Now that the show is well and truly over what will be the lasting impact of this World Cup?
Will it be in South Africa which has spent a fortune on hosting the tournment? Probably not. 355,000 unsold tickets, 450,000 unbooked hotel rooms and the problems the host nation have, masked as they were by the greatest show on earth, become ‘real life’ again.
From a footballing perspective is there much to take from it? Not a great deal. Spain are worthy champions and play a brand of football that has the aesthetes purring but it’s not a system that is likely to be copied by many. It requires a great many things. Players of exceptional technical quality, players who are extremely fit and motivated and players who are prepared to work harder without the ball than with it. Those qualities in one player are rare enough, to be able to find a whole team who can play like that is going to be beyond most nations.
What we’ll most likely to see is a continuation of systems which close the gap between the established football countries and the so-called lesser nations. Teams like Slovenia, New Zealand, Japan, Slovakia and South Korea showed teams like France, Italy, Denmark and Cameroon that there’s no automatic right to go far just because of history or reputation.
However, I think there’s one area in which this World Cup has had a real impact and that’s television. I don’t mean the coverage itself but the presentation and more specifically the punditry. As journalists and football fans use Twitter to interact in a way they have never been able to before the almost stone-age approach of the TV networks has been shown up for the lazy, outdated mess it is.
At the touch of a timeline are journalists with specific areas of expertise, blogs and bloggers who cover everything from the smallest leagues in the world to the largest, from systems to tactics as well as in-depth analysis of players and managers and teams. The wealth of football knowledge is quite extraordinary. So when these football fans turn on their TVs to hear ex-pros providing the same tired soundbites they’ve been spouting for years it’s in stark contract to the well-informed stuff they can get online, all day, every day.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of their lack of knowledge and insight. Countless blogs have taken them to task and rightly so. If you’re going to work as an ‘expert’ then your knowledge of the game should reflect that. Not knowing anything about a team, its players, the manager or the way they play simply isn’t good enough. Mocking a fellow pundit because he namechecks a player from an ‘obscure’ country, the way Hansen did to Lee Dixon, isn’t just a display of ignorance but one of contempt to fans and viewers.
Jingoism should play no part in your analysis of the game. The ludicrous claim by BBC’s Guy Mowbray that ‘one, maybe two’ of Germany’s team would get into the England XI was typical of the kind of rubbish spouted by the English channels. A 1-0 win over Slovenia was, apparently, enough to convince nearly every single pundit and commentator on the BBC and ITV that England were ‘back’. Instead of the analytical view which most viewers took, that England’s performances were essentially abject, they eschewed their roles as analysts and became cheerleaders.
They’re not there to tub-thump, they’re there to give viewers an insight into the game. Having pride in one’s country is fine, and hoping they’ll win is also fine, but to ignore all the evidence in front of you just to do a bit of flag-waving is not.
Look at the viewing figures for the final. BBC’s viewing figures peaked at 17.9m, ITV’s at just 3.8m. The commercial network’s coverage has long been considered inferior to both the BBC and Sky and with pundits like Andy Townsend, Kevin Keegan and Gareth Soutgate (a man who writes a far better game than he speaks) doling out the usual platitudes it’s no wonder they were so far behind.
That’s not to say the BBC are much better. They’re just the least worst when compared with ITV. Yes, production, presentation and appearance is all much better and much more professional, but surely now it’s time to call a halt to the Shearer, Lawrenson, Hansen era. As long as we continue to persist with the delusion that ex-professionals know more about the game than anyone else and are better qualified to speak about it then things won’t improve.
As the BBC pays Hansen £1m a year to call the Dutch ‘thugs’ for the treatment of the Spanish – while defending the same rigorous style of play when Premier League teams get ‘stuck in’ to opponents who try to play football – then what hope is there? When Mark Lawrenson spends most of his time co-commentating in a game by complaining about what a chore it is then isn’t it time to give the job to somebody with some passion and enthusiasm who can make it interesting?
There are articulate, knowledgeable football journalists who could, if given the opportunity, improve television coverage a great deal. People who can speak English properly and use the correct tenses. Call me a snob but my toes curl every time I hear a Jamie Redknapp style mangling of the English language. There were pundits for whom English was not their first language who spoke better than some of the ‘natives’. Why shouldn’t we expect high standards, especially when they’re being paid so much money?
So, if there’s anything to be taken from the World Cup in South Africa it’s that fans want, and deserve, better from those who are given the platform to talk about the game for a living. As our knowledge of the game increases, as we learn from each other and from those with real expertise, it’s not acceptable that we get the same old schtick from guys who are too lazy and too comfortable to accept they need to keep up with the times.
As France Football’s Philippe Auclair famously commented on Arseblog’s podcast:
In Britain almost every analyst is a former player – it’s as though ‘if you were a horse you could be a jockey.’
If the World Cup in South Africa has taught us anything, it’s that it’s time to send some of these horses to the glue factory.
Bonus reading: Two Hundred Percent has a great piece about much the same thing.