The World Cup. Arguably the biggest sporting event in the world, occurring once every 4 years, the final watched by over 1 billion people worldwide. Around 20 million of these are in the UK alone, the World Cup an occasion that fans anticipate and cherish, forming the backbone of many of our memories (for my generation, watching Ronaldo, not burdened by his bizarre 2002 haircut, banish the heartache of 4 years prior, trying to emulate Dennis Bergkamp’s majestic 1998 goal in the playground, the disbelief at the red cards of Beckham/Rooney, the inevitable anguish when England crashed out on penalties).
It would follow, then, that for an event of such magnitude, the titans of British World Cup coverage, BBC and ITV, would undertake a recruitment process as thorough as the international managers, a painstaking, precise ordeal to ensure the best talent possible. Surely they would spend 4 years searching for people with piercing insight into the sport, people with vast tactical knowledge and understanding of the mechanics and details of football, who can provide the public with acumen unavailable through any other medium, illuminating aspects that they could not possibly know themselves, untrained as they are.
However, watching the coverage, one could be forgiven for thinking that the hiring process consisted of opening the 2003 Premier League sticker book, pointing at a player at random, and offering them lucrative wages to partake in the trip to Brazil. Andy Townsend is arguably the most execrable of all, refusing to even pretend to hide his bias, and offering the intuition you may expect from a stranger propping up the bar at his local, not of a man who has captained his nation at the World Cup. His gamut of information seems to solely comprise inane clichés, a stream of “that’s better”, “get in and about them”, “get it in the mixer”, and partisan cries of “go on” and ostensible despair/joy when ‘his team’ concedes/scores. We have heard him cheer when Bale scored in the Champions League final, and endlessly react to English teams as if a man in the terraces, not an ‘impartial’ expert on a national station.
His cohort, Clive Tyldesley, is the other half of a double act more intolerable than Jedward. Tyldesley is the Alan Partridge of ITV, spouting tripe with an abominable level of smugness, unable to stop speaking, a phobia of dead air leading to a torrent of banal stats seemingly stolen from Wikipedia 5 minutes before kick-off. He is determined to embed his name in commentating greatness; striving for his “they think it’s all over” moment, saying “why not?” before every shot from distance, hoping it will fly in and he can scream “WHY NOT?!”, and “he can hit them from there”, ideally followed by “BOY CAN HE HIT THEM FROM THERE!!!” He also appears contractually obliged to mention “that famous night in Barcelona” at least once in every Manchester United game.
The ITV duo is rivalled by the BBC pundits. Mark Lawrenson seems to detest football, treating a high earning, all expenses paid trip to Brazil to watch the World Cup like an unexpected visit to A&E for an unpleasant kidney infection. His analysis is restricted to sardonic comments and venom, an obvious anger seeping out of his pores at the state of modern football, but accompanied by no comments on tactics, personnel, or what it is like to play at this level. He also takes a perverse interest in an absence of knowledge and, like his counterparts, is seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is a pundit, and knowledge is a relatively important part of his job. In the Argentina vs Bosnia & Herzegovina match, Lawrenson spoke of Maxi Rodriguez’s 30 pass goal in 2006, despite that goal being scored by Esteban Cambiasso, and asked his co-commentator “who do Argentina play next?” As my cousin text me, our enjoyment of the football increasingly clouded by commentators’ ineptitude, it’s “just guess work”. Come on Mark, it isn’t that hard to get hold of a fixture list.
BBC have employed a new co-commentator for this tournament. A man with no commentary experience, thrown in at the deep end in the world’s biggest tournament – he must be special. He must have been the chosen one from an unimaginably extensive search, as the BBC’s best men scoured the land for someone to take their coverage to the next level; someone who combines enthusiasm, comprehension and intellect into a perfectly formed punditry superstar. “We need some new blood here. Gary Neville is showing us up on Sky, he seems to have actually watched football, and even tries to impart some knowledge that will be new to the average football fan”. “What? But how will the English public understand anything technical? That’s for foreigners all that stuff. Come on, three lions, roar, hit the big man, they don’t like it up ‘em”. “Well maybe we should try to compete. Shall we search the country, top to bottom, carry out a thorough interview process including ex-players, journalists, pundits on smaller stations – ensure that no football expert is missed? Maybe we can get someone as good as, or even better than, Gary Neville”. “Pfft, sounds like a lot of effort that mate. Can we just get his brother in?” Who can blame them after Phil Neville had such a successful season implementing his tactics on the Manchester United side?
Don’t even get me started on Alan Shearer. Before the tournament, he wrote that for Wayne Rooney “to be put in the same bracket as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, he needs to have a great tournament in Brazil”. Need I say more?