Thursday, November 11, 2010

MOTD Nightmare: Journalists in the Studio

There was a debate recently on Twitter over whether players are the only people qualified to properly analyze a football match on television. While the answer should be obvious (a resounding, "of course you stupid idiot!"), some journalists think that watching countless matches over several decades in different countries and continents, in professional leagues and international tournaments and friendlies, qualifies them to intelligently comment on soccer games even though they never played it, at least professionally. It's my sincere hope that the following transcript—a nightmarish vision of a horrible future in which journalists are permitted to speak about football on live television—will put this terrible notion to rest. Thank you.

James Richardson: Hello and welcome back to Match of the Day. So, quite a stunning two-nil defeat for Manchester United at the hands of the Villans, wasn't it, Jonathan Wilson.

Jonathan Wilson: Well, not to correct you James, but I do believe the game is played with your feet, not your hands.

JR: Right you are Jonathan, except if you're a goalkeeper. And during throw-ins I believe.

Michael Cox: Which, as my tactical chalkboard demonstrates, occur only if a player from the opposing team puts the ball past the white lines that run lengthwise on either side of the field.

JR: Interesting theory there, Michael Cox, something we'll be looking at later in the programme. So, Jonathan, what went wrong today with United?

JW: Well, for one, I can't for the life of me figure out why Sir Alex Ferguson didn't get his players to run a lot faster. There were several times when Nani was on the wing, running toward the ball that had been passed their in front of them by one of the back players, only for the one of the Aston Villa back players—Stephen Warnock, was it?

JR: I don't know, I never played professional football.

JW: —well, then, whoever it was, to get there first. This seems to be something you could easily fix by getting the players to run faster. More exercise maybe? Better nutritional supplements?

MC: Perhaps, but I think you're missing the real issue today, for both teams. Why were the players so spread out on the field? I mean, I've never played football myself, but it seems to me if you had all ten players charging toward the ball simultaneously, you'd exponentially increase your chances of scoring, especially in the opposing half.

JW: Exactly. And it becomes an issue in defense as well. If all the players charged at any opposing players with the ball in their half, you'd see a lot fewer goals. This seems to me to be a persistent problem in European football. Frankly, I don't know why they limit the number to eleven a side anyway. They have a whole bench of players to work, most of whom just sit there and watch the whole game.

JR: To be fair, ball crowding is a tactic that seems to be successfully emphasized at the youngest levels of the game, only for players to forget it as they get older. By the time they reach their teens, it almost seems as if they've been told to mind certain areas of the pitch.

MC: Something surely for the FA to look at. But another problem today James with United seemed to be that they weren't shooting the ball enough.

JW: I know. It was unbelievable how many times United was in possession in the Villa half and didn't shoot the ball. You could hear the press box absolutely clamouring for more shots every time United attacked.

JR: Sorry to interrupt Jonathan, but it really is amazing to me that with the size of that net being what it is—

MC: It's the size of a school bus!

JR: —that players don't just shoot it every time they get the ball in the opposing half. They would score ten goals or more per game. What is the thinking here, Jonathan?

JW: I think it speaks to a certain naivete in the English game. We're so obsessed with doing flashy, complicated things, like playing the ball to a player way over on the side of the opposing net only for him to kick the ball over toward the centre of the box in the mad hope one of their own players will score a goal off their head.

MC: It's madness, that. And frustrating from an attacking standpoint. It seems to only work something like one out of every twenty attempts. Most of the time, the defending players just head the ball the other way, or boot the ball way up in the air. It's wildly inefficient.

JW: It happens during free kicks as well, or in situations where everything seems to go according to an overly complicated passing plan only for a player to kick the ball just wide of the net. I'm sorry, but when the goal is the size of a barn, in a ninety minute match, every player should be scoring at least ten goals each per game.

JR: It's amazing how we make these points every week, and still, still! We get these dire, 2-0, 3-2 affairs.

MC: Perhaps we should start playing the game professionally, teach some of these players something about how to play football.

JW: I'll tell you right now, I would exercise way more so I could run a lot faster than other players. And I'd score more goals, easily.

JR: Okay! Next up, we look at Manchester City Birmingham, which finished 0-0.

MC: My god, another one!

JR: We'll also discuss the possible incorporation of death lasers in the Premier League, why players don't just kick the ball harder so the keeper can't stop it, and the importance of pace, power and passion in helping England's chances ahead of the 2012 Euros. Stay with us.


Anonymous said...

"I never realised that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first"

If you'd rather listen to the inarticulate ramblings of Andy Townsend or Alan Shearer rather than someone like Gabriele Marcotti then that's your decision. Just as you don't have to have been a player to manage successfully (Mourinho, Sacchi, Parreira, Avram Grant etc) nor do you for being a football analyst. You just have to know what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...

I admit that after reading "Moneyball" (a separate sport of course, but I think it is still relevant) I don't have automatic confidence in the people who play the game knowing all that much about it...

Patrick said...

Surely the person who should be appointed to provide insight and analysis on a game should be the person who is the best at the job, whether he has played the game professionally or not.

I personally think that most football coverage by the BBC shows why an ex-professional or even a current professional of the game does not necessarily make for an interesting pundit or whatever you want to call it. Especially nowadays when few professionals seem to know very much about the history or the tactics involved in the game.

Lanterne Rouge said...

All too true. Superficially though, having run into both James Richardson and Mark Lawrenson in the pub in the mid nineties (on separate occasions), I'm afraid the former was quite surly and the latter remarkably jovial
and open. Richardson is the better analyst though.