The World Cup has thus far been sensational – only one scoreless half (and even it contained two disallowed goals); eleven games without a draw; controversy and incident; huge support from neighbouring countries; and some epic shocks. The refereeing has at times been short of the standard we may want, but even it has generally been very good. Innovations such as temporary paint for free kicks and goal-line technology have worked well.
Watching in the UK, only one thing has been markedly poor – the commentary!
Commentators are well paid to do a fantastic job – travel to Brazil to watch football, in this case! It shouldn’t be too much to ask for them to do it well.
Minor errors are not the end of the world, although they still shouldn’t happen – France beat South Africa 3-0 in 1998, not 1-0; Maxi Rodriguez scored a sensational winner for Argentina versus Mexico in the second round in 2006, not the quarter-final; those are two I spotted which spring to mind, and as I’m not a paid World Cup researcher I can only assume they are two of many.
The real problem, for me, is the constant quest for drama when really there is none! This was most obvious in the BBC’s attempt – on both TV and radio – to make an issue out of the perfectly proper use of goal-line technology for France’s second goal against Honduras. A shot which hit the post (“no goal”) was then just bundled over his own line by the Honduras keeper (“goal”). There was nothing complicated about that. According to the BBC, this was “controversial” and a “talking point”. It was nothing of the sort.
The co-commentators are equally guilty of course. Much was made of Phil Neville’s monotone analysis of England-Italy, which did sound dire, but at least he was analysing – i.e. adding value to the viewer by explaining runs, noting what players would be feeling, and showing where things could be changed. Almost none of the others manages this! Mark Lawrenson spends most of his time trying (and failing) to be funny while demonstrating his own ignorance of the game – for example, he thinks FIFA “make the rules” of the game, when actually the IFAB determines the laws (implicit in Lawrenson’s mockery was the notion of “Johnny Foreigner” doing daft things – the IFAB is actually half-British). Andy Townsend has a Masters in “Stating the bleedin’ obvious”. The best co-commentary on ITV, in fact, was for the Ivory Coast-Japan match – when there wasn’t one. Are they necessary? Other countries get by without them!
I do wonder about the half-time “pundits” too. Some are very good – Thierry Henry gives a fair assessment of how players feel and what his experience (as a past World Champion) is; Clarence Seedorf is very good at contradicting the nonsense prevailing; Neil Lennon has in fact been a revelation with his tactical knowledge and valuable assessments of how you try to counter world-class players as a coach. Yet, again, some are dire, adding no value or interest whatsoever. And again, are three really necessary? German TV makes do generally with one!
The biggest problem, it appears to me, is that both BBC and ITV have taken out huge teams of commentators, co-commentators and pundits, all of whose job is seemingly to confirm the first opinion given. If a decision is initially deemed “controversial”, they are all bound to agree it was controversial; if a team is initially said to have “deserved a draw”, they are all bound to agree it deserved a draw; if the commentator initially says jump…
Commentating therefore appears, in the UK at least, to be a lost art. After all, more than anything, the best commentators know when to shut up…