TV WATCH Review of the month on screen
So this is where we are in the year 2016: the opening weekend of the football season dominated by discussion of Gary Lineker’s underwear. A Twitter pledge that he would host an edition of Match of the Day in his pants should Leicester win the title gave the BBC a convenient hook on which to hang their season-opening edition on August 13. But they couldn’t resist spoiling the surprise on social media and even in BBC One’s continuity announcement, well before Lineker actually took to the screen in comically oversized Leicester Citybranded shorts.
He duly rattled through his first link with the uncomfortable air of a geography teacher press-ganged into dressing up for Comic Relief and might have got away with a deadpan attempt at pretending like all was normal had Ian Wright and Alan Shearer not been snickering in the background. That Lineker changed after the first game’s analysis came as a blessed relief.
Aside from the matter of their former player’s skivvies, Leicester were generally given quite short shrift by the first couple of weekends’ coverage – their title win already feeling like a distant dream that the broadcasters have finished wringing the requisite amount of stardust from. Instead, Sky in particular went full-pelt on the array of large personalities pitching up at Manchester United – with games against both Bournemouth and Southampton devoting significant amounts of air time to the stories of José Mourinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.
The latter programme (August 19) was the first of Sky’s new Friday Night Football (FNF) strand, which will appear ten times over the course of the 2016-17 season – although on the evidence of its launch night, that might be around nine times too many. With noted club supporter Rachel Riley at the helm, and Ryan Giggs on the punditry team, the opening show was in danger of feeling like an MUTV broadcast – but the format is likely to be scuppered by deeper problems than just an occasionally partisan air.
FNF seems to pitch itself as almost entirely opposite in approach to the same channel’s
Monday Night Football – a strange tack to take, given that show’s wide level of popularity and acclaim. Where Monday nights see Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville in stiff suits behind their dedicated monitor screens, carrying out detailed and rigorous tactical analysis, Fridays
are apparently a time for open-necked shirts and trainers, a large sofa and Chris Kamara messing about in a dressing room.
The problem with pitching coverage directly at a pub-going audience is that nobody actually in the pub will pay any attention to (or indeed even be able to hear) anything beyond the match itself; while viewers at home will simply feel alienated by the show’s attempts to appeal to the more “casual” fan. Although Giggs added little more than reluctant monosyllables, most of the gaggle of pundits who appeared on the show can be good analysts in their own right. However, having clearly been instructed to dress and act “relaxed”, the only Friday night pub experience they came close to replicating was of a group of off-duty bank managers in the local Wetherspoons, all competing to chat up the solitary female colleague.
“Sophisticated.” “Magical.” “Intense.” “Great coach.” These were just some of the epithets from a line-up of starry talking heads at the beginning of Pep (August 8), a Sky Sports Originals documentary timed to coincide with Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City. Since the success of Asif Kapadia’s Senna and Amy, many documentaries have sought to replicate their portentous tone, scored with swooping soundtracks. But doing so here – even down to the title – meant that the film came off more like a posthumous tribute than the informative refresher it was trailed as.
If you didn’t know before the documentary that Pep had captained Barcelona before coaching them to unprecedented success, and was then perceived to have slightly underachieved at Bayern Munich, then it at least filled that information in; but a bit more analysis as to exactly why and how these things happened would have been welcome. More appropriate still, however, would be to save such a fulsome tribute for a later point than a decade into a career that presumably has plenty more story still to tell.
Modern times Football’s bid for world domination
Insideworldfootball.com, August 8
Adidas.com, August 9