Wednesday, 16 June 2010

'Tom English: 'The level of punditry is patronising and insulting''

Excellent article by Tom English that identifies more clearly the deficiencies in our punditry:

It raises the question of why we let ex-professionals rule our football coverage instead of having those both knowledgeable in foreign football and those prepared to do the research.

World Cup opening week review

Maybe my memory deceives me, but I don't remember a World Cup having started so slowly as the 2010 edition has. The pace with which I have rushed for a television when the games get underway has slowed noticeably with each passing day, draw, misplaced pass and over-hit cross.

It has been a tournament that has already filled its quota of dull games before even a week has passed, largely down to the conservative tactics of almost all the teams involved. Whenever a side has gone 1-0 down in their opening encounter there has, on-the-whole, been no concerted effort to attempt to draw level again, instead resigning themselves to defeat.

These tactics may be understandable when an unfancied team is losing to one of the favourites, but when sides such as Cameroon are losing to Japan, a team that they must be looking to beat to progress to the second round, it makes very little sense.

Talk of the nature of the new Adidas ball has cropped up at the World Cup once more, and whilst it is tempting to dismiss it as easily as it was once the 2006 tournament was underway, the new ball does appear to be bouncing too high, skidding too fast off the surface, and too unpredictable to strike from range.

In terms of the media coverage, it has been average at best so far. This is the first World Cup that I have made the effort to stray from the mainstream broadcast coverage to follow more respected print and online pundits, and it has made the gap between the best and the worst ever more apparent.

ITV's studio coverage has been improved immeasurably by the addition of Adrian Chiles, but still suffers from sub-standard commentary pairings. Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend were at their worst during the England-USA clash; praising Heskey regardless of when he played a poor pass or missed a chance, and claiming that England were asserting themselves as the Americans were playing the technically better football in the first half.

Most infuriatingly Townsend, whilst reminding the viewers that we hate to see players appealing to the referee for cards for opponents, said Wayne Rooney (of all players) had the right to complain to the referee over the treatment he felt he was receiving.

Peter Drury, a man given to hyperbole to hijack events, made the strangest comment of the opening week following Germany's opening goal against Australia: 'The German gene kicks in again!' he wailed, determined to stick rigidly to his cliched opinion of what German football should be about, despite the team providing the most skill and flair of any of the sides we have seen thus far. Sadly the co-commentator interjected at this moment, leaving us with a tantalising view of Drury's questionable racial politics that was sadly not expanded on.

ITV is not guilty alone of quality punditry paucity however. Mick McCarthy commentating on the Argentina-Nigeria clash for the BBC stubbornly maintained in increasingly uncertain tones that a challenge by a Nigerian defender was not a penalty even as replays were being shown clearly demonstrating that the Argentinian forward had been fouled.

The strange, rotating BBC studio is now filled with ex-pros to provide analysis, and aside from Alan Hansen, there is little worth listening to. Alan Shearer adds absolutely nothing of substance in his monotone drawl, and the old boys club that develops when Gary Lineker makes endless reference to his playing days is both not fulfilling his role as the anchor, and plain irritating.

Radio 5 Live have offered perhaps the best live commentary options, but this choice has to be balanced against the likes of Alan Green offering unwelcome and uneducated opinion (criticising Ivorian Gervinho's haircut), and David Pleat's inability to pronounce other people's names.

The directors in South Africa have become slightly obsessive in showing us endless slow-motion replays after the most innocuous of incidents; diving is aggravating enough when viewed live, let alone showing it frame-by-frame. Whether the showing of these replays is to promote high definition viewing, the effect on matches is to leave the viewer gasping for breath as live action is followed by replays of the same action immediately after.

So all in all it has been a frustrating opening week ruined by conservatism and petrol station quality footballs. As the second round of games begins tonight at last, we can only hope it will get better. And fast.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

June 12th

The traditional dismissal of the US football team has already begun ahead of England's opening encounter in South Africa tonight.

What most English fans are often unwilling to accept is that whilst America has a smaller football following than some nations, those that do follow the sport are just as passionate and knowledgeable about the state of the global game. Indeed, it's the second most played sport in the country after basketball.

Every four years a significant percentage of the American population tunes in to the games, and this time around ESPN has made a concerted effort in both securing the rights and providing extensive coverage of the matches. It is rare that our brand of football graces the front page of ESPN's website, as is the case today.

I'm fully expecting tonight's meeting to be tight, and it is not unimaginable to see USA winning given their strong international appearances of late, most notably in the Confederations Cup last year.

Media coverage
Later in the week I'll be blogging on the quality of the television and radio coverage the tournament has provided thus far. Primary shock two days in; ITV has not been unwatchable.

Meanwhile, I have crumbled and joined Twitter, primarily for the purposes of the World Cup, where regular blog posts are not necessarily appropriate given the ever-changing situation. You can follow my inane ramblings here. Or not.

World Cup predictions
Posted up slightly late, but here is how I saw the tournament panning out before it began:

South Africa

South Korea






New Zealand

North Korea
Ivory Coast



Monday, 7 June 2010

World Cup Daily arrives

The first edition of the Guardian's Football Weekly team's World Cup podcast has just been released. Usual informed analysis and a good preview of what to expect from the upcoming weeks:

World Cup Daily 

When a podcast opens with lines such as: 'What kind of message would it send to the world if England won the World Cup? What kind of template is that for being the best in the world? To have a bloated, over-inflated league, have a rubbish coaching structure, don't look after your youngsters and get a foreign manager in and you too can win the World Cup', it's clear that those involved don't pull their punches.

In complete contrast I made the foolish mistake of relaxing my guard enough to try watching BBC Three's 'World Cup's most shocking moments', still available for your own misery on Iplayer. Talking head shows are generally abysmal, and despite some interesting clip choices, getting in Mathew Horne from Gavin and Stacey to comment on incidents he clearly had not seen before making the show, as if recalling fond memories, was aggravating.

Any programme that can make Peter Crouch's wooden acting one of the least problematic issues of the production deserves a kicking, and getting third party 'celebrities' to repeat cliches about German efficiency is an impressive waste of money.

The programme is mildly symptomatic of a greater malaise in the general punditry knowledge base across our media as a whole. There are great analysts out there, but they are not in the mainstream. It cannot be right that we can send people like Ian Wright and Andy Townsend to such major competitions in place of pundits such as Sid Lowe and Gabriele Marcotti.