Premature Pep Talks

Premature Pep Talks

Ever since Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City he has been subjected to an unprecedented degree of inspection and expectation. Understanding the negative impact this could have, Pep has been the voice of reason. When City started the season with a run of ten wins, he spoke to closed ears when attempting to explain it wasn’t a true indication of the team’s current level. Now with a dip in form, he once again faces ignorance from a media determined to undermine Europe’s most successful manager.

Suddenly there is no shortage of experts offering advice to the Spaniard. Pundits that occupy seats in the safety of studios, or journalists who have to service the wants of fans from opposing clubs (the clickbait brigade), are suggesting that his proven methods will never work in the Premier League. That before we’ve even entered November, it’s time to admit the English way is unique and his crazy ideas have been shown up for what they are.

Not satisfied with telling a man – who was happy to point out in Friday’s press conference he’s won twenty-one titles with his ideals – his tactics are wrong, they are also attempting to forge wishful transfer rumours into facts. He was happy to point out where they are incorrect.

Beneath the obvious, are more subtle claims. These are just as easy to dispel. The most erroneous is that in principal he is no different to predecessor Manuel Pellegrini. For those that found that amusing (as any serious person should), take a second to let the giggles pass.

The notion comes from the half-baked view Pep and Pellers both shared a common denominator: They have one way and no Plan B.

This was clearly a case that could be mounted against Pellegrini. Like Roberto Martínez, it seemed they’d rather lose playing their way then adapt to opponents and unique situations. They refused to be proactive, instead soldiering on, expecting different outcomes with faltering systems.

Pep is different, and certainly not a one-plan man.

The ethos – his religious view on how the game should be played – will remain consistent, but within the framework changes are made. Whether it’s switching to three at the back or an extra man in midfield at the expense of a striker. There was always a rigidity with Pellegrini (even with formation changes) that isn’t evident with Pep. A tailored approach after examining the opposition has replaced blind optimism, or should that be: plain stubbornness.

When those able to acknowledge Pep has adaptability, they cover it by saying he should slowly implement his ideas and until then play to the strengths of the current squad. It can’t be argued that the best managers go in and work out where strengths are and chop the weaknesses. But isn’t that what he’s done already with the brutal treatment of players like Joe Hart and exclusion of Yaya Touré?

It’s only managers who are survival experts, like Sam Allardyce, that allow personnel to dictate shape and style. There’s a reason veterans of the managerial game have never featured in the Champions League while Pep has won it two times.

It is always a results based business – Roberto Martínez would have done well to remember this – but to take the silverware, become an all-time great, you need to have ideals that can be transposed across a spectrum of tactical problems.

He’ll accommodate players where possible but ultimately they bend to his will: his ethos can’t change for theirs.

Unlike Pellegrini, who it seemed sent players out with vague instruction, Pep makes it clear what he expects to see. When his system fails it’s obvious where individuals have been lacking. This accountability makes it easy to root out weaknesses and build the correct team. That process is now underway following the passing of the honeymoon period.

Players are beginning to show their true colours. Some are just unsuitable for the demands Pep is making. Others, through either poor work ethic, attitude, or time of life, cannot perform to the required standard. Pellegrini may have ignored their shortfalls, Pep will not.

Guardiola also knows football tactics are constantly evolving, it’s why he came to City. This opportunity is the continuation of his education. There’s no suggestion he’ll plough on with failing tactics but he’s confident the overriding ethos works.

People shouldn’t complain when José Mourinho parks the bus because it’s boring, they should question why he’s still rolling out tactics from yesteryear. Pep’s dynamic approach makes even the Portuguese United boss look like a tactical dinosaur.

But members of the “Red Press” would rather highlight Pep’s perceived failures, that are nothing more than growing pains, and ignore how the Special One has become the Stagnant One.

They also believe his tactics have been worked out. That Celtic somehow exposed the key to the conundrum when they only replicated what Swansea had attempted. Pep would rub his hands at the prospect of every team pressing City every game until the end of the season. If his system is implemented correctly, they’d be making the space for him in vital areas of the pitch.

But it’s easier to pretend after years of success, the brutal nature of the Premier League has cracked the Guardiola code. It’s as if he was the Illuminati and Brendan Rodgers formed some part of a Da Vinci Code, that the Tom Hanks looking Premier League managed to work out in time to prevent an embarrassing runaway success.

Thankfully people like Robbie Savage have sound advice. The man that only adorns the BBC because his dress sense brightens up the dreary looking Phil Neville, and his mindless enthusiasm on commentary offsets the drier tones of Mark Lawrenson, believes Pep isn’t a tactical genius after all. Robert Langdon – sorry, the Premier League – has seen to that.

Nor does Pep need to reinvent the wheel to conquer Europe with City, just fix its punctures.

And that’s the problem: Pellegrini didn’t leave Guardiola with a working wheel. It was a shiny cart with its components used for forward motion removed, instead sat upon shaky bricks and an instruction manual that had been left out in the rain. City didn’t need tweaking, they required revolutionary treatment.

There is no one better in the game to provide this than Pep Guardiola.

Like any revolution, it will take time. Those that have faith will be patient, those with hope it fails will fabricate stories and print insincere views to upset the steady progress.

Pep doesn’t need to change his ethos; he just needs to realise in the land of Premier League football, freedom of speech means the nonsensical have the loudest voices. But empty vessels do make the most noise…

The Selective Ethics of Team GB’s Fans

The Selective Ethics of Team GB’s Fans

The excitement, euphoria and sense of patriotism which had subsided following Team GB’s success in Rio, will no doubt get a shot in the arm following today’s Olympic parade in Manchester. But enough time has passed since the final medal was placed over an athlete’s head to examine the cost of finishing second in the medal table. Not just the financial implications but the moral bill supporters must front.

The largest element of hypocrisy is the amount of funding Team GB received, yet their supporters have conveniently ignored this. The same people that bemoan the amount of cash in major sports, such as football, F1 and boxing.

When teams win the Premier League (Leicester aside) the usual implication is they bought the title. The winner of the F1 drivers’ championship is labelled as only doing so because he had the fastest car, and that comes from being at one of the richest teams. Normally every sporting achievement has a negative campaign about the finances involved.

Sometimes this is healthy. It highlights inequality surrounding the distribution of wealth within certain competitions. It makes governing bodies accountable and fights the corner of the paying public. Those at grass roots or lower tiers of sports are given a voice, helping raise cash for their survival.

But little has been made of Team Gb’s £275m funding.

Obviously it is important to invest in the future of sport, and the fruits of the cash injection have been clear for all to see during the last two Olympic games. But there is a forced ignorance taking place which means no one is questioning the level of spending or the moral implications.

The Olympics has moved away from the wholesome meet that sees raw athleticism take precedent over large commercial sport. The IOC can be thanked for this. They are the Olympics version of FIFA. Just another “non-profit” organisation that saw the marketing revenue for Rio exceed $9 billion. Television alone accounted for $4.1 billion of the IOC’s revenue.

Money is inextricably linked to top level sport. It is inescapable that if there’s a public interest, large companies will exploit the revenue potential. It would be foolish to believe the Olympics is any different than the NBA, NFL or the Premier League.

Like those global juggernauts, if you want to be successful, you need to spend big. And Team GB was bankrolled as if owned by oil made billionaires. Except the funding came from the tax payer and Lottery money. Most won’t complain about cash being siphoned away for sport but most won’t have examined where it’s gone.

£5.7m for a badminton bronze sounds excessive. If that doesn’t bother you, perhaps £6.9m for the modern pentathlon and its zero medal haul will have you pondering the cost of blind investment. Rowing did bring three gold medals but at a cost of £32m.

Of course, investment always enables better infrastructure but the sense Team GB bought their second place on the medal table permeates the mood when talking to rival nations. That could be sour grapes, but only the sort of comment people here make when discussing other sports. Sports that are self-sustaining and viewed consistently by millions. Despite the £14m investment, how many people will actually watch a gymnastics meet before the next Olympics?

This isn’t sporting legacy, it’s a fleeting fascination that comes around every four years. It was an expensive hit for a short high.

The moral high ground has many spots. As well as bemoaning the money in other sports, people are also quick to pass judgement on other nations when there’s a suspicion of wrong doing. The world revelled and condemned all Russian athletes when evidence of state-sponsored doping came to light.

Without a thorough investigation it was deemed appropriate to label all their athletes guilty until proven innocent. The calls for transparency were loud and clear.

Those calls have become barely audible whispers since Sir Bradley Wiggins’s use of TUEs has been leaked by Russian based hackers. There’s no suggestion he has done anything illegal, but how many people are genuinely comfortable with the notion the rules can be – and have been – bent to enhance the chances of success?

Those involved in the Russian witch-hunt should now be working tirelessly to clear the murky waters surrounding TUEs.

But the games come around every four years and as long as Team GB is successful the hunger to question the processes in place, whether it be funding or medical exemptions, will be virtually non-existent.

Safe Standing is Football’s Oxymoron

Safe Standing is Football’s Oxymoron

Until three o’clock yesterday afternoon, I would have described myself as a proponent of safe standing areas in football stadia. The arguments for have mounting evidence as teams in Germany, and now Celtic, demonstrate its effectiveness. Then a turnstile failure at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium gave an example of why the risk with standing areas is greater than any benefit.

On the face of it, safe standing is sold as a modern take on an old fashioned way to view football matches. Those that want the system will explain how each person is allotted a seat number which relates to the folded away chair. This ensures order and crowd control. Within the standing areas barriers prevent surges, eliminating forced migration of fans into areas when things get a little raucous.

They rightly point out that in today’s top flight, many fans stand anyway. In doing so they are at greater risk than if they were inside a properly policed safe standing area.

In a perfect world, the arguments for safe standing cannot be denied. 70% of Premier League clubs would back its return, Tottenham Hotspur are even including the feature in the design of their new stadium. It’s also believed Manchester City would incorporate such a section within their North Stand when it’s remodelled to add an extra tier.

But this isn’t a perfect world. The supporters of safe standing never consider the potential pitfalls. At the Etihad on Saturday a power loss showed how errors can align to create potential nightmare scenarios.

It should be noted, there were no major problems at the ground but the blueprint for disaster was written.

As turnstiles became inoperative, queues quickly filled the concourse outside the back of the South Stand and the streets beyond. With some fans being delayed for up to fifteen minutes, there was clearly pressure on staff to appease the frustration.

So they opened the large exits walls beside the turnstiles and allowed fans to flock in, en masse. From a slightly elevated position on chairs, staff made the call for fans to have passes on display. But with such a determined flow, and at least several people wide, it would have been difficult to say with any degree of certainty that every ticket and seasoncard was seen. As with any system, it is the introduction of the human element that leads to problems.

Had Saturday not been against Everton but a Manchester Derby, and the fans were rushing into a safe standing area, the outcome could have been very different. There would have been more fans than available spaces. Unlike with a seat – where if you don’t have one, you can’t sit on someone’s knee – with safe standing the uncounted extras would have squeezed in next to their mates.

Human nature would have led many fans to share their space. But the fans would have kept coming, the available space decreasing. Unlike an all-seater stadium, where overcrowding is immediately apparent, the safe standing area would encourage a stealth swell.

All these elements to align like this would only happen once in a blue moon, but to have the potential for it to occur once is one time too many.

Tragedies like Hillsborough should have taught us to safe guard against a repeat. To ignore the Taylor Report and legislation in the 1989 Football Spectators Act demanding all-seater stadiums, would be a step back. A step in the direction of needless danger.

Events at Manchester City on Saturday display only one perfect storm template. There are countless others and it’s the ones that can’t be imagined that will slip through the net.

In hindsight, the safest thing City staff could have done was to deny access until each supporter could be counted through one at a time. It would have led to mass disappointment and thousands of refunds but wouldn’t have courted with danger.

Because the match day experience in England is now so sanitised, the staff working the grounds, many of them too young to recall the tight-packed days experienced in places like Maine Road’s Kippax, don’t appreciate how close they are to catastrophe.

Without better training and education, highlighting the unique hazards packed sporting events face, errors in judgement would prove fatal if the safeguards of the Taylor Report are removed.

Formula One isn’t looking at ways to make the cars more dangerous because the current safety measures are proving effective, so why is football looking at ways to drive without a seat belt and helmet?

The words “safe” and “standing” should never be placed together and spoken aloud in the Premier League. Failure to heed the warnings of the past will see the future tainted with further failings.

Sympathy not Fury

Sympathy not Fury

There’s fewer places in the world as unforgiving as a boxing ring. Once inside, there’s nowhere to hide and the only sure way to get out is make a date with the canvas. Unfortunately for the men that are brave enough to step between the ropes, the spectacle that follows them around in between bouts can be more brutal. This week it went into overdrive and focused on world heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury.

The self-proclaimed Gypsy King has always been a polarising figure, both in and out of the ring. His detractors had to review their claims following his unexpected win over Wladimir Klitschko. For years Fury’s hype was seen as a way to deflect attention away from a lack of boxing ability. The win in Germany, that gave him legitimate claim to be the best in the division, marked a step-up in performance.

Until Wladimir fights again the jury will still be out regarding the validity of Fury’s victory. Was Klitschko having an off night, not match fit, or over the hill? If he blows his next opponent out of the water, Tyson Fury’s victory will take on even more emphasis.

It’s the continued questions that speculate Klitschko’s decline and resulting inability to present a genuine challenge that must have worn on Fury’s mind. After finally reaching the mountain top, he wasn’t presented with a round of applause and a pat on the back. They were reserved for Anthony Joshua, despite the Olympian having no names on his boxing record.

For a man like Fury, who clearly wears his heart on his sleeve, the cracks began to show. He aired these frustrations to a press that only give him column inches if he’s dressed as Batman and clowning around. It can be argued people don’t take him serious because he’s always sold himself as a novelty act. But he also always backed that up with a belief he was the best. When he beat the presumed best, he was still cast aside.

Since winning the belts people have become masters of assumption, allowing doubts to be cast over his motives with frightening ease. The UK Anti-doping (UKAD) allegations have hung over his head and multiple cancellations have led to speculation increasing.

Many said he was scared of a rematch. That he wanted to get out of the game with an unchallenged legacy; the singular moment in time he dethroned a king, before heading into the sunset, avoiding the promising young talent holding one of his world titles that was never lost in the ring.

The time for assumption and speculation should have ended when it was revealed Tyson Fury’s latest battle is with depression. In any walk of life, facing up to this illness is always difficult. When in the public eye, even more. It’s exacerbated further in the world of the ultimate alpha males where heavyweight boxers reside.

Rather than look for reasons to expose weaknesses in Fury now, people should take a moment to examine the evidence he left for people to find. After winning the titles it was plain to see he was in a mental slump. Like so many that battle depression, the deepest of lows are matched with the highest of highs. The peak had been achieving a life-long dream, for a person with depression, a return to darker thoughts after this is inevitable.

Tyson talked of walking away from the sport, that nothing could match that high. Most saw that as a boxer wondering if he had the fire in his belly for another fight, the truth is, it was a man struggling to find his spark for life.

The recent positive test for cocaine is further proof he was lost in his mind, not in the ring. He’s not the first person faced with demons that finds sanctuary in substance abuse.

Yet still he finds little in the way of sympathy, instead people spend their time formulating a way to compile his demise and retirement. People with mental health issues can make full recoveries but some connected to the boxing world are trying to quickly move past their embarrassing heavyweight champion “blip.”

The main player so vocal this week has been Eddie Hearn. He represents Anthony Joshua. A man full of potential but without a name on his résumé. Now Hearn is manoeuvring to stake a claim at the soon to be revoked Fury belts. Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s confident a fight with Klitschko can be made. He told Sky Sports the chances were currently better than 60%.

Hearn barely displayed any genuine concern for Fury’s wellbeing, choosing to point out boxing is a business and the authorities lose too much money if their titles are inactive. In doing so, revealing his genetic make-up is closer to that of a fifty-pound note than a human being.

It’s wrong of Eddie Hearn to display conjecture in a public forum. He’s not a medical professional or a close confidante. His remarks are highly insensitive and pure speculation. This will only have a detrimental effect to the well-being of the man he’s trying to announce the retirement of.

The danger is if the public believe it’s acceptable to write Fury off and overlook the real issue here: depression. It’s an uncomfortable subject and having Hearn gloss over it will sit easy with most. But that is wrong. Instead of running campaigns against Team Fury, the boxing community should be rallying around and help raise the awareness of such a silent killer.

Facing this illness so publicly is braver than stepping into the ring with a giant like Wladimir Klitschko. Beating it will be a bigger achievement than winning the world heavyweight titles; the reward, a continued spark that will be hard to diminish.

Big Sam Had to Go

Big Sam Had to Go

In a reign reminiscent in length to Steve Coppell for Manchester City, and marred with the lack of integrity usually associated with UEFA officials, Sam Allardyce has left his post as England manager. Already opinion is divided but taking a moment to reflect reveals why he had to go.

Big Sam has always been outspoken. It was his brash nature that led many (including this writer) to believe he would never be seen as hireable for the role of England manager. But a desperate FA went for a gamble when faced with a limited pool of options. That risk has backfired and Sam’s mouth is once again the big trouble behind the problem.

A man so worldly cannot cry naivety. Quite what motivated him to seek money on the side after landing his dream job is a question only he can answer or understand. To the rest of us, seeking £400,000 on top of a £3m-a-year salary looks like greed.

The crux of the issue goes beyond the immorality of financial gluttony. It’s about respect and representation. As England manager he is expected to be the face of English football. To denounce rules they have implemented, before suggesting it’s possible to circumvent them, is tantamount to treason.

Some will say he was caught in the moment, still on a natural high after being given a prize he never reasonably expected. But he’s not a 19-year-old lad on his first big night out.

He’s a 67-year-old professional that should have removed himself from the situation.

Why he was even there is a side issue in comparison to the way he allowed himself to become embroiled in this scandal. The Telegraph will be criticised for upsetting the national team so soon into Sam’s tenure but had the England manager acted properly, there’d have been no story to expose.

In an age where corruption and scandal after ubiquitous in football, the FA can’t be seen to stand by a manager that at best looks like an out of touch relic when it comes to social interaction, or worst, a man willing to talk inappropriately and highlight the flaws in the laws they set.

The FA aren’t making an example of Sam Allardyce by confirming mutual termination of his contract, he’s getting off lightly. Had he still been a club manager, organising a trip across the globe after suggesting third party ownership rules can be deceived, he’d be facing serious charges and in the dock.

Instead the punishment for a lack of judgement is one that will scar him forever. His integrity will be questioned, with most settling down to view Big Sam as a tainted character. But the worst loss he will feel is the “dream job” slipping through his fingers after one game because of one ill-advised meeting.

His saving grace will come because of the clarity he offered within the meeting, explaining he would have to ratify any deal with the FA. This shows he wasn’t trying to sneak a big-deal in under the radar. Also, much of what he said is more opinion than inflammatory. Many disagree with the stance taken against third-party ownership. His negative comments about Roy Hodgson and the mental block England players appear to suffer have been echoed around the country.

When the dust settles, many will feel sorry for a man that lost his dream because of a moment of arrogance caught on camera.

The Real Trouble with Touré

The Real Trouble with Touré

It’s not often you get to revisit an old story as if it’s new. Back in October 2014, writing about the birthday gate scandal and all things Yaya (The Trouble with Touré), The Football Reflective concluded it was time to get behind a midfielder that had just provided 24 goals and pushed the team to a league and cup double. The recommendation was given while acknowledging his misdemeanours.

Like all bad offenders, trouble has reared its head once again.

The escalation to a standoff between manager Pep Guardiola and Yaya has been a few weeks in the making. As ever, the Ivorian’s agent, Dimitri Seluk, placed a pivotal part in proceedings. He fanned the flames when he said his client had been “humiliated” following his exclusion from Manchester City’s Champions League squad.

Going as far to claim the Spaniard would owe Touré a personal apology should the club fail to lift the trophy this season.

It was classic goading, that until now, Pep was right to ignore. A manager lives and dies by his big decisions but the world has already seen none will be shied away from during the reshaping of the Etihad outfit. It’s also reasonable to assume that like Joe Hart, Yaya would have been informed he was down the pecking order, and in his personal case, unlikely to feature in the UEFA squad.

Unlike Joe Hart, Touré and his agent lack any semblance of dignity or respect.

It had always been a suspicion that the birthday cake debacle was a rouse to manufacture a move when Yaya’s stock was at its highest. This time the pair needed to play a different game for the maximum financial return.

In the year that will see Paul Pogba’s agent earn more than Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitri Seluk obviously fancied one last big pay day. The final milking of his own personal cash cow.

By remaining under the radar, appearing to favour the fight for his City place, meant the summer transfer window slammed shut, locking club and player in a £220,000-a-week contract. That is fine, it’s a two-way street. Contracts give security and in a perfect world are honoured by both parties unless a reasonable way to part is offered.

In 2014 City said they were not prepared to sell Yaya, hence, they used that binding contract to their advantage. Part of that choice would have been to assert authority over players, to prove the club couldn’t be dictated to. Back when they took that stance they were prepared to be out of pocket to make the point.

Seluk knows this, and knows last time his planned was foiled.

Rather than face a second defeat, he’s hoping he can create enough of a storm so that City pay off the majority of Touré’s contract, freeing up a move to another club. He could then sell the idea to the next club that Yaya should get an even larger signing on bonus in lieu of a transfer fee.

Any doubts finally have faded away: Yaya Touré and Dimitri Seluk are driven by greed first. Football interests come way down the list (below cakes and call girls).

In a desperate attempt to further incite the club, Seluk has made outlandish claims to The Mirror, calling into question Pep’s ability as coach. Claiming he inherited teams and didn’t improve Bayern Munich. Guardiola’s start to life in the Premier League has offered just a glimpse into the unique talent he possesses.

Pep hasn’t just improved Manchester City in his short time as manager, he’s reinventing the English game before our eyes.

Seluk’s attack comes at the end of Touré’s sick note for a migraine. They can be unpleasant but Pep has taken offence at the midfielder’s lack of courage to pick up a phone and tell him he was under the weather.

For a no-nonsense manager, the hint of silly games is enough to lay the law down fast. Reminding the world what his agent had said about humiliation, Guardiola demanded the team and fans receive an apology for those comments. Until that happens, Touré won’t play again.

It may seem that phase one of Seluk’s plan is complete – but he’d be wrong.

Manchester City can afford to let Yaya rot, albeit at the cost of £220,000-a-week, more than agent and player can afford to watch a whole season of football pass them by when the talent is in severe decline. Yaya was never the most mobile player and he’s no spring chicken. Time is working against him.

The club will back Pep with any decision. For too long bad attitudes in the dressing room have dictated performance on the pitch. No longer will this be the case. City have a General happy to exert authority over all of his troops. They’ll be no Carlos Tevez style climb-down here.
Yaya apologises or he will never pull on a City shirt again.

It’s a sad end to a player that should be remembered as one of City’s all-time greats. But Citizens value character, personality and correct application as high – sometimes higher – than ability. Despite his contribution over the years, Yaya Touré has failed with his traits as a professional.

The real trouble with Yaya isn’t his greed, or his conceited agent, or even his couldn’t care less approach to legacy.

It’s his stupidity.

Stupid to think he can win a war with Pep. Stupid to think he would benefit financially. Stupid to tarnish his legacy with City’s loyal fans.

It will haunt him in years to come, when as an old man, he realises all the cash in the world doesn’t wipe out the debt caused by the irrevocable damage these decisions have done to the game’s lasting memory of Yaya Touré.

Book Review: After You

Book Review: After You

The difficult second album, or in this case, the sequel to cash-in on the movie adaptation of the first. Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You was the sort of romantic novel (dare I say, “chick-lit”?) that transcended labels and made its way to the mainstream. It dealt with difficult subject matters like disabilities and euthanasia. Along the way Moyes managed to sneak the characters inside your heart so that by the end of the book it looked like your hay fever was playing up or you’d been cutting onions all day.

The tears this time start much earlier but they are ones of frustration. Apparently the author decided to pen a sequel because people kept asking what happened to Louisa Clark after the first novel. What was her life like after falling in love and having to watch the man pursue assisted suicide at Dignitas? How did she spend the wealth he’s left? Had she followed his instruction to live life to the full in his honour?

It was a complete tale. The happy ending, after such a painful story, was the hope Louisa would go on to lead a fuller life.
Or we can pause that thought and catch up with her working at an airport bar for a boss she hates, living in a paid-for but soulless flat, estranged from her family (being strict Catholics, they didn’t appreciate the suicide element).

Despite travelling, Lou hasn’t found herself by the start of After You. That journey from country to country left her feeling isolated. Just like before she met and fell for the deceased Will Traynor, she is lost and without direction. Except this time she has a bundle of guilt to carry around.

Had the book paused here and explored this loneliness, it could have built on the underlying themes that made Louisa’s character so strong and engaging first time around. You can feel her loss and how she is lost because of it.

Instead Moyes turns her disarray into a plot device which sees Louisa get drunk and walk along the edge of her rooftop balcony. When she is startled by a voice from behind her at the window, down she falls. A neighbours table and patio equipment help break the fall, her body and the novel lie in pieces below.

Cue the not-so-subtle additions to the cast list. A comforting male paramedic (we’ll need him for a love interest later), the return of her parents (near death is a good way to repopulate a dwindling cast), a support group to speed up the grieving process, and eventually, the return of that mystery female voice.

That turns out to be Lily, a precocious tearaway of a sixteen-year-old . . . and Will’s daughter.

Lily’s mother – never painted as anything more than a selfish, self-centred example of bad parenting – had chosen to refrain from telling Will about Lily. In those days he was a womaniser and it seemed he wouldn’t have cared. So Lily grew up fatherless, until her mother married, then became isolated as the unwanted step-child.

Upon discovering she has another family, she sets out to connect with them. Her research and endeavour leads her to Lou. Lily wades into her existence, a whirlwind or questions and trouble. Without chance to pause for breath, the girl is using her flat as a second home and turning her life upside down.

For the first half of the book, her interruptions leave little in the way for compassion. She’s the type of stranger any sane person would have sent packing. Seemingly thoughtless and on a self-destructive path, all she does is create havoc for Lou and fails to find the common ground with her father’s parents.

What makes these interludes harder to process is how moments that should make you gasp just bring about a sigh. And time becomes irregular. Entire passages are filled with language that makes it sound like months must have passed, to find out it’s been a little over a week. It’s the sort of forced progression that goes against the techniques used in Me Before You.

Then the first real bomb drops.

We learn why Lily has been so wayward. The reasons she has been edgy with certain reoccurring strangers and what has made her so tormented. Suddenly you feel angry for her and once again Moyes proves she can secretly plant little compassion seeds that are slowly watered as she tells a tale.

Lily and Lou are reunited after a painful period of separation and they start to move forward together, honouring the theme of the book, and Will’s message to “Live well.”

Although it appears Lou could be doing this at the expense of her own happiness, even to the extent of turning down a dream job in New York, proving that doing the right thing and the thing that feels right is often complicated and far from clear-cut.

It’s moving enough to cut Moyes some slack for the awkward love scenes and Lou’s descriptions (she has developed a desire to sniff things a lot) and baffling oversights. We’re supposed to believe she lived in Paris for months, picked up parts of the language but was bamboozled by the French naming of beef cheeks on a menu, only to later use the phrase in her narration, “entente cordiale,” as if it were an everyday occurrence.

But these gripes don’t ruin what was an ambitious attempt to breathe life into a story that had already been completed first time around. The scenes are sometimes forced, but overall Lou’s natural way and humour, not to mention her caring spirit, shine through.

The final sequences may be too over the top for some, it’s telling that Jojo Moyes has had her head in movie scripts because we get the big Hollywood ending. But it’s also clear she still has the ability to draw believable characters that pull on heart strings.

Will there be a third in the series? Probably. Let’s hope next time Lou manages to stay more grounded from the start.