1] FIFA made the transfer window compulsory in European leagues at the start of the 2002–03 season (as a result of negotiations with the European Commission).

[2] My own view is that Navas will prove to be a great signing and the other big three (Jovetic, Negredo and Fernandinho) will prove to be good-ish signings.

New Season

16 Aug

The premier league is back and I, for one, am more excited than a badger at the start of mating season.  Summer distractions are just that.  Wimbledon, the Ashes, royal babies.  Great, but where is Luis Suarez going?  This is what the Great British public really wants to know.  Some things matter.

I’m like a coiled spring at this time of year.  All torque and potential energy; waiting for those sun-kissed opening games.  Soon the clouds will roll in but, for now, glistening green pitches will play host to new names, new kits and fresh hopes.  Bid your loved ones farewell until next May and settle in.

Football fans display an uncanny ability to overlook the obvious at this time of year in favour of a distinctly autumnal optimism.  Too Good has had its dreams of a brighter future dashed too many times before to be drawn in by this false hope.  Some things remain ever present and the sooner into the 2013-2014 season we recognise that Manchester United will win the bloody league again, the sooner we can make peace with our lot.

I’ve canvassed the opinion of several friends who are knowledgeable about football, as well as one or two Liverpool fans, on who they think will take home the spoils this year.  Everyone seems to think it will be either Chelsea or Manchester City.  The experts conclude similarly – not a single member of the Sky Sports panel plumped for the team from Old Trafford on their Season’s Preview show.  Manchester United seem to carry something of a “Germany in major tournaments” feel to them.  We turn up every single time doing our absolute best to rationalise why they won’t win the thing, which of course they then go on and do.  Sometimes the collective footballing consciousness needs to be shaken by the lapels.

Why it won’t be City…

Appropriately for a team hoping for a Second Coming of the premiership title, Manchester City have signed a player called Jesus.  Navas has almost as many tricks up his sleeve as his Nazareth counterpart. But, like Christ himself, Navas also has an Achilles’ Heel.  Christ’s shortcoming was an inability to fend off betrayal within the ranks of his disciples.  Navas’ is his inability to fend off a wobbly lip when he leaves his hometown of Los Palacios.  One hopes that grizzled premiership defenders don’t decide the best way to test the homesick Sevillan’s resolve is a succession of “welcome to the Premiership” tackles.

Pellegrini did his business early in the summer.  Once Navas was prised from his mother’s apron strings, Fernandinho, Stefan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo quickly followed to the Etihad.  A lot of talent has arrived along with the new manager.  Winning teams typically grow organically, though, rather than be thrown together.  And it’s uncertain what sort of formation will accommodate these players as well as the pre-existing high flyers.  With the exception of Navas, each, it could be argued, has a comparative or better player already in situ at the club (Fernandinho < Toure, Jovetic < Tevez (who will be a massive loss for City on the pitch), Negredo < Aguerro).  It’s not therefore especially clear how City have improved (other than in depth), despite having quality come through the door.  In any case, City fans better hope it gels quickly.  Title races can’t be won before Christmas, but they can certainly be lost.

Why it won’t be Chelsea…

Chelsea have strengthened primarily in the dugout.  The Mourinho Effect is certainly not a chimera, but nor does it tend to work without a hefty war-chest being put to good use.  As Jose himself once opined, in order to buy the best eggs, you need to shop in Waitrose.  While Abramovic’s munificence has surely been guaranteed to Mourinho, so far the cash register has barely rung.  £18m on Andre Schurrle may prove to be a good spend but it wasn’t the focal striker that Chelsea need.  Schurrle operates mainly from the wing or behind another striker.  What Chelsea require is a number 9 that will lead the attack.  Any of Falcao, Cavani, Lewandowski or Higuaín (or even Roberto Soldado, had an astute Daniel Levy not been on hand to whisk him off to the Lane) would have fitted the bill.   As it is, all of the above have signed elsewhere or re-committed to their current paymasters.  If Mourinho honestly thinks Fernando Torres can do the job after three years now in the wilderness, then he’s exhibiting a blind faith that would make Eileen Drewery blush.

Of course, this position all changes if a certain box-shaped Scouser heads down to London.  Wayne Rooney is no stranger to a transplant and, if he were to bed down quickly and effectively at Stamford Bridge, the complexion of Chelsea’s title challenge would change completely.

Which leaves us with…

Al Pacino’s character in Scarface was keen to point out the necessity of a villain of the piece (‘You need people like me so you can point your fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy”.’).  The redemptive quality of the film arrives when seeing the cocaine-fuelled Montana shot to pieces by a team of assassins.  Unfortunately, football isn’t a motion picture and the bad guys rarely get their comeuppance.  The premier league’s Tony Montana, Manchester United, seem to go home with the spoils year after year.  Yet, mysteriously, pundits and fans alike go into overdrive each pre-season trying to contrive reasons as to why it won’t be Manchester United’s year.

To recall, Manchester United won the league by eleven points last season.  By the end of March, they didn’t even need their foot on the pedal.  Putting this into perspective, no team has ever won the premier league by a wider margin and not retained it the following year[1].  In any case, United nab the title pretty much every year.  The red devils have won the premiership on 13 out of 21 occasions, comfortably the highest win percentage (62%) in any of the big European leagues over the same period[2].  You would be hard-pressed to find a dispassionate statistician conclude anything other than a Manchester United success being the most likely outcome.

United have the best striker in the Premiership who is in the form of his life.  They have a supply line to him that is never choked and, at the time of writing, they still have by far the best current English footballer.

Although United haven’t had a decent central midfield for over half a decade now, it doesn’t seem to bother them.  There’s no reason to assume it will suddenly now start to.  Their backline is looking a bit creaky, but then it did last year and United are unlikely to suffer as badly with injuries again.  Vidic has returned and will likely manage more than 19 games this season.  While Rio Ferdinand’s back is more and more resembling a game of Russian Roulette with intervertebral discs these days, there is the blossoming Phil Jones and the reliable Jonny Evans both very capable of picking up the slack.  Rafael is also a fantastic (and wildly underrated) player.

People want to exclaim Alex Ferguson’s retirement as the death knell to United’s dominance.  This may prove to be the case but I can’t see the players forgetting what he taught them overnight.  There might be a certain atrophy over time but I don’t think Ferguson re-invented the wheel each time he went into the dressing room.  He was responsible for putting together great teams at Old Trafford and he’s left one there now.

Things change, sure.  But less so than is often realised.  You’ll get taxed this year.  Christmas will be a bit underwhelming. People will cry on reality television and it’s going to rain on the bank holiday.  Manchester United, I’m afraid, will most likely win the league.

[1] Chelsea won the 2004-2005 title by 12 points and won again the following year with 8 points to spare.  United won the league in 1999-2000 by a colossal 18 points and won the next year by a comparatively modest 10 points.  In short, not only did both teams defend their league titles, they did so handsomely.

[2] Over the same period of time (21 seasons), Bayern Munich have won the Bundesliga 11 times, Barcelona have won La Liga 10 times,  Juventus have won Serie A seven times and Lyon have won Ligue 1 seven times.


One more sleep, fellas.