The Queen Mother of Sports Broadcasting

I have watched every World Cup final since 1966 on the BBC, but this year sadly I have switched my allegiance to ITV. Admittedly Clive Tinsley is no better than Guy Mowbray when it comes to the actual commentary on the games but where ITV are much better now is when it comes to pre and post-match analysis,where they are now miles ahead.

You and I may long for a simpler time when commentators like Ken Wolsentholme or David Colman just talked about the match and nothing much else, back then the beauty of the pundit lay in the fact that they were just as knowledgeable as their modern day counterparts, but they they didn’t feel obliged to trot out the never ending stream of statistics that the modern day commentator seems obliged to churn out at every opportunity, but that is not what is really riling me, it’s the panellists that are.

For quite a while now I have thought that Gary Lineker sees presenting sport as an extension of his Walker’s crisp adverts, where, nothing is ever serious, it’s all just a bit of fun. However, for £1.7 million a year, the money he is being paid for one of the most lucrative jobs on TV, I require something a bit more professional. You always get the impression with Lineker that he sees himself as something of a national treasure and no matter what he does the punters will put up with it because it is good old Gary. That may well have been the case at one time but now he is starting to come across as a smug, supercilious prat, delighting in a schoolboy approach that is gleefully supported by (Shearer apart) a carefully picked bunch of sycophant panellists.

ITV is now presented in a much more professional manner by the fast improving Mark Pougatch, and their panellists (Ian Wright apart) are killing their counterparts on the Beeb. Whether or not you like Gary Neville, getting him on-board for the World Cup was a master stroke for ITV but, the real ace in their pack is Roy Keane. Hostile and aggressive with eyes of a Sicilian hit man, Keane tells it the way it is and woe betide anyone that is going question his assessment either of the game or the players he is watching. Unlike the fawning flattering Lineker, Keane is not interested in knowing crap like Jerome Boateng has 300 and odd pairs of shoes, he just want to talk football and so should Lineker, so be careful Gary, because although you may see yourself as the queen mother of punditry doesn’t mean that you are.



Angels with Dirty Faces (by Jonathan Wilson)

If really want to gain greater understanding of the complexities that is Argentine football, then you have to read Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson. Bearing the name of the 1938 classic gangster movie gives this book an interesting title to describe the complicated path that football has taken over the years in Argentina. British sailors brought the game to Argentina and Wilson has lovely researched the history and philosophy of the Argentinian game by delving into the psyche of a nation obsessed by a game that does not always portray them in a positive light.

Argentina should have been an economic powerhouse, but political corruption and military coups have hampered the progress of a country that lacks any real economic vision. The short-sightedness of various governments has frequently left the country in a financial mess with hardship not only been felt not among the masses on the street, but, also by the drain of nations best players to the rich fertile pastures of European soccer.

In my opinion Argentinians have always seen themselves as being superior footballers to anyone in the world, never mind South America. This arrogance may be well justified as it has seen them win more Copa America’s than anyone else in the southern hemisphere, added to this they are also the most successful country in the Copa Libertadores (South America’s version of the European Cup). But the problem is that no matter how well they play or do, nobody loves them in the way everyone loves Brazil and it is literally killing them.

Wilson rightly points out that nearly every generation of Argentine football tends to throw up a genius of a player, someone like Adolfo Pedernera, Alfredo di Stefano, Omar Sivori, Ricardo Bochini, Diego Maradona, Juan Riquelme and of course Lionel Messi, players who fans see as the epitome of pibe  (the Argentine fantasy of the kid or street urchin who uses his creative skill and ability to claw his way to the top) but for all of the imagination and creativity that these players brought to the game  there is a much darker side to their game.

The book brilliantly analyses the violent system of anti-fubol, which was fashioned and used in the late 1960’s possibly first by Racing Club of Buenos Aires in their notorious victory over Celtic in the world club championship and then honed and exploited more ruthlessly by the infamous Estudiantes De La Plata. Argentine football would enter its darkest period, a chapter in their history that they have never really shaken off, under the guidance of Osvaldo Zubeldia, Estudiantes adopted a win at all costs approach, devising the most cynical style the game has probably ever seen. The players bought into the outlook and carefully manipulated on the park by Zubeldia,s number 1 assassin, the mocking and derisive Carlos Bilardo, they set about their task to conquer the world. No opportunity was too low for Bilardo to stoop to which, would see him and his team-mates produce some of the outrageous antics football has ever seen, producing a cynicism that would see them do anything in their power to expose a flaw in the opposition.

The Murderous Bilardo

I could argue that the game in Argentina may have recovered if it were not for the arrival of Menotti, the charismatic left wing activist known as El Flaco (the slim one). Menotti who had spent time in Brazil befriending Pele, would return the Argentine game to flair and imagination based on an attacking philosophy. Endlessly seen standing on the touchline smoking cigarette after cigarette, Menotti would deliver the 1978 World Cup an achievement that cannot be underestimated given the political backdrop in which was played.

The Great Menotti (with the inevitable cigarette)

The events that have taken place since that epic victory are just as fascinating; you have the arrival of Maradona and Messi the return of Bilardo, plus the coaching methods of Bielsa.

Add to this more political corruption and the never ending rounds of spiralling inflation that has held back economic growth back, you would think the average Argentine would be in a state of despair given their plight, they are not because they have the one thing that binds them together and that is their love of football. Jonathan Wilson’s book is pure theatre, read it and open your mind.




Pretty in Pink

If Chris Froome were to win this year’s Tour De France he would join a small but elite group of cyclists  that have managed to win this event 5 times. Froome is far and away the greatest cyclist this country has ever produced but no matter how well he comes across on TV I am always left with the feeling that not too  many people actually warm to Froome.  Why is that?  Maybe it is jealously or maybe it is the thought of him winning this year’s competition that is driving his rivals and the Gallic organisers into despair. The French never really liked Merchx or Indurian winning it 5 times but the thought of an Englishman winning for a fifth time is not only a problem for the organisers but also for the French public, who see this most prestigious of French sporting events being won year after year by foreigners. Should he win, Froome would he would have 7 grand tour titles 1 behind Anquetil, a thought that may be too much to bear for most Frenchmen.

Mellow in Yellow

Froome arrives at this year’s competition in high spirits have just won the the Giro d’Italia in brilliant style, he has also been cleared of any wrongdoing in last year’s Vuelta a Espana with regard to his asthma medication, this unfounded allegation that has hung around his neck like an albatross, leaving him in a state of stress leading up to the big event.

Ruthless in Red

Currently holding the Tour De France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana titles, a feat that has only been accomplished by the fabled Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merchx, the pressure Froome will be under will be justifiably immense, so let’s hope he avoids any type of dirty tricks campaign that has been commonplace in grand tours over the years. Cycling has and I suspect always will be riddled with drugs scandals, Lance Armstrong tore my heart out when he admitted his guilt in the most famous humiliation the sport has ever seen. The sport needs good guys to win let’s just hope that Fromme is one of them.