TWO years ago David Goodwillie left Dundee United for Blackburn Rovers, thrilled with the prospect of playing Premier League football in England. “I feel ready and it’s up to the manager, we’ll see what happens,” he said at the time.
• David Goodwillie reveals “horrible” time at Blackburn Rovers as he signs six-month loan for Dundee United
• Striker had signed for Steve Kean’s side for around £2 million last year, but has since worked under five different managers
What happened is hard to chronicle in a paragraph or two. But it’s fair to say it didn’t work out as planned, as much because of a dysfunctional club as anything else. Nearly 24 months and four managers later, Goodwillie was spotted trailing his luggage behind him yesterday in St Andrews as he arrived at training with Dundee United, following a welcome interruption to his strange adventures in
The £2 million striker insists he is not returning with his tail between his legs, although he concedes that a loan move to his former club is designed to get his career “up and running” once more. Indeed, Goodwillie has identified Leigh Griffiths as being someone he wishes to emulate as he begins work under Jackie McNamara.
Given Griffiths’ off-pitch complications, this may not be something United chairman Stephen Thompson, standing nearby, will have wanted to hear. Thompson pushed the boat out to accommodate Goodwillie’s return, on an initial six-month loan deal. Goodwillie, who is no stranger to controversy himself, has now set his sights on following Griffiths’ lead in a positive fashion, by ensuring that a return to Scotland can
re-ignite his career.
Griffiths sought to find the answer at Hibernian after limited first-team experiences at Wolves. Following a tricky start to life at Easter Road, Griffiths flourished to become one of the club’s most popular players in recent times. He was also named the Scottish Football Writers’ player of the year last season, and earned a first Scotland start against Croatia in June.
Goodwillie already has three international caps. However, the last of these came in a goalscoring appearance against Spain in October 2011, so he is looking to break back into the squad. “I look at boys like Leigh Griffiths and how well coming back to Scotland on loan worked for him,” said Goodwillie yesterday, who certainly sounds as if he has matured during his sojourn in England. “Hopefully I can do the same. Watching how well he did last season made me think about my own situation. I saw how good it was for him and how he managed to get into the Scotland set-up. I’ve come back to Tannadice hoping things can work out like that for me.”
Goodwillie understands why people might feel that he has failed. He found it hard to avoid falling prey to such thoughts himself, although five goals in only ten starts – he made many more substitute appearances – is hardly disastrous. “It has been horrible because when you’re not playing it’s difficult to stay focused and happy,” he said. “You try your best, but inside you’re not happy. I think I’m mentally stronger for the experience. It has made me a bit more professional.”
He doesn’t believe he made a mistake going to Blackburn. Indeed, he plans to return, revitalised by a chance to play regular football again. “Did I leave too early? I don’t think so, it was a good move and I have no regrets. Hopefully I can put all the off-field stuff from the past behind me and talk about football this time. Blackburn are my parent club so I will go back to England eventually, but right now I just want to focus on United and play.”
In Goodwillie’s defence, he was not given much chance to prosper at Blackburn, where, amid internal strife, Steve Kean, the manager who signed him, was eventually sacked a year ago, and then two others endured similar fates. Henning Berg lasted only 57 days, while Michael Appleton was there a little a bit longer, racking up 67 days.
Gary Bowyer, the current manager, has sanctioned Goodwillie’s return, and United have an option to extend the deal after six months.
“I worked hard at Blackburn, but didn’t really get the opportunities,” reflected Goodwillie. “The changing of managers was probably a big factor. You don’t get much of a chance to get a manager to like you when they change very often.
“When you are in the middle of things you don’t really notice [all the strife]. When you’re away you realise it’s pretty crazy. But Blackburn are a good club, they have great facilities and they have a great bunch of lads. Everyone sees what’s happened with managers, but Gary Bowyer deserves to be the manager and you can see how much the people love the club. They do so much, but nobody sees it. The players saw it, though.”
Goodwillie has other horizons on which to focus for the time being. For United, it is an opportunity to utilise the talents of a £2m player – it is understood that the Tannadice club are contributing half the player’s weekly wage at Blackburn.
It is hoped that much of this outlay will be repaid in the form of season ticket sales, which up until Goodwillie’s signing were down on last year. Manager Jackie McNamara, who was keen to ensure the deal was tied up before the squad leaves tomorrow for a pre-season trip to Germany, referred to another area where United will seek to recoup some of the investment. “I think the fans are excited by this – sales of the No 7 shirt are already up,” he said yesterday.
In the same way that Griffiths became the focal point for the Hibs support, it is expected that Goodwillie will be something similar, and it helps that he is such a firm favourite of the fans from his first spell, when he scored 40 goals in 136 games.