Thursday 23 August 2018

Return of the McC - Brazil v Mexico, Round of 16

July 2nd 2018 

In my last post I touched upon the potential of BBC's Guy Mowbray to alienate his colleagues in the commentary box, but over on ITV today for Brazil-Mexico, cracks were starting to show in the relationship between returning warhorses, John Champion and Ally McCoist.

Both Champion and McCoist had seemed to have had their day in the art of describing and pontificating at ITV, big game players back in The Match era (2001-2004) but later presumed missing by those of us unwilling to make the hostage payments to BT Sport. As far as I was concerned, Champion and his former ITV colleagues Peter Drury and Jim Beglin had been floating under the sea in Andy Townsend's Tactics Truck since 2010, although I was aware that McCoist had breathed some air as manager of Rangers during their Premier Division exile in the last few years.

No grudges between the channel and the returning personalities appeared to be evident as they teamed up once more for this World Cup, although this afternoon there did seem to be some needle between the artists themselves, revealing itself in some barely controlled bickering over whether Neymar's opening goal was any good or not.

"A tap in for Neymar!"  said Champion firmly.

"You say it's a tap-in, but it's actually a brilliant goal" - McCoist responded.

"A muck and nettles goal for Neymar" - Champion continued.

"I think that's a really good goal. The spin Neymar does after giving the ball to Willian and getting to the back post. He'll be delighted with that" - McCoist persevered.

"You forwards will take anything" - Champion sneered.

" I just think that's a quality goal" - McCoist sulked.    

Some might suggest the exchange merely shows a difference of opinion, but at first, Champion appears to completely ignore McCoist's alternative view, choosing to overwrite the words of someone far better qualified to discuss six-yard box toe-pokes. And from then on, both attempt to win the argument by virtue of landing the final word. Those with trained ears will testify that the debate continued in whispered form, only ended by a period of silence while Champion recovered from a wincing blow to his upper thigh.  

Up to this point, I'd wondered why the Champion and McCoist team had been preferred to, say, Drury and Beglin, but now their obvious disdain for each other made everything a lot clearer...    

ITV have long identified simmering tension, or hatred, as a winning strategy to pull in the viewers, specialising in getting people who can't stand each other to sit in the same room in front of the same cameras, laying out their mutual loathing to millions. Examples down the years come to mind quickly. In 1974, David Frost's Yorkshire TV chat show fluffed up the pillows for Brian Clough and Don Revie to hit each other with at the height of their feud over Leeds United. On a 1990 episode of Midweek Sport Special, Nick Owen presided over a pre-bout sneering contest between Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn. In 1995, during their bitter battle to control Spurs, Terry Venables and Alan Sugar were booked together on Sport in Question. At France 98, Alex Ferguson and Ian Wright were at either end of the same studio panel, as bitterness lingered over Wright's two-footed lunge on Peter Schmeichel a little over a year before. In South Africa 2010 Roy Keane was expected to tolerate not only Patrick Vieira and Jamie Carragher, but even Adrian Chiles.

The approach has worked wonders for ITV outside of sport, too, notably with Richard and Judy, while Jeremy Kyle has proved a roaring success. Other channels have followed suit, such as Channel 4 with Big Brother, while at Euro 16, BBC sat Alan Shearer alongside Neil Lennon in the same lifetime as the former's attempted decapitation on the latter, down by the Filbert Street touchline.  

In footballing terms, ITV are subscribing to 'The Conflict Model', established by Johan Cruyff as a manager, and practiced now, most famously, by Jose Mourinho, with the aim of maintaining or even ramping up the intensity at a club after a period of success, even if it means driving an array of playing and non-playing staff out of it, such as Iker Casiilas at Real Madrid and Eva Cavaneiro at Chelsea. 

In all likelihood, the Head of ITV Sport had identified an 'atmosphere' between Champion and Super Ally, something that may have developed back in the day of The Match, the much-maligned Saturday evening highlights show that I mentioned earlier. Nobody came out of  The Match unscathed, and problems were glaring from the beginning, whether it was the use of U2 to sing it in, or the farce of negligent editing that saw winning goals scored by substitutes who hadn't been introduced either technologically or verbally, and not forgetting of course, Townsend slating beaten opponents to their face in the tactics truck (a prime example of the Conflict Model), until the final indignity of the programme being outmuscled by Cilla Black, who booted it out of it's original 7pm slot so that her own angst vehicle (or truck), Blind Date, could return there with its own brand of scripted bullshit.

Perhaps Champion and McCoist had suffered as much as anyone, but their refusal to heal old wounds worked in their favour when it came to their old employers picking through the archives of double-act cast offs. Some had simply failed to keep up with modern methods, stuck in a time warp as others passed by. The relentless over-enthusiasm of Drury, and Beglin's insistence on measured observation had no truck (tactics or otherwise) with a channel that had developed such a defined philosophy.

We must wonder about the long term future of Clive Tyldesley and Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle's employment has always intrigued me, especially in relation to the sacking in 2005 of Big Ron, who I must confess, and to be fair, ended up taking the conflict model way out of context. Do ITV know that Tyldesley is vulnerable to being pricked by Hoddle's own famous belief systems? Are we simply waiting for Clive to lose his shit one night when the Godfinder feels emboldened to ram his ideals down all our throats?

Hoddle's predecessor Townsend - his equal in grammatical corner-cutting - paid for his ability to tolerate Tyldesley himself, exhausting ITV's patience with a decade of sigh-heavy, teeth-gritting professionalism amidst the pain of having the closest ear to the rehearsed, matey schtick of a man remarkable for his own longevity when so patently unpopular with viewers.

On occasion, former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland left back, Beglin had been thrown into the ring with Tyldesley, and I have always been fascinated that, like Big Ron, his fate was sealed by a semi-final. While Big Ron's "aberration" (as the culprit himself called it) had come at that stage in the Champions League (AS Monaco v Chelsea, April 2005), Beglin missed the 2010 World Cup last four tiel between Uruguay-Holland due to illness, leaving Tyldesley to go it alone, like a possibly or possibly not more irritating version of Dec without Ant. Aware of Big Ron's self-destruction alongside Tyldesley in the principality, perhaps Beglin had been struck down by jitters, like Ronaldo on the eve of the 98 World Cup Final. Unlike Ant, Beglin's disappearance from ITV wasn't played out in the public eye, and unlike Ronaldo, there hasn't been a glorious redemption (like I said, if you don't cede to pay-per-view channels). We'll probably never know the full truth, but the bitterness of the expletives he might have aimed at his once loved colleagues this afternoon, would have come sadly too late as examples of the kind of anger even the most exhaustingly happy commentators could have bounced off.

I sided with McCoist on the subject of Neymar's goal, and later appreciated his confession to "stating the obvious" when remarking that by chasing an equaliser, Mexico were leaving themselves open to being hit on the counter-attack. This self-awareness hasn't always been evident in his work, once observing that both  Deportivo La Coruna and FC Porto had players who were "comfortable on the ball". In a Champions League semi-final.

Moments later in today's match, Champion made the point that by chasing an equaliser, Mexico were leaving themselves open to being hit counter attack. McCoist responded with dignity, not making a fuss, but really John, it's one thing to take the opposite view on the merits of a goal, quite another to stop listening at all.

I was in the car going to the supermarket when Brazil secured the win right at the end, and I clenched a fist to the sound of the second goal. This one was an easy tap-in, Firmino escorting Neymar's ball into another empty net. Little to argue about for the boys there, although they'd already shown their class in making something out of nothing, and I could imagine so easily one of them making an inflammatory case for Firmino's abnormally white teeth interfering with the eyeline of the goalkeeper.



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