Monday, June 28, 2010

How the BBC can start saving English football. Today.

While we wait - probably in vain - for the people who run football to take the measures that should be taken to improve our national game, there is one thing that could be done which might make a far-reaching difference to football in this country and it could be done by the BBC before lunchtime today.

They should change Match of The Day.

Obviously MOTD was not responsible for yesterday's mugging but it does set the critical climate in which football is judged in this country. In this it has been responsible for encouraging complacency. Match of The Day is contractually obliged to say that the Premier League is the best in the world but its editorial stance could stand to be more sceptical without over-trying the patience of the armchair fan.

Are these handful of home-grown players the programme scrutinises every week really "world class" or are they just good players made to look better by the foreign players alongside them? Why can none of our honest yeomen midfielders beat their opposite number? Why don't we have defenders who can go forward with the ball? Why do so many of our top players seem so frightened? Shouldn't we be looking at the number of successful passes players complete in the course of a game rather than making an assessment based on one telegenic moment?

The guys who currently appear on MOTD could be sent round the world for a year to broaden their horizons and improve their golf. They could be replaced by pundits who:
a) have something fresh to say
b) will say it without worrying about being cut dead at the next football managers dinner
c) have played the game as it is played today
d) are capable of getting indignant about something other than Sepp Blatter and the introduction of goal-line technology.

What these people say and, more importantly, don't say has an effect on what the average person thinks. This particularly applies to all those football-mad kids who get their idea of the gold standard from its analysis. Yesterday was not just a question of a few great players performing under par. It was more like an entire star system being, in the words of the Nick Lowe song, nutted by reality. The people who helped create that star system should be brought to account.

Danny Baker's guest appearance on the programme during the World Cup was very amusing but mainly notable for the way the rest of the panel sucked in their breath as if he had been guilty of breaching parliamentary privilege. "It's all right," he said to Shearer. "It's football. You can say what you like."


  1. Shearer was particularly weird on that occasion when Danny Baker appeared, even suggesting (all in jest I'm sure) that DB was drunk! "I'll have a pint of what he's had".

    At the time I thought it was just natural discomfort/jealousy that an articulate individual had been brought in, but maybe you're right that there's something else at work there.

    Anyway, time for the English Lion, like Bagpuss, to go to sleep and dream again.

  2. Hansen, Shearer and Dixon went on at great length about how useless the England team were and my first thought was how they'll be lauding the same players come August once the Premiership starts again.
    As for Sky, as they didn't broadcast it, this never happened and so they'll be at it even more come August.

  3. You've hit the nail on the head, the media constantly create this notion that England have world class players. Of course Milner looks good against Paul Konchesky, Defoe looks good against Bramble and Gerrard looks fantastic against my lot West Ham. But it doesnt make them world class, it makes them the best of a fairly average lot.
    We dont have players who can consitently pass to feet, or read a game that well or that have much creative ability.
    Go and watch English kids play in the park and then watch some European kids ...the difference is vast.
    The problem goes back to school football and coaching from that age onwards, there is a premium on pace and athleticism, being big etc,would Messi have made it in English football, or Ozil for that fact? There is little emphasis on techniqhue, balance, reading the game etc.
    Until we sort out coaching from an early age we are doomed to be blessed with a bunch of clodhoopers who boot it anywhere or bomb down the wing and lump it into the centre in the hope that someone will make a mistake.
    Its been going on for nearly 40 years are we really that surprised? Lampard and Gerrard will still be called world class when the quality of opposition is so poor.

  4. I'd never really thought of MotD's sofa complacency being culpable, but the part it plays in fostering our reckless optimism seems plain now you've pointed it out, David.

    Now the elephant in the room: Sky. Its influence in the way the Premier League is regarded is surely greater than MotD's. It bankrolls the Premier League, its football-driven subscriptions are cruicial to News International's profits.

    Hands up everyone who thinks a new era of critical appraisal is about to dawn.

  5. It's a self perpetuating problem. If pundits, and footballers for that matter, said what they actually thought then they know in all likelihood that any slightly controversial statement would end up being a unwanted saga in news the following week. Just look what happened when John Terry spoke his mind before the Slovenia game. So they don't say anything that goes against the grain. The media then moan that footballers don't say anything interesting while at the same time trying to spin any mild comment into a headline...and we're back to square one.

  6. If you missed it earlier, click on this morning's Today programme:
    Fast forward to 2Hr-26mins and hear Chris Waddle let rip. He may not be eloquence personified, but there'll be a few FA pen pushers squirming in their seats after hearing this.

  7. I assume the BBC paid quite a lot of money to broadcast the Premiership and other football. They are therefore unlikely to want the MOTD presenters saying "actually this is not very good, maybe we should show the Scottish league matches (or the French or Spanish)". Arguably the same thing happens with the Glastonbury coverage. I happened to be in the UK last week and saw some of the coverage after the Slovenia game. The promoting of England as potential World Cup winners went beyond national pride in supporting your country to almost delusion. The huge expectation probably does not help the players either.

  8. The MotD pundits and the Sky and, for the matter, the ITV boys... they're all part of the footie 'clique' and are unlikely to objectively criticise the very players/managers they'll be on the golf course with a few days later.
    I've felt for a long time that the British pundits are far more critical and scathing of foreign players and coaches because they are less likely to bump into them on 'the circuit' than they are the domestic professionals.
    The first time the MotD team started to get real was after the Germany game when it was obvious that the Emperor was naked. But, even then, Shearer and co looked far more comfortable talking about Capello's culpability than that of the players.
    Before that the discussions were all along the lines of 'yes, we haven't quite got it right yet but once we do we could/will win the World Cup'.

  9. Good discussion. I have to disagree in part with the idea that the problem goes into grass roots kids football. Every effort has been made to coach kids in the right way - pass, read the game, love the ball - it comes across in every course and every tome the FA produce. Trevor Brooking deserves some credit for that. And apparently the under 17s are very good.
    Spain and Holland are cited as positive examples of youth development, but their style at the this tournament has been direct and high impact.

  10. The fact, difference to football in this country and it could be done by the BBC, is good and also the points are just great and brilliant.


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