Wednesday, 30 June 2010

South Africa 2010 - Balls, Horns and Beglin.

Over the past few weeks, the feast of footballing action we have been treated to in South Africa has been enjoyable, if never quite astounding. The first week and a half was slow and without doubt a tad deflating. The anticipated onslaught of dramatic all-action clashes has never really transpired and instead the less skillful teams parked the bus and sought to frustrate their rivals in the hope of nicking a point.

As a Stoke fan, this was definitely not what I wanted. I have to deal with that all season. I had a good 8 months of last ditch defending and ten men behind the ball, this was meant to be an upgrade.

Truth be told, this World Cup has proven to be a little disappointing, with few quality games or memorable goals to speak of thus far. Coupled with England's timid, ineffective and, well, shit performance (more on this later), it makes for a slightly underwhelming tournament as a whole.

That being said, it's still a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a balmy summer month. When it comes to World Cup's, much like with an orgasm or a pizza, even your worst is better than none at all.

With that in mind, here are a few observations on the Tournament so far.

1/ Jubulani

Oh god shut up. Please just shut the hell up about this sodding ball. For two and a half weeks, not a game could go by without the commentator or his "expert" companion uttering something along the lines of, "there's the much-discussed Jabulani in action."

The only people it is much discussed by are you pundits and the odd journalist running low on ideas. No one else really cares. You can't just not shut up about something and then say it's much talked about. That's just cheating.

Granted, every now and then, when Ronaldo blast a free kick over, or Frank sends another one into a wall, we viewers may mutter "maybe it is the ball after all." That's about it though. To us mere mortals, who regularly play football with balls of varying weight, size and suitability, it seems like it's being blown fairly largely out of proportion.

I'm in no doubt whatsoever, that this new ball is different to previous ones, is somehow more rounder (what shape were they before?), and is more difficult to keep down. These are professional footballers however, who have had many weeks to train with it and master it's flights of fancy. If they can't control it, tough tits, it's a round bit of leather, I'm sure you'll make do.

If the ball was suddenly a trapezoid shape or decorated with a ceremonial spike, then yes, we'd discuss it at great length and offer the players a degree of sympathy. As it is, to trot out an old cliche, it's the same for both teams, now get on with it.

2/ Corners

Is it just me or has this tournament seen an unusually large amount of corners hit the first man. Some experts may blame Jab-u-fuckin-lani, yet surely if anything, we should be seeing an excess of corners flying aimlessly over the despairing heads of the crowded penalty area? Obviously this still happens, but the vast majority of corners (based on absolutely no stats whatsoever) seem to crash into the first man.

Are we to believe the cream of the Worlds footballing talent  haven't learned how much oomph to put on the ball yet?

There is nothing more frustrating than when there's mere seconds left on the clock, your corner specialist waves the entire team forward into the box, spends a good 30 seconds ensuring the ball is perfectly positioned just outside the designated corner segment, and puts all those hours of practice into action, by whipping the ball in a foot above the ground straight to the grateful defender on the near post.

It's still pretty annoying when you have absolutely no connection to the teams involved.

I have no great insight here, or even a suggestion as to what may be the solution to this glut of crapness. It's just an observation. Hopefully the world's finest will figure out how to lift this fiendish ball soon enough.

3/  Vuvuzela

It's not a unique slice of footballing culture, it's an irritating drone. The only drone that's more annoying is from the people who go on about how it's nice to hear something different at football and how it's greatly preferable to drunken louts chanting obscenities for 90 minutes.

You're wrong and clearly should never be allowed to attend football matches again.

You can't get any sense of atmosphere due to the incessant buzz of the horns of doom, and one of the purest joys of watching football, the collective singing of fans, has been drowned out.

"But it's part of the South African culture!" You may cry. Well, tough. Crowd violence and Chris Kamara are both part of ours but we don't inflict them on the rest of the world............. any more.

Thankfully, the drone has seemingly lessened as the tournament  has progressed, partly due to the decline in interest once South Africa got knocked out, and also partly because it would appear the BBC and ITV have figured out some way to lower the din in their mix.

Eventually we all got grudgingly used to the noise I suppose, and it didn't by any means ruin the tournament. That being said, it sure as hell didn't make it any better either.

If you bring one to an English football match next season, you should be tarred and feathered and banned for life. Though I fear if you blow it in the wrong bloke's ear, you may be subject to a slice of our home grown footballing culture and require a Vuvuzela-ectomy after the game. Unbelievable Jeff.

4/ ITV and The BBC

A friend of mine recently wrote in to ITV, covering his feelings towards their standard of commentary during the World Cup so far.

This sums up my general feeling perfectly. ITV's commentary has regularly been shockingly bad during this tournament. Peter Drury and Clive Tyldesley seem to be competing for who can make the most cringe worthy and irrelevant comment.

There grating partners in crime, Messrs Townsend, Burly and *shudder* Beglin, aren't much better. I've heard more informative insight into football from my own mother. Somebody has clearly told Townsend at some point that he is a footballing expert, as every time he once again succeeds in stating the bleeding obvious, he does so in that smug satisfied manner of his. He really believes he's doling out choice cuts of knowledge that we should all take on board and spend a few minutes digesting. He is most definitely wrong. Burley meanwhile just seems constantly aggrieved, at everything. As for Jim Beglin, well, Beglin is just Beglin. How this man ever got a job as a football commentator is beyond me. What's even more shocking though is how someone who played football professionally can have such a poor grasp on the game and it's rules.

Chiles does an OK job of keeping up the banter back in the studio, but he's lumbered with a fairly dour set of comrades. He's got Edgar Davids, who is fairly astute in his observations but has all the charisma of a soggy lettuce. Patrick Vieira who is the same, but without the astute observations. Marcel Desailly who's trying to pull a full on Townsend [To Townsend: To play for one county and then seemingly associate yourself with another when they start doing well] and convince us he's suddenly Ghanaian. You made your French bed Marcel, there's no going back now. Then there's Kevin Keegan, who's never been known for his tactical know-how and is surely only one bad England game away from quitting the ITV studio out of principle. Gareth Southgate is the most bearable of the bunch, and even he is over shadowed by his frankly maverick selection of garish pink shirts.

The BBC fairs far better, with the holy trinity of Shearer, Hansen and Lineker masterfully controlling things back at HQ.  Somehow their insights are just far more interesting and informative than their ITV contemporaries, and even their subs bench packs a far greater punch.

Lee Dixon is slowly coming of age, and they even have the better ex-Dutch midfielder in the effortlessly smooth Clarence Seedorf.  Roy Hodgson speaks the most sense any pundit has ever spoken ever. Even Gabby Logan's incessant flirting with Fabio is bearable in moderation.

The commentators themselves are a decent enough bunch, Guy Mowbray and Jonathan Pearce lead the charge, replacing the old guard of Barry Davies and Motty with great ease and luckily Pearce has curbed the excitable tendencies of his fledgling early FIVE days. Lawro is as strangely entertaining as ever, and Mark Bright is always pleasant enough to listen to, especially when he completely misses an incident and then has to retract his comment seconds later after seeing the replay. This happens at least once a game. "I think the goalie got a touch there didn't he Guy? That should be a corner. ..........Oh, no, the Ref was spot on, my mistake." Bless him.

The beeb has only two drawbacks for me. One is the inclusion of Emmanuel Adebayor, who's dwindling presence in the BBC HQ is I hope down to the slow realisation by BBC chiefs that not only does he speak unfeasibly fast, but he doesn't really say anything of any great note when you can make it out.

The main blot on their copybook however comes in the gruff, no-nonsense form of Mick McCarthy. Now, up until this tournament I'd not minded big Mick. He calls a spade a spade (and not in a Ron Atkinson type way), and is on occasion refreshingly honest. Yet, some of my friends could not stand the man, and when his name was announced as the commentator for one of the early games, they both groaned in unison. I offered a weak argument in Mick's favour, and we sat back to watch the game. After half an hour at most, I was completely won round to their side.

How had I been so blind before. What a right royal pain in the arse he is. Unrelentingly downbeat and negative. I swear if he'd have been commentating on Maradona's glorious goal in the 1986 World Cup, he'd of let out an exacerbated sigh and muttered "truth be told he's showboating a little there, and that is truly terrible defending." Owen's solo effort against the Argies in 1998, "It's about time the lad did something."  And Bank's save from Pele, "At the end of the day he should be saving that. One for the camera's there." The man has made being unrelentingly unimpressed an art form. Also, he doesn't seem to understand that just because he tells it like it is, doesn't make 'it' true. Every dour observation he makes is insisted with a misguided severity, while any argument to the otherwise is viewed as mere naivety.  Oh, and to top it all off he's the Wolves manager too. Shut up Mick.

So, the BBC wins the battle of the terrestrial pundits, with some ease. I still long for the friendly warmth of Jeff and the gang though. Oh imagine the fun they'd have....

5/ Lucio

You're 6 ft 2 and built like a brick shit house, get up.

Next up....England, where did it all go wrong.

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