That’s it, for another four years. Football fans feverishly channel surf, wondering why there are no longer three televised games a day. Casual fans awake from a reverie and wonder what came over them, and who bought that replica shirt? Others will audibly groan with relief and declare ‘I survived’. But for this football fan, it’s time to look back at the previous month and discover what the beautiful game has taught me this World Cup.
Okay, so many of the games weren’t actually that great in terms of spectacle, but there was a hell of a lot of technical ability on display, despite the World game’s Galácticos almost singularly failing to perform. This World Cup was about team-work, hard work and tactics, as evidenced by the four sides that reached the final, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Uruguay. It was also the tournament where the 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding midfielders, came to popular attention.
Watching the games at home in the UK, I have to say the BBC and ITV’s coverage of this World Cup has been nothing short of shameful. Both channels picked their pundits from a pool of former professionals and failed managers, none of whom appear to have any interest in, or knowledge of football. The BBC’s Hansen, Shearer and Lineker were breezily cheerful about the fact they didn’t care about games not featuring the ‘big guns’, and when asked for their analysis declared they knew ‘not much about this team’, as if Algeria or Slovenia usually played their football in a parallel dimension. I initially attempted to watch every match, even those I missed due to work, by viewing recordings or delayed transmissions, but I was forced to stop watching Cameroon versus Japan due to Alan Lawrenson’s overwhelming negativity. "This is boring", he whined, like a petulant child.
Meanwhile, over on ITV, the ever reliable Clive Tyldelsey was displaying his complete lack of knowledge and understanding, not just of football, but the world in general. He sagely noted the Spanish players weren’t singing their instrumental national anthem before the quarter-final, and attributed it to nerves. The rise in popularity of Twitter has changed the world, perhaps in a small way, but it’s given the man in the street a way to express himself he’s never had before. Indeed, in many ways it has given the every person a modicum of power they’ve never had before. The Daily Mail in Britain has already experienced this first hand; after the ‘Twitterverse’ reacted unfavourably to an opinion piece they’d run on Stephen Gateley, several companies withdrew lucrative advertising with the newspaper. At the World Cup, it was comforting to look at the trending topics and see that others were as frustrated with the coverage they were watching as I was; I can only hope the BBC and ITV have monitored the social networking sites during the tournament, and taken our collective opinions on board. Heaven knows they don’t pay much heed to letters of complaint.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t understand why the two television networks insisted on sending people than don’t seem to be that interested to cover the games. And the ignorance is inexcusable; saying you know nothing about an international football team in this day and age of digital communication is laughable. Why these guys are paid handsome sums of money to watch games they clearly don’t care about is bizarre when you consider the number of erudite, perceptive journalists and bloggers there are stuck in the U.K. watching the games via the half-hearted television coverage. Presumably, the motley crew are retained because they are deemed entertaining, if not informative. The mind boggles.
Where to go now? I suspect I may still write a letter of exasperation to both the BBC and ITV expressing where I think they let themselves down, but during my trawl of the negative comments directed at the television coverage, I found an interesting theme emerging; several people had wondered if the paucity of analysis on British television is linked to the stunted development of so many UK players.
It’s an interesting theory; many hundreds of thousands of children in Britain get their prime exposure to football via the BBC and ITV’s coverage. If any of them pay attention to the post-match analysis, it’s no surprise they grow up to be witless footballers, with no appreciation of positioning or tactics. There’s got to be a reason why Steven Gerrard continually drifted out of position during each England game, leaving Ashley Cole exposed, when every other team at the tournament was seemingly comfortable with staying in the position they were playing, or where necessary, swapping positions to cover movement. To that end, I plan to improve my currently little more than vague German to a competent standard, and take a two week break to Berlin or Munich to watch the next World Cup in 2014.
One of the other themes of the World Cup was repetition, as thousands of people with multimedia devices and nothing to write about began to pick over any morsel of controversy. Anything untoward that happened during the tournament was dissected and discussed until the heavens themselves started to lose all relevance. And it happened everywhere; studio panels, Twitter, park benches, the comments sections of Guardian online articles…people saying the same things over and over again, seemingly not reading what everyone else had already said, offering nothing new to the debate. I’m not going to mention the key incidents and add my own patina of bullshit to the dungheap, but we all know what they are. BECAUSE NO-ONE STOPS TALKING ABOUT THEM.
Of course, as with Germany in 2006, we got to see a little more of a nation that has to bear stereotypes born of a previous era. Any England fan I’ve heard recount their time in Germany four years ago has been nothing less than glowing about the country and its people, a huge step forward from the Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo type cliche comedy of the seventies and eighties. Before the tournament South Africa had something of a reputation for violent crime, especially directed towards tourists, and there was (there might always be) the lingering spectre of Apartheid. But the country and their national team, Bafana Bafana, have come out of this summer with nothing but credit and plaudits. Any criticism of the tournament has been directed at FIFA rather than the hosts themselves, and from what I could tell, some six thousand miles away, they did a fantastic job.
So, the rest of Europe, most of Africa, all of South America, and most of the rest of the World is better at football than the British. But we already knew that. ITV really shouldn’t be allowed to cover live sport, and the BBC really need to buck up their act, but we knew that as well. South Africa is still finding its feet as a democratic nation, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, but things are going well.
So, it would appear the world and I have learned nothing new from a summer of international association football. But I have learned a little. Not too much, a soupçon of World History here, a smidgeon of understanding of football at the highest level there. If nothing else, watching six games featuring Bastian Schweinsteiger has modified my own game of football, perhaps permanently and certainly for the better. But most importantly, I enjoyed watching the football and writing about it.