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Tuesday, 09 October 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: The headline acts of El Clasico put on one hell of a show


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Here’s one for you. On the eve of each new football campaign, which match whets the appetite most? Liverpool vs United? Spurs against Arsenal? The Steel City derby? Personally for me, it’s the prospect of any match in which Mario Balotelli will come up against anybody as deranged as he; Craig Bellamy maybe, Lee Cattermole, the Millwall squad? For most though I suspect the answer could be any of the seasoned rivalries steeped in unforgettable moments, iconic clashes and contentious folly. Of course all of these ingredients are plentiful in perhaps the derby game of each season over in Spain and El Clasico.

In many ways, Sky’s Spanish football coverage is not dissimilar to the regular stuff. There’s the same over-hyped rigmarole in the pre-match packages; the same dramatic montages of Ronaldo and co. gurning their way through football matches, the same epic orchestral soundtrack accompanying the drama, the same frenetic energy fizzing its way into your living room. Indeed the only Sky staple it lacks is the yelping cry of Martin Tyler bursting your ear drums.

But why would we need Tyler and his patented screech? The Spanish action has at its helm another icon of English football. Ex-Chelsea and West Ham left back and deserved owner of 6 England U21 caps Scott Minto finds himself being the designated Spanish football expert at Sky, presumably because he had a spell at Benfica in his playing days and whilst strictly not a “Spanish” team, it’s pretty close innit? Whatever the reason, he’s a safe pair of hands for the live coverage. As was his guest for Sunday’s Barcelona vs. Real Madrid clash on Sunday, Roberto Martinez. Again, probably not the first pundit to pop into your head when thinking of names to analyse the two best club teams in the world right now. Martinez’ shtick is not currently at the elite level of European football, but boy does that fella know how to set up a small unfashionable Northern side to finish 17th in the league. Oh yes.

Predictably, Senor Scott was ramping up the excitement as best he could at 6.30 on a Sunday evening, that stomach-churning time of the week when the vast majority of us are trying to dream up new reasons to phone in sick in the morning. Minto rightly reminded us of the huge significance of El Clasico and exclaimed that it “brings Spain to a standstill”. Er Scott, I know you’re technically a Benfica boy, but the reason Spain is at a standstill is actually because the country has about £17.58 left in the kitty and apart from the stadium announcer at the Nou Camp, no-one else in the country has a job.

Nevermind though, the people of Spain, and indeed our own floating scrapheap of a country could forget our woes for one night only in the battle of the Gods. There were huge match-ups across the teams: Messi vs. Ronaldo, Xavi vs. Alonso, Ozil vs. Iniesta, and perhaps most crucial of all, Mourinho vs. erm… the bloke who’s now in charge of Barcelona. You know, not Pep Guardiola, Tito something. Mourinho poked him in the eye once, you know who I mean. Yes him.  

Of course, it was only one of these titanic twosomes that really captured the eye. The unyielding battle for supremacy between the twin goliaths of World football. Two remarkable, outrageous talents locked in an eternal duel to proclaim themselves the greatest of all time, fated to forever cross swords and attempt to clamber on the other’s shoulders. Nope, not Scott Minto and Roberto Martinez, the headline acts were Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Alpha and Omega, black and white, Batman and the Joker; these two mercurial masters are the two sides of a gleaming coin, always endeavouring to outdo the other, to wrestle the crown from one another’s grasp; to call themselves number one. And wouldn’t you know it, Sunday’s El Clasico saw stand out performances from both as the two rivals each bagged a brace in a breathless and entertaining 2-2 draw.

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Such was the fever during the game, Minto admitted that he and Martinez were “simply drooling” at half time. Steady on lads, it’s a family show, keep it clean. But it’s certainly difficult to remain composed during these massive Spanish games. The best players in the world, in front of the largest audiences, putting on the most spectacular of shows. We may claim the Premier League is the world’s pre-eminent competition, but for a couple of nights each season, we are eclipsed and left in the shade as the warring Spanish bulls lock horns and show us all in England, we still have a way to go.

There was a major palaver over on Channel 5’s ongoing PR exercise for John Henry Being Liverpool last Friday. After a laborious and uncertain day for Joe Allen as his protracted move from Swansea to the Reds was finally concluded, the Welsh starlet then faced his most arduous challenge - choosing his shirt number. I genuinely thought that most players, and particular the manager, couldn’t give a toss about the numerical alias adorning their shirt but Brendan Rodgers almost called the entire club to a halt to thrash out this vital detail. Asking for the opinion of everybody from the player himself to the cleaner, the exhaustive quandary was finally resolved with the decision to choose number 24, presumably because that’s how many hours it took to reach this most futile of outcomes.

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Chris Pettitt

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