Tom English: 'The level of punditry is patronising and insulting'
IT'S FAIR to say that it's not just ITV that has taken some stick for some of their coverage at this World Cup, particularly the coverage of the tournament's lesser lights. The BBC have been getting it in the neck as well. To give you an example, what I'm talking about here is things like Alan Shearer's self-proclaimed "expert analysis" that amounts to a conveyor belt of cliches and the kind of insight that even a child of six would describe as laughable.
• Alan Shearer deserves criticism for lack of research and overall enthusiasm as a BBC pundit.
Before the Algeria versus Slovenia game in Group C on Sunday, Shearer seemed to be speaking for the entire BBC panel when he said, "Our knowledge of these two teams is limited." Limited! What the former England striker was saying was that he hadn't done his homework, that he hadn't spoken to any of his vast array of contacts in the game, hadn't tapped into the BBC's huge research machinery, hadn't even bothered, seemingly, to peruse the internet for some background on Algeria and Slovenia or even flick through a newspaper or a magazine. Shearer was content to sit in front of the cameras and tell the viewers that, really, he didn't know much. Hardly a revelation to those of us who have groaned our way through his anodyne commentaries in the past, but embarrassing all the same.
Why do the BBC deem that acceptable? Why is Shearer not taken aside and told, 'Listen, if you can't be bothered doing some research on this game then get lost'. It's a different, and entirely more professional story, on radio where the wonderful 5 Live and, closer to home, the award-winning Radio Scotland present their football coverage in a proper fashion. How does Shearer (but not just Shearer) get away with opting out like that?
And here's another one. The Beeb got carpeted by some viewers for their treatment of that Algeria game. So what happened before the kick-off in yesterday's lunch-time match between New Zealand and Slovakia? In a six-and-a-half minute introduction just one player out of the 22 on show was given a name-check, and here is how it happened.
Lee Dixon: "Slovakia have got some decent players, Hamsik, the pick of them. Young player, plays on the left side."
Gary Lineker: "He's at Napoli."
Lee Dixon: "That's right."
Alan Hansen (chuckling): "Somebody gave you him, by the way."
What Hansen meant, I think, was that his colleagues must have been fed the Hamsik reference by another party, that they couldn't have come up with his name all by themselves. It's not like Dixon or Lineker produced a dossier of facts about Hamsik, a file of information on who he is and where he has been. All they did was mention his name and the fact that he was rather good. That was it. Hansen seemed to think this was worthy of a gently-mocking put-down, as if the other two were some kind of class swots. As such, he was almost revelling in his own ignorance.
There's a lot of this going about, on BBC and ITV. The level of punditry is cringe-making. It's lowest common denominator stuff. Patronising and insulting, much of it. Emmanuel Adebayor's mobile phone started ringing in his pocket live on air the other day. His respect for the viewers didn't even amount to him making sure the thing was switched off. Edgar Davids has been unintelligible, Gareth Southgate hasn't said one interesting thing, Kevin Keegan has been nothing more than a cheerleader for England and Andy Townsend has been his usual bland self, trotting out statements of the obvious with a rapid-fire gusto. "I tell you what, for me, he's gotta hit the target from there!"
And you are paid how much, Andy?
Clarence Seedorf was in the BBC studio the other night for the Italy versus Paraguay match and he was making a point about the positive impact an Italian substitute had made on the game. He was referring to Antonio Di Natale, winner of more than 30 caps for the Azzurri and the leading goalscorer in Serie A in the season just gone, but Seedorf couldn't remember his name. Hadn't a clue. Neither did the blokes alongside him, Hansen among them. "He was the No 10," said a smiling Seedorf, who then reached for a team-sheet on the desk for help before realising that it was the Dutch team-sheet. "That's no use," he laughed. Indeed, Clarence.
Hansen thought this was priceless. "That might be highlight of the World Cup so far," he trumpeted. The programme ended and still nobody had figured out that the No 10 was Di Natale. You would hope that behind the scenes the BBC producers were holding their heads in their hands with embarrassment, but you wouldn't bank on it. Of course, in the squirm factor stakes there are many challengers. Mick McCarthy claimed just before kick-off in the Argentina versus Nigeria game that he'd only just realised that the Juan Sebastian Veron that appeared on his team-sheet was the same Veron who'd played for Manchester United and Chelsea. Quite a statement of ignorance, that.
In fairness to McCarthy, he does have something to offer in his reading of the game. It's just that there is so much that makes you wince in between. What we're getting a lot of from both sides is glib nonsense, crap jokes and crass stereotyping. Adrian Chiles is flavour of the month on ITV, but his popularity is not what it was. It wasn't his fault that ITV HD pressed the wrong button at the wrong time during England's opening game and missed Steven Gerrard's goal, but Chiles has been distinctly unconvincing in the anchor role. He wants to be the funny man when the job demands gravitas. He wants to throw in one-liners when he should be attempting to spearhead a proper discussion about a match.
His introduction to England's game against the Americans was mortifying. Wielding a baseball bat and sending a message to America, he said, "Just stick to your sports, why don't you?" Chiles was also seen patting a burger, adding: "We really love Americans, just wouldn't eat a whole one." He made himself look like a clown.
Keegan's summing-up: "It was a very, very good performance, good enough to win any game." This classic piece of Keegan claptrap should have been jumped upon and ripped apart for the nonsensical garbage that it was, but it sailed through pretty much. Chiles doesn't do confrontation – neither does the BBC – and it's a terrible weakness. There is no edge, no passion. It's all so bloody harmless and dull.
ITV needed somebody with a backbone to turn around to Keegan and say to him, 'Okay Kevin, what you're saying there is a load of junk. Explain how getting a draw against a team of journeymen like America is very good, explain the selection of James Milner out of position, explain why the rank ordinary Shaun Wright-Phillips was brought on instead of the classy Joe Cole, explain the failure of Gerrard and Frank Lampard to function together yet again, explain why this negated Wayne Rooney's impact'. Kev didn't do any of that, though.
There are many days ahead when our intelligence will be insulted by "expert analysts" who speak to us like simpletons who've just staggered home from the pub. We could do a lot worse than hitting the mute button from here on in. Or getting the commentary off the radio.
For news, reports and video from South Africa, visit scotsman.com/worldcup2010
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