European Dreams

Quite a lot has been made of the decision to change the European Championships to a 24-team competition at its next incarnation in 2016, in that, on the whole, there has been quite a negative reaction. The perception is that increasing the number of teams will lead to a dilution in the quality. And after a pretty damn good summer of tournament football, it’s hard to disagree.

We had the situation where two arguably “weaker” teams hosted the tournament, thereby taking up two of the four available slots in the pool for top seeds, and thus skewing the difficulty of the group stages somewhat. Anyone trying to justify that the group of Czech Republic, Russia, Greece and Poland was similar in class to that of Germany, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands is unfortunately suffering from some kind of football-based political correctness addiction. A fairer system would be to seed host countries based on their FIFA ranking [before you say it - I know. Ed] along with everybody else; this would stop more higher ranked teams from being drawn as second seeds than seems reasonable.

Having said all that, the group stages were hugely entertaining. With most teams still having something to play for going into their final match, and no danger of a penalty shootout, hope sprung eternal (except in Ireland) and there was far less cagey doggedness than we’ve seen in recent summer football fests.

Leave it to England, of course, to supply the first 0-0 of the tournament.  Some blame has to be laid at the feet of the horribly profligate Italians (in that game), though, who really should have been home and hosed long before England bottled yet another penalty competition.

As an England fan, it is always the hope that kills you. You spend the weeks, months, even years going into an international tournament playing down your chances, saying you’re overrated, bemoaning the ridiculous nationalistic fervour driven by the tabloid media, and yet after riding your luck against the Italians, you think “maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe this is our time.” And you’re still thinking that even after the shootout begins, then boom. That’s why you’re pessimistic about England.

Spain won the thing, of course, but that there has been any debate about the merits of their playing style at all, let alone the scathing accusations of snobbery and reverse snobbery between the relevant parties is evidence enough that Spain 2008-2012 do not possess the mercurial artistry to be considered a truly timeless football team. They are a machine, a process. A particular science can only be beautiful to those who subscribe to the environs of that specific branch. For where is the artistry in a high defensive line and pressing all the way up the pitch? Where is the soul in endless unnecessary two yard passes?

Chinua Achebe observed in Morning Yet on Creation Day that “art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorised dog shit”, and though while I wouldn’t extend this harsh a criticism onto the current Spanish side, I am nonetheless forced to wonder at the circumspection of those who innately believe them to the bestest footballing side ever in the world ever ever. They’re good, yeah. But so what? Football shouldn’t be about the pursuit of scientific perfection. It’s about that feeling in your soul that you don’t get from watching other sports, even when you’re not that bothered about the participants.

Euro 2012 Pundit Rundown: ITV

For so long, ITV has been the poor relation of football coverage. Cutting to adverts during crucial moments of matches; complete and comical graphics failure during a Champions League final; the continual employment of Clive Tyldesley. There may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, however, even if it is just that Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira might vent their opprobrium for one another in the form of a few punches of Adrian Chiles’ face.

Adrian Chiles: ITV’s search for a winning anchorman for their football coverage has been long and chequered. Jim Athletics Rosenthal has sort of been around forever. Elton Welsby came, then went to Busman’s Holiday. Sir Matthew Of Orange [Lorenzo] followed. Then we we had some agressive host poaching from the BBC: first Bob Wilson, who turned out to be a bit dull. Soon after, Des Lynam, forever smeared with the tyre marks from the Tactics Truck. Even Steve “Chill” Rider couldn’t quite make it work; there was something about his easy manner that always seemed more at home on Grandstand.

Finally, apparently miffed at being given Fridays off from The One Show, Adrian Chiles left behind the comfort of the BBC sofa for the choppy waters of their commercial rivals. And it’s been downhill all the way since he arrived.

His everyman, matey style and staunch face worked well on MOTD2; tucked away on Sunday evenings, it didn’t feel like it needed to compete with the flagship Saturday night show. He brought a faux-gallows humour, derived from decades of following the Baggies in the lower divisions. On ITV though, he just sounds like a smug tosser. Hair-tearingly jingoistic during European club football and Internationals (i.e. the sum total of all ITV’s football output), he even thinks to speak on behalf of the nation when criticising former England managers for being foreign. Foreign!

The problem is, all the things that made him good on the BBC make him really bad on ITV, and being constantly interrupted by ad breaks means he can’t get a decent flow going or any worthwhile dialogue from his guests. The cycle continues. He joins the long list of BBC presenters who just couldn’t make it work on ITV.

FifPro Pundit Rating: 2/10
Most likely to advertise: The Big Issue

Gareth Southgate: A worthy centre-back. A poor manager. His punditry lies somewhere in the middle. He always has the awkward air of a GCSE Business Studies teacher being interviewed on Parkinson. Benefits from being able to at least form coherent sentences and likes to have a stab at the tactical stuff. One feels there’s a good sense of humour buried somewhere in there, but it doesn’t sit well with Chiles’s obvious gags and droll observations of odd looking people in the crowd, so he becomes entrenched in a form analytical limbo. Could benefit from getting a bit lagered up before each game.

FifPro Pundit rating: 4/10
Most likely to advertise: Bull Boys Shoes

Photo: sportige.com & books4u.in

Patrick Vieira: His history with Roy Keane should lead to a few awkward moments of silence if they disagree about something, and though he lacks the charisma of BBC’s imported talent, hopefully his prescence will intimidate Chiles into being less of a douche. He will bring a Gallic Shrug to the studio, hindering ITV’s attempts to wake us from the simultaneous coma and fit of rage their coverage induces.

FifPro Pundit rating: TBA (Provisional: 5/10)
Most likely to advertise: [shrug]

Roy Keane: His intimidating stare and aura of genuinely not enjoying being on the TV make him a welcome addition to any football panel, though it’s important not to forget he was probably the nastiest player of the last 30 years. Just as he’s made a salient point, I sometimes catch myself thinking, “This guy deliberately ended someone’s career. How can I agree with him about anything?” He’s got a load of those witty fridge magnets at home that say: “You don’t have to be a callous bastard to be an effective midfield enforcer…but it helps!!” Lord Ferg bought him one every year for Christmas. Also, I heard a rumour that he wanks his dogs, but it’s probably not true.

FifPro Pundit rating: 6/10
Most likely to advertise: Ronseal quick drying woodstain

Jamie Carragher: Very much the wildcard option, ITV’s studio is really going for that “hard bastard” feel this year. I’ve heard his punditry in the past, and it was as you’d expect, really: quite difficult to understand, but fettered with cliches about “spirit” and so on. However I’m slightly worried that he might try to kill me, so I’ve a feeling he’s going to surprise everyone and be the best pundit in the world ever.

FifPro Pundit rating: 11/10
Most likely to advertise: Shin pads. For his opponents.

Gordon Strachan: Wee Gordo is the figurative “safe pair of hands”. Adrian Chiles actually owes a lot to WGS, their formative bantering on early MOTD2 forming the the bedrock on which Chiles built his, er…empire? Well. Brings a different kind of Scottishness than Hansen on the other side, he is pithy and brisk, and more importantly, red-haired (just about), flying the flag for the most oppressed section of modern society. Can be a little over-cynical at times, but at least it opposes Chiles’s “Why can’t we all just get along?” lovey-ness.

FifPro Pundit rating: 8/10
Most likely to advertise: Just for men (Grampian region only)

Roberto Martinez: Always sounds like a man who has just emerged from a 6-hour interrogation with the CIA, you feel he’s using the time watching games to scout for potential recruits rather than anything else. His habit of looking into the middle distance during sentences, pausing briefly, then staring into the eyes of the host whilst finishing each sentence like a question is an interesting quirk. Someone needs to tell him there isn’t anyone behind him holding a gun to his head so he can relax a bit.

FifPro Pundit rating: 6.5/10
Most likely to advertise: Regaine

ITV’s Qommentating Quadrumvirate of Clive Tyldesley, Andy Townsend, Peter Drury and Jim Beglin:
It’s like watching Angela Lansbury walk on hot coals, times a million.

FifPro Commentator rating: 0/10
Most likely to advertise: How amazing the BBC is. Inadvertently.


Euro 2012 Pundit Rundown: BBC

With the start of Euro 2012 less than 24 hours away, it only seems right to evaluate the pundits who will be causing our ears to bleed with nauseatingly awful punditry over the next 3 weeks. Here’s what we’ve got to look forward to.

Gary Lineker: From poachy striker to televisual anchor man, it hasn’t been the happiest of position changes for England’s all time 2nd highest scorer. The sad truth is his autocue delivery still sounds like a tired adult delivering a bedtime story to a 4-year-old, though occasionally he comes across as intelligent and funny when engaging in ad-libbed conversation with his guests. Talks to Shearer too much, needs to stop encouraging him.

FifPro Pundit rating: 4/10
Most likely to advertise: Sunbeds’R'us

Alan Hansen: For almost 20 years, he has been obsessed with distance between centre-backs being the root cause of defensive calamity. He’s probably right. One of his generations finest defenders, clearly harbours excellent tactical nous, and it’s still fun watching him analyzing terrible defending. Suffers from BBC’s dumbed-down approach to football coverage, and from having sat next to Shearer for too many years.

FifPro Pundit rating: 7/10
Most likely to advertise: Defensive tape-measures

Harry Redknapp: Who needs Jamie and his tight trousers when the beeb have conscripted ‘Arry and his, er… face? Somehow overlooked as national team manager despite winning 1 FA cup, 1 Intertoto cup (the trophy real European powerhouses wanted to win – just ask Aston Villa), 1 Associate Members cup, 1 Third division title and 1 Second division title all in just under 30 years! How Europe would have quaked in their Adidas Predators before facing master tactician Redknapp Senior! Spends every other summer driving around Wapping looking for journalists to talk to with his window down. If he decides to join the BBC panel this year, look forward to D-grade punnery and wisecracks, all lapped up and lovingly embraced by his sofa buddies.

FifPro Pundit rating: 3/10
Most likely to advertise: Paul Stretford Agency Services

Jurgen Klinsmann: Germany’s finest, he’s now in charge of the US men’s football team (“Good hustle, ja!”) An unusally erudite and eloquent choice for the BBC, expect the producers to tell him “tone it down” if he starts getting too clever during matches. Watch Shearer pulse with rage as Jurgen’s Teutonic-American accent makes him look more stupid than normal.

FifPro Pundit rating: 9/10
Most likely to advertise: Holiday homes in the Florida Keys.


Alan Shearer: Famously does no research on any countries apart from England before a major tournament, because, well, those rounds of golf aren’t going to play themselves, are they? It’s not like the paying public care about them bloody foreigners anyway! Who’d have thought that Lewandowski fella was any good, playing for a no-mark team like Poland? Oh and while you’re there, what’s a “João Moutinho”? Oh, right.

FifPro Pundit rating: 10/10
Most likely to advertise: Hair implants

Clarence Seedorf: Not a man you’d want to be up against in a bar room brawl, he has literally (Jamie) been playing football forever. Literally. His deep, soothing voice is football’s answer to Michael Holding, and while his English is not quite up to Klinsmann’s, at least you’ll feel better about your dog being run over after listening to him talk.

FifPro Pundit rating: 8/10
Most likely to advertise: Life assurance

Lee Dixon: Easily the most understated of the BBC regulars, you can tell the rest of the “boys” look down on him because he was “only” a full-back for “Arsenal”. Gets credit for chancing his arm at some tactical analysis on MOTD2, though his incredulity at a ball “moving in three directions at once” shows a lack of basic understanding of the laws of motion. His overall former boyband look means he’s unlikely to be a regular at the top table.

FifPro Pundit rating: 7/10
Most likely to advertise: Backstreet Boys Greatest Hits

David James: That rarest of breeds, an intelligent and articulate footballer in an age of almost universal stupidity. He used to talk about “picturing [him]self saving the ball”, which is about as close as he would get when playing for England. Will bring back happy memories of unsighting himself behind his own bloody wall for France’s equaliser and conceding the penalty for their winner against England in Euro 2004.  Presumably has a lot of theoretical knowledge about being a goalie, but years of failing the practical examination mean his critique of other keepers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

FifPro Pundit rating: TBA
Most likely to advertise: H&M Clothing

Exiled in Polkraine: Jake Humphrey & Gabby Logan: Jake “The Snake” Humphrey will all be about asking David Coulthard if Arjen Robben activated his DRS when overtaking the defender. Gabby Logan brings a wealth of blonde-haired banality to proceedings. She is about as interesting as a seagull.

MIA: Mark Lawrenson: “It was his right foot… know what I mean?”