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Even ESPN Can’t Spoil the World Cup

Jul
6
2006

So we have the single most important soccer tournament, and the Disney Mouse decides that apparently we prefer dumb American voices rather than intelligent English ones. Even the American viewing audience has noticed that putting a middling play-by-play baseball announcer in as the lead commentator on soccer does not for a great World Cup viewing experience make. Yup, apparently Dave O’Brien has been chosen to boost viewership, as it says in the Wall Street Journal.
I for one can’t even stand the mad Irish man that ESPN uses for its European Champions League coverage, but at least he (Tommy Smyth)has a clue as to who the players are, what’s happening in the game, and doesn’t make the basic idiotic mistakes that apparently we’re expected to think are building popularity for new fans. As you might expect, real soccer fans here in the U.S. are really pissed, and you can sign a petition complaining.


Yes all the commentators are dreadful. but there’s a further point no one’s noticed. Why oh why do they not use some of the in-studio analysis techniques that Sky Sports (the European version of Fox Sports) stole from American football to break the game down at half time or at the end? I was in the UK for some of June and both the BBC and ITV really now do a good job analyzing the tactics and showing what’s happening. They show the entire field from above, and track player movements; they showed the England team crunched up in the middle lacking width, by tracking the wingers coming inside, or showing the defenders hitting long balls because the holding mid-fielder didn’t come close enough to the defenders to collect the ball. This is the stuff that improves knowledge about the game – and it’s all taken from the Madden Chalkboard – breaking down the play. If we’re trying to educate young fans and expand the game’s audience, shouldn’t we be doing that? In the UK in the early 1980s the then new Channel 4 introduced American Football, and had for a while idiot British hosts, but cleverly left the commentary to the Americans, and soon they had Frank Gifford presenting the whole show. A small subsection of Brits, myself included, got smart about American Football quickly enough that it built a decent small audience. What Fox Soccer Channel is doing by replaying Sky Sports over here is similar.
You also know that ESPN/ABC doesn’t respect the sport because they have Brent Musberger on as the host. He’s so useless that there’s actually a drinking game designed around his presentation style – you know, every time he says something dumb, you need to drink. And there’s no need to be so jingoistic, either. In the UK they have Scots, Irish, Brazilians and some bright Dutchmen on their panels. And some of them give great insights as if they were master international coaches or players – funnily enough Terry Venables (England’s former coach) and Ruud Gullit and Johann Cruff (both former great Dutch players and great coaches) were that. But you can also find that insight on blogs written by fans, like this one about whether the 4-5-1 formation that many teams are using is a good thing (hint-apparently not).
But sometimes ESPN can’t even screw it up too much. Their top 10 moments of the World Cup early rounds is well worth watching as is this mash up of some of the top goals. It’s not been the best tournament, as most of the last games have been too defensive, but the early rounds were pretty good, and Germany v Italy and France v Spain were plenty exciting. The final should be good too and tickets are apparently available if you have limitless amounts of money.
The one thing that desperately needs to be sorted out is the refereeing, although that has been improving. I’ve given my views about that in Spot-on before, but we need bigger teams of referees with unlimited use of video replays. For example Argentina scored two goals which were wrongly disallowed for offside (against Serbia when it didn’t matter, but also against Mexico when it did), the US had a totally false penalty awarded against it that cost it the game against Ghana, Australia had a very dubious penalty awarded to Italy in the last minute, Brazil’s second and decisive goal against Ghana was clearly offside, and England had one player totally unfairly booked (Terry) and another (Rooney) sent off for what was allegedly to be a deliberate stamp on an opponents testicles – but a penalty that would have required him have eyes in the back of his head. The replay clearly showed him looking the other way and putting his foot down so as not to fall. All of these moments had long stoppages after them, and an off-site official communicating by radio could easily have gotten the right decision to the referring team – if there was one, and not some prima donna ref putting his mark on the game. Similarly later video analysis could stamp out the rampant diving and faking. Alternatively, of course, we could just ban the Portuguese team before the contest starts, which would amount to the same thing.
Just perhaps this conversation might be heightened after the final, especially if Italy wins. The latest suggestions from the match-fixing scandal there are that four teams, including the two biggest are going to be relegated two divisions. That would be like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox being relegated to AA ball in Hartfod, Conn. Here’s hoping that the cartel of crooks that runs soccer might finally pay attention. Meanwhile on Sunday, let’s cheer on Zinedine Zidane as he leads his geriatric French mates to the promised land.

Share  Posted by Matt Holt at 12:35 AM | Permalink

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