Monday 10 June 2019

Champions League Final exposes folly of BT Sport squad strength

So here we finally were, almost in pre-season territory, as the 3rd and 4th placed teams in the 17/18 Premier League faced each other in the 18/19 Champions League Final.

"No one expected us to be here" Tottenham Hotspur boss, Mauricio Pochettino/Danny Dyer had said after both the quarter final and semi final aggregate draw wins, unwittingly suggesting that lack of expectation and pressure  had helped them reach the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. But his biggest conundrum of the European journey now awaited him: How to win the Final on away goals?

Pochettino/Dyer's idea to outscore the opposition was to recall star striker Harry Kane, some 53 days after his last appearance in the quarter final. This surprised some, who believed that this amount of time had actually separated the last semi final and the Final.

Meanwhile, up in the BT Sport studio, the Tottenham head of Glenn Hoddle and Liverpool eyes of Michael Owen, together with Rio Ferdinand and the 'impartial' Gary Lineker as presenter, represented three winners of European Finals (Hoddle didn't play in either leg of Tottenham's UEFA Cup Final win in 1984). Ferdinand, Champions League winner with Manchester United in 2008, said he would have been "delighted" to play against a centre forward not fully fit like Kane, while Owen, UEFA Cup winner in 2001, said Kane had to play because "It's Harry Kane!"

In fairness to Owen, he was not just being empathetic to a fellow injury prone No.9 ("Injured forward's union!"), but mindful of not being too hard on Pochettino/Dyer, who's leg he'd dived over to win England a winning penalty against Argentina in 2002 World Cup. He needn't have worried, though, as Pochetinno/Dyer has put the experience to good use, earning Tottenham twelve extra points a season via the theatrics of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli and Kane himself.

The BT Sport commentary box boasted more European silverware, former Liverpool player Steve McManaman a goalscorer in Real Madrid's 2001 Champions League success when they successfully defended the trophy, while main commentator, Darren Fletcher, shared the same name as the Scottish, Manchester United midfielder who won the Champions League in 2008. The other person speaking over the action was Jermaine Jenas.

For at least one viewer taking advantage of the free streaming of the Final through BT Sport's YouTube channel, the choice of main commentator (as well as one of the co-commentators) was strange, considering the embarrassment of riches at BT Sport's disposal via the famous ITV feeder school. That one viewer at least was under the impression that the mass exodus of names either playing second fiddle or escaping from Clive Tyldesley had all fled to BT Sport, even if the jobs weren't available. But tonight, there wasn't a Champion or a Beglin or a Drury or a McCoist or a Townsend in sound.

Jon Champion, for one, seemed tailor-made for the occasion, or perhaps not, if you refer to my opening paragraph. It just seemed - to that one temporary viewer at least - that the offering of Fletcher and Jenas was, for the occasion, a bit, well, Friday Night Social. Would Nikki Chapman be given the job of voice over for a Royal Wedding? Ben Shepherd, General Election coverage?

Perhaps to compensate for bringing mere unfulfilled potential to the table, Jenas became the most outspoken of the three commentary box occupants during the game, and as early as the second minute started laying in to a Tottenham team significantly more progressive than any of their teams he played in. Kane, Trippier and Sissoko (understandably, to be fair) were hung out to dry in the dissection of Liverpool's opening goal from the penalty spot.

Throughout the following 88 minutes, Jenas asked himself some strong questions in relation to the apparently under-par performances on the field: "Is it the occasion?" he pondered, "the three week break?" "the heat?" His failure to know the answer didn't stop him from slaying Son Heung Min for not showing enough "patience" when running towards goal in the first half.

Jenas's disapproval of these people performing at the summit of the club game was reminiscent of Mark Bright tutting at Brazillians during 2006 World Cup and claiming at South Africa 2010 that "I've seen Messi live three times and he hasn't played well once". I would counter, and indeed did so at the time, that I'd seen Bright play anonymously a handful of times and had never seen a more terrible open goal miss than his one in the 1993 FA Cup Final replay for Sheffield Wednesday against Arsenal.

McManaman was far better placed to comment on running through on goal, of course, but BT Sport and BBC are reaping the benefits right now of a golden generation of mediocre but articulate ex Tottenham players, such as Jenas, Danny Murphy and Michael Brown, with Tim Sherwood showing up occasionally to remind people he's out there.   

Half time in the studio obliged Rio Ferdinand to play the adjudicator, as Hoddle and Owen disagreed over the penalty award in favour of their teams, while Lineker - not one to shy away from matters involving Europe - implied that Liverpool had got a "lucky break". Rio, vastly experienced in these squabbles with three children under ten, closed the case with the damning verdict that Sissoko had "given the ref a decision to make". While Lineker took Rio's verdict with some decorum, Hoddle appeared to mumble "Yeah, like Baku giving UEFA a decision to make".

With Liverpool outstripping both their original ticket allocation and Tottenham's number in the stadium, the Never Walk Alone's were just too strong for that song Spurs fans have nicked off Southampton. Southampton fans sitting at home brooding over Tottenham not only taking their manager but their greatest hit, know that any lawsuit will fall short owing to the North Londoners' use of "the Spurs" rather than "the Saints", but the Spurs should be more gracious in this situation. They were once the victims themselves when Manchester United, sweating over a Cup Final song in 1983, pilfered 'Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur' from Tottenham Hotspur and adapted it to 'Glory, Glory Man United'. 

Although Jenas tried to even up the Tottenham leaning with a few mentions of "Mauricio", It was Divock Origi, in the mould of David Fairclough, who settled the game with his most memorable goal yet as a sub.  And so, for the second successive time in their six time Champions Cup/League winning history, Liverpool win it without having been champions the previous season. And yet, should they successfully defend it next season, surely no one should listen to the cold hearts (of Man Utd and Man City fans mostly) devaluing their triumph after a 97 point failing.

"And rightly so, Fletch", even Jenas would surely agree.     




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