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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Team GB and the BBC could do with heroes like Neymar and the incredible Hulk


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I don’t know about you, but even though the Olympics are yet to actually begin, I’m pretty sick of them already. I’m fed up of seeing clowns from the Government on Sky News demanding that the underclass should stop complaining that they can’t afford a pint of milk and just swoon in admiration at the prospect of London’s exclusive jamboree. I’m growing weary of ‘inspirational’ adverts featuring Jessica Ennis telling me that Lurpak butter is the reason she wins whatever sport she actually plays. And as for that bloody torch; it’s spent more time clogging up Britain’s B-roads than a tractor with a knackered Sat Nav.

Safe to say then, that London 2012 hasn’t quite captured my imagination. Except of course, the strange allure of the Great Britain football team. A sort of ungodly experiment in which a set of disparate and desperate characters have been bonded together in an unnatural alliance.  So we have the best (?!?) young players from the home nations playing alongside each other beneath the historic Union Jack, reaching for Olympic Gold under the tutelage of sometime psycho Stuart Pearce. Well, we got our first peek at the harnessed potential of the British Isles on Friday as Team GB took on the might of Brazil in their first and only warm-up match before the Games begin. And after watching I think it’s safe to say that we can probably put our gold polish away.

As they’ve been reminding you since about 2007, the only place to watch the London games is on the BBC and MOTD: Great Britain vs Brazil had a desirable prime time spot to capture everybody’s gaze. Unfortunately for those watching on, the producers literally found the mouldy old barrel lurking next to the bins outside the BBC studios and scraped the rancid bottom to pull out their broadcasting team for the game, and maybe for all Olympic football. Garth Crooks, Robbie Savage, Jonathan Pearce and Mark Bright - the biggest collection of non-descript buffoons since the last series of Celebrity Big Brother were running their critical eyes over Stuart Pearce’s fledgling squad. And their analysis was as shoddy and unconvincing as the team’s performance itself.

Garth, as ever, barked his observations around the studio like an over-zealous drill sergeant. He doesn’t so much explain his comments in a succinctly cohesive way, more as a series of verbal explosions and a hail of syllables that leave your ears in a state of exhaustion. He also didn’t seem to mind talking down to host Gabby Logan: “you’re absolutely right Gabby” he frequently uttered with more than a hint of a patronising tone – ‘yes darlin’, Neymar is a good player, well done’.  Still, at least Garth has some semblance of football intellect. Savage, sat next to him, adorned in garish red trousers was unable to provide any useful contribution to proceedings. The height of his expertise was when he correctly pointed out that he played alongside Ryan Giggs for Wales. Yes darlin’, well done.

As for the performance on the pitch, it was a wearyingly familiar spectacle for fans of all the home nation sides. Team GB looked disjointed, technically stunted and tactically naïve against a far superior Brazil squad. Sure, Pearce’s team is bound to look a touch artless and wet behind the ears; they lack Brazil’s luxury of familiarity and team spirit and certainly don’t possess talent like Neymar and Hulk. But for heaven’s sake, GB’s deficiencies enabled Man Utd’s chaotically manic Rafael to look like an assured defending rock. Elsewhere, Micah Richards’ clumsy wrenching down of Hulk for a first half penalty perhaps goes some way to explaining Roy Hodgson’s squad decision a few months ago.

It was only one game. It was the first time Team GB had played together in front of a crowd. It was against the favourites for Olympic Gold. So the prospects are perhaps not as bleak as they seem. Stuart Pearce does have talent at his disposal; Giggs, Bellamy, Ramsey and Sturridge are quality players that will pose problems for the weaker teams in the tournament. But Friday’s friendly did highlight how far behind our British players are when compared to the technically-gifted nations like Brazil and Spain. It also highlights why Pearce himself may have to concede that his current role of Team GB manager may well be the dizziest height he will scale in International football. It is clear that the FA have well-founded doubts over his tactical nous, and despite his brief role as caretaker manager for the England team earlier this year, his assumed coronation planned under Capello’s reign looks further and further away. A Gold medal in London though wouldn’t harm his CV.

So, BBC’s Olympic summer starts with an uneven performance in the football, both on the pitch and off it. If they do persevere with the MOTD line up including Crooks, Savage and the rest; then prepare for coverage that’s bloated, irritating, self-congratulatory and a massive waste of money. Mind you, that at least has a neat symmetry for London 2012 in general.  


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Chris Pettitt

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