15 minutes into “Good, Better, Best,” the latest original from Spain’s Movistar Plus, soccer player Michael Robinson has hit the headlines as the subject of the second-biggest transfer fee in British soccer history, with Manchester City paying $970,000 in 1979 for the 20-year-old striker.
One hour later in the doc feature, Robinson, who died of cancer in April, has become one of Spain’s biggest and most beloved media icons who helped to boot to further a democratic revolution in its sports coverage.
Last week in Madrid, Spain’s sports media establishment gathered at Madrid’s Matadero cinema to listen to Spain’s Minister of Culture and Sport, José Manuel Rodriguez, deliver a homily on Robinson. This was followed by a screening of Movistar Plus original documentary “Good, Better, Best” which, seeks to chart and explain one of the most extraordinary professional odysseys in European media.
Lovingly crafted by Robinson’s own team on his last program, “Informe Robinson,” the doc feature’s achievement is to endow Robinson’s life journey with a sense of destiny, as well as logic.
Born in England’s Leicester, but raised in Blackpool, an early ‘60s tourist destination, Robinson’s first memory, he claims in “Good, Better, Best,” tears in his eyes, was also an epiphany as he was taken to see Liverpool soccer club play at its legendary Anfield stadium.
“Anfield, the Cop, to the right as you run out, 1-0, Liverpool vs. Burnley. I think I was seven. Something happened to me. It must have been the emotion, because I didn’t understand the game,” Robinson says in an interview in “Good, Better, Best.”
“And the goal! The noise! The noise! it was an orgy of feelings! Pure joy. Pure un-nuanced joy!”
A young Robinson dreamed of becoming a soccer star. His problem, as he readily admits in “Good, Better, Best” was that he was never cut out to be the kind of soccer player he wanted to be.
His mind, although he was too modest to say it, was always two steps ahead of his body.
Highly intelligent, he had a knack of sensing how a move might play out, and getting into goal-scoring positions, which made his goal misses all the more notable.
Years later, as a soccer pundit in Spain, the Canal Plus color guy on big match transmissions, paired with lifelong friend Carlos Martinez over three decades, he endeared Spaniards by his huge sense of humor, and extraordinary Spanish: He had a marvelous vocabulary but a strong English accent, and his lips struggled to get his words out.
Robinson played in one of the greatest club teams in history, Liverpool, which he adored, over 1983-84 as a substitute for the upfront pair of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush, winning the 1984 European Cup.
But he was palpably happier helping lowly clubs – Brighton, then Spain’s Osasuna – rise high.
By the time he started playing professional soccer and moved to Osasuna in 1986, then bottom of the league, he had also learnt how good could become better.
In “Good, Better, Best,” a documentary spangled by Robinson’s homespun wisdom, anecdotes and aphorisms – “winning with Liverpool is no mystery, the mystery is being signed by Liverpool” is just one – he remembers his father, a hard-driving task-master, lecturing him before one of his first games for his first club, the second division Preston North End.
“Let’s suppose that you miss two goals and people will line up and say: ‘Robinson missed a couple,’” Robinson recalls his dad saying.
“But another will say,” his father went on, “’But he battled, he gave his all,’ and people respect those who give their all.”
“That day,” Robinson said, “My father built me a wall. Failure is impossible when you have the generosity to push yourself to the limit.”
Driving himself hard, with endless energy and ambition, Robinson helped Osasuna end up fifth in the league in his first full season at the club.
Robinson was also from England’s north at a time when it was suffering post-industrial decline, with the closure of mines growing unemployment. “I had a strong social conscience. Nobody gave us an opportunity,” Robinson recalls.
He also had the gift of the gab. A lunch with Robinson would stretch through to dinner, The Guardian’s Sid Lowe remembers.
He brought both to bear as a soccer pundit.
After a torn ligament forced him into retirement he settled in Spain. “We laugh and cry at the same things,” he has said.
Joining Spanish pay TV Canal Plus in August 1991, he took over “El Día Después,” a match recap magazine, in its second season, and revolutionized the format, often turning its focus away from its stars to ordinary folk in the stands, or referees or ball boys, portrayed with an upbeat irony whose humor was also a form of sympathy and tribute.
Spain became a formal democracy in 1977 after four decades of dictatorship. Robinson helped sports coverage democratize as well.
When “El Dia Después” was pulled in 2005, Robinson launched a second revolution with “Informe Robinson,” a monthly portrait of a sports star which sought to explore the real person behind the public persona. That inside track focus, years later, now informs streaming platforms’ sports series around the world.
Robinson recorded his last “Informe Robinson,” “Good, Better Best,” 13 days before his death. For a first and last time, the subject was himself.
He was as upbeat as ever. “Good luck has rained on me. I’m 61, 61 years loving and feeling loved. You can’t stuff the good fortune, happiness and good luck I’ve had into 61 years. If it were a case of good fortune and luck, I’m 131 years old,” he said, beaming from cheek to cheek.
Few people, especially soccer commentators, have such commendable equanimity.