The reviews are in . . . Guardiola’s City are in La La Land

It’s “a sun-drenched masterpiece”, says The Guardian. “Sheer perfection,” says Heat magazine. Five stars, says Esquire. “Achingly romantic, a spell-binding masterpiece,” croons MTV. It has swept all before it and smashed records at the Golden Globes, with the Oscars still to come. Yet the big ask remains: is La La Land good enough to save Manchester City’s season?

After all, there’s feelgood and there’s feelgood — as Pep Guardiola must surely have known when he took his team on a bonding trip to the Odeon this week. Damien Chazelle’s smash musical romance may indeed be “just the tonic we need” (The New Yorker), but what about if the “we” in question have just lost 4-0 to Everton, are all but out of the title race in January and may even struggle to make it into the Champions League places? Well, time to find out. Because the reviews are in.

Bacary Sagna
“People will talk about Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling — and even the scene-stealing cameo from JK Simmons in the role of an irascible restaurant manager. But for me, the star of this movie is the location. Los Angeles simply peels off the screen at you and holds you in its thrall, a place both wildly fantastical and grippingly real. I left the cinema feeling elated, inspired, light-hearted and absolutely determined to get a deal with LA Galaxy at the earliest opportunity.”

Yaya Touré
“I think, in time, people will talk about this film as a classic, I really do. However, I also regret to say that the club neglected to provide me with my own packet of Revels. I had to share with Ilkay Gundogan, who had all the coffee ones. After all I’ve done. I deserved more respect.”

Gabriel Jesus
“I’m sure it’s great, but I didn’t get in. I sat in the foyer for hours but my ticket didn’t come through. However, apparently the paperwork has now been sorted and I have been cleared to go to the cinema with Manchester City very soon, if selected.”

Pep Guardiola
“The reason I wanted to take the team to the cinema was because a movie can lift you out of yourself and get you thinking about something completely different for a while. I think we badly needed that this week, and La La Land was absolutely the right film at absolutely the right time. OK, so, for me, some of the set pieces didn’t come off. And the script was, I felt, slightly guilty of overelaboration in the final third. And perhaps, overall, it was slightly underwhelming given the amount that had obviously been spent on it. And, of course, it didn’t have the happy ending that everybody assumed, from the beginning, that it would have. Actually, thinking about it, maybe we should have gone to see the Star Wars one again.”

Why I’m indebted to Heyho Flint for unhelpful words
Like an enormous number of people, I owe Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the cricketer who died this week, a boundless debt of gratitude, although she wouldn’t have realised.

Some years ago, working for another newspaper, I was instructed to write a series of articles about learning to play golf, a sport for which I had little yearning and (as it turned out) even less aptitude. Unsuitably early in this process, I found myself smuggled into a four-ball with Sir Bruce Forsyth in a charity pro-am at Wentworth. The scale of the occasion, the difficulty of the course, the ability of the other players… this was a task for which I was ill equipped in every sense, including the bag of clubs that I had cheaply acquired in the bargain section of an outlet store at a nine-hole practice course in south London.

The small but troubling knot of spectators at the first tee that terrifying morning included, not only Bob Wilson and Peter Alliss, but also Heyhoe Flint, who was right beside me as I tremblingly withdrew my driver, and who was thereby in an excellent position, as a skilled player and an old hand in these settings, to settle my nerves and offer some steadying words of encouragement. Instead, though, she asked: “Where did you get those clubs? The Oxfam shop?”

My tee shot, when it came, veered directly right, rose feebly to a height of around four and a half feet, and came to rest a handful of yards away in some light woodland. Officially beyond a joke, even in an audience that included Russ Abbott, that drive was met with silent horror from the gallery and I set off up the fairway — or rather, across to the woods — with a pair of surprisingly hot ears.

The round somehow went ahead — Sir Bruce carding some very respectable numbers, as I recall — but the psychological damage was permanent and I gave up golf shortly afterwards and have never returned to it. And thus was I spared who knows how many further hours of frustration and misery by the demoralising words from Heyhoe Flint, who touched many lives for the better and more than she knew.

Meddlesome Van Basten is just trying to look busy in that classic Fifa way
Many words come to mind to describe Marco van Basten’s multiple proposals for reforming football, but perhaps “meddlesome” best gets to the point. Then again, “old hat” will also have some takers. The mighty Dutch legend’s suggestions, issued in an interview this week, include sin-bins, orange cards, the abandonment of offside, the elimination of extra time and the replacement of penalty kicks with an against-the-clock dash on the goal from 25 yards.

Give or take bigger goals and tighter shorts, it was as though someone had conscientiously compiled a list of every bad idea for “revitalising” the game that has been run up the flagpole in the past two decades. We can’t blame Van Basten, though. He was hired last September as Fifa’s technical director and presumably wafting through the office every now and again and offering a Young Mr Grace-style “You’ve all done very well” doesn’t really cut it at that level. You have to seem busy or else people wonder whether your role is merely ceremonial.

Coincidentally the Professional Darts Corporation posted its 2017 rules update this week — prompting the always sage Bobby George to issue the following summary on Twitter: “Look where you throw, and throw where you look.”

In fact, the PDC’s latest edict concerns administrative matters, rather than changes to the way darts is played. Nevertheless, George could afford to be amusingly satirical, having no official capacity in this area. If the PDC ever follows the Fifa model and appoints the King of Bling as a big-name technical director, no doubt he’ll be scrambling to publish a manifesto of blue-sky game-changers — a mechanically tilting oche, every seventh dart to be thrown blindfold off a ten-metre run-up, etc. And no doubt we’ll turn our noses up at the pointlessly interfering nature of it all. But, again, it won’t be Bobby’s fault. “Meddlesome” is in the job description.

● The last time Liverpool went to the West Country for a cup match (Exeter last year), Jürgen Klopp was gifted a flat cap. This time, in Plymouth, the manager was given a giant Cornish pasty. He has never worn the cap, because he prefers baseball-style headgear, and he didn’t eat the giant pasty because he avoids carbs. Perhaps the West Country needs to face the fact that some people are just incredibly hard to buy presents for. Maybe a token next time?