Another match and another two hours of the BBC moaning about the World Cup.
They would no doubt defend themselves by saying they are simply calling it as they see it. Unfortunately, it is looking more like they are hardly bothering to watch. Whether it be Alan Hansen seemingly disgusted about having to cover New Zealand vs Slovakia on his birthday, or Alan Shearer quipping that he’d prefer to be on the treadmill than have to sit through Brazil vs Portugal, the BBC pundits have the demeanor of grumpy old men having their jolly-up spoiled by the inconvenience of having to watch some football.
If the complaint was just that they are grumpy then that would simply be a matter of taste. However, the case against is somewhat stronger than that:
Lack of Research
Nobody is expecting the BBC’s punditry team to have an in-depth knowledge of every player at the tournament, that would be ludicrous. Is it unreasonable though to expect some sort of basic googling to have gone on? A few well-placed sources tapped for information before appearing on screen in front of millions? To feel it is acceptable to simply turn up at the studio and shamelessly announce ‘we don’t know much about the x, y or z”, as Shearer has on countless occasions, just smacks of arrogance. There’s been a few well-documented low points. Hansen mocking Lee Dixon and Gary Lineker for being fed the name of Marek Hamsik before Slovakia’s opening game implied that not only was knowing the identity of a highly-rated Napoli midfielder a level of knowledge that was just not cool but was also deriding their attempts to ascertain a bit of basic information. Things were little better in the commentary booth as Mick McCarthy appeared shocked to discover that Juan Veron was the same Veron who used to play for Manchester United. Mark Bright revealing he had never seen Lionel Messi play well was probably the final straw. Revelling in their own ignorance.
Lack of Expertise
As is often the way, the desperate state of affairs can pass you by until you see the alternative. Harry Redknapp has been much derided for his one-dimensional analysis of teams at the World Cup in his Sun guide but perhaps we can forgive him on the grounds he was playing down to his target audience. When on the BBC his sprinkling of knowledge has stood-out like he was showing off. It hasn’t been ground-breaking stuff – knowing that Kesuike Honda played for CSKA Moscow for example – but it has added to the coverage. Likewise Roy Hodgson, who was the only member of the team who questioned the possibility that BBC’s information about England playing a diamond formation against Slovenia was in fact the total rubbish it turned out to be. Unfortunately, he and Redknapp have stood out like sore thumbs and any attempts to engage with the rest of the panel have often just been uncomfortable: Hodgson turning to McCarthy to ask what he thought of Cardozo’s role when he came on for Paraguay vs Italy was met with embarrassing silence as it became clear that Mick had not the slightest idea who he was talking about let alone where he had played. McCarthy covered the game live for the BBC. As for the foreign pundits, Clarence Seedorf has been a welcome addition, Jurgen Klinsmann under-used, whilst the less said about the incomprehensible Emmanuel Adebayor the better.
Both Too Much Experience, and yet, Not Enough?
Ok, you’ll have to bear with me here. The point is, some of these guys seem intent on mixing the worst of all worlds. Many of Hansen’s offerings give the impression of a man a little too long in the tooth – how many times can he solemnly declare that defenders hate pace before it loses resonance? His alliterations of presence, power & pace sound good but isn’t he simply saying big, strong & quick which we’ve heard from him many times before? When it is coupled with Mark Lawrenson in the commentary booth, a man apparently begging to be put out of his misery and never asked to watch a football match again, then it creates a world-weary mood a million miles away from the hyperbole of Sky Sports.
Aahh Sky Sports. Now you may say that a thousand miles away from Sky would be appropriate but a million just feels a bit too downbeat for me. I’m no fan of Jamie Redknapp and Andy Gray. I mean, I’m seriously not. But Sky do know how to cover football, which brings me to the BBC’s lack of experience. It is really starting to feel as though the punditry team do not remember what it is like to broadcast live matches. Sky, helped by the experience of covering multiple live games week-in week-out, understand how to handle a game that is 0-0 at half-time – remain upbeat, show a few of the chances and discuss which side needs to change it and why. Maybe it is simplistic to say so but the BBC team are used to producing 10 minute highlights packages of the best Premiership games with a passing look at the goals from the less interesting contests and this would appear to be what they are more comfortable with. When faced with 45 whole minutes of goalless football they are unable to find the positives, their whole faith in the game seems to have disappeared. Odd.
There are lots of things the BBC do well. Recent features on Robben Island and Sir Stanley Matthews have added interesting background and colour to the coverage. Sadly, when it comes to the football at this World Cup, the commentary and punditry teams just seem unable to reflect both the enthusiasm and the knowledge of their audience.
Oh well, at least they’re not ITV..