Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Suffistikation of the Modern Day Soccer Media

There is little doubt that Sky Sports has revolutionised football coverage from top to bottom. What was once a thirty minutes a week highlight reel is now a 24 hour wall to wall media blast with glitzy presentation with graphics and cameras and microphones that pick up everything apart from John Terry's on pitch soundbites.

Despite all this and despite much attempts to the contrary, there is still one part of football and in particular the coverage that refuses to update itself and join the media revolution that is the 21st Century. That is the players who are interviewed and the plethora of ex players and failed managers forging careers as pundits that litter the global coverage to saturation point.

Cliche has almost always been exclusively owned by the professional footballing world. From the heady days of Ron Atkinson's weekly reference to it as 'being a game of two halves' (thanks for pointing that out Ron) to Frank Lampard's seemingly constant 'holding up of his hands' (is he a French soldier in disguise we ask?) and his constant awards of 'fair play' to the opposition for 'setting their stall out', it is ingrained in the psyche of all footballing men it seems.

The BBC was the first to attempt to update matters with first of all the ever slick and debonair Des Lynam who would try and coax intelligent utterances from the mouths of the punditry. The baton was then passed on to Gary Lineker who despite an initially smug outlook, forged a decent back line partnership with Alan Hansen who has attempted to cross the border to the thinking man's point of view. Most of this was unfortunately offset by Mark Lawrensen's camp and high pitched screeching. As for Garth Crooks, well there is little to say as he's already said it twenty times over.

The likes of Ruud Gullit were added to the mix and talk of sexy football set the news wires buzzing, could pundits actually be clever and cool? Further continental and cultured guests such as Clarence Seedorf were added for the last world cup, the BBC has always at least tried.

It is regrettable however for the BBC that with the exception of the World Cup they have declined to actually show any live football and so we have predominantly been left with what is served up by Sky Sports. The writer of this blog has not resided in the UK for nearly ten years now so we apologise for any 'historical' references.

One of the most popular shows that Sky Sports put out was Soccer Saturday which in broad terms revolved around the excellent Jeff Stelling (now of Countdown fame no less) coaxing grunts out of the likes of George Best, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson and Rodney Marsh. It was to put it mildly 'cliche heaven' and when the likes of Paul Merson were invited on to the team it simply got worse. It remained however strangely compelling viewing.

It would however be 'offside' to suggest that football suffers exclusively from dullness or repetition in its' programming. Rugby coverage as an example suffers from many ex players working as pundits that you could mistake for robotic orangutans whose batteries have run down, it is tough viewing indeed. Martin Brundle's constant references to 'new boots' in Formula 1 is an example of great tedium at work from an otherwise excellent broadcaster.

Cricket however offers an example of how commentary and opinion can be delivered in a modern, well paced and intelligent manner. It may be that the relative pedestrian pace of a cricket match forces the commentators to do their jobs in an entertaining manner and it is no coincidence that going back to the days of Jonners on BBC4's Test Match Special that many of the most memorable commentating moments have come from this one sport.

The epitome of the modern day pundit would have to be Jamie Redknapp. Relatively young, good looking, likeable and inoffensive to both sexes. Young Jamie however has become the subject of the 'literally' campaign so championed by the excellent journalists at Guardian Football.

Poor Jamie whilst wishing to appear articulate and cultured is actually belying a complete incomprehension for the English language as shown up by the 'Jamie Literally Watch' that has emerged. Some brief but excellent samples are shown here.

'These balls now - they literally explode of your feet'.

'He's literally left Ben Haim for dead there'.

'David Silva literally floats around the pitch'.

In the first two instances we would ask if anyone either saw an ambulance or a police car and in the case of David Silva, did anyone call NASA?

Now whilst it's a shame to pick on Redknapp Jr for these harmless gaffes, it is unfortunately a fantastic example of the stereotype that is the British footballer and especially one that is trying to appear in the broadest of terms 'not fick'.

To say that there are no decent pundits would be unfair, the likes of Graeme Souness, Graeme Le Saux and Ruud Gullit mentioned earlier speak eloquently and with purpose. Some of the shows on Radio Five Live with the likes of the excellent Pat Nevin show thoughtful purpose and provide excellent considered comment.

For every Pat Nevin however there are a multiple of the likes that we are treated to here in Asia. There is a phrase in the financial markets which is called 'filth' which stands for 'Failed in London, try Hong Kong'. Whilst not wishing to disparage this region (not the point at all) it does seem that anyone who cannot get a gig on Sky Sports uses Asia's unquenchable thirst for all things Premiership to set themselves up with pundits' jobs in Asia. We truly get the dregs out here.

The likes of John Beresford, John Burridge, the entirely dreadful Carlton Palmer (he's as bad a pundit as he was a player) and the likes of the likeable but awful Bryan Robson and Lee Sharpe are prime examples of pundits with a cliche dictionary stuck on loop.

There is almost nothing intelligent that can be derived from their commentary. The likes of Burridge and Palmer attempt to set themselves up as some kind of football punditry 'shock jocks' when the reality is they merely appear as idiots as they spew forth cliche after cliche in loud suits with shoulder pads. It is like 80's soap Dynasty being re-set in the Isle of Man with megaphones.

Football coverage will no doubt continue to go from strength to strength with the new HD format, 3D being introduced, multiple angle views and super slo mo. It is oft said that human beings do not like change however, especially those of a certain age. Fortunately for those of that ilk, the professional footballer who has evolved so quickly physically is resisting all evolution mentally and some things in football programming will always remain the same - No Nonsense.