Chris Lakey: Robbie Savage setting the standards... now how did that happen?
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Cleopatra, sinking stadiums built on swampland, slumping Patrice Evra and Robbie Savage’s mum.
It can only be the World Cup broadcasting teams.
While the players have done their bit and provided us with a World Cup to savour (so far, so good), the enormous cast of TV commentators and analysts have not let us down: good, bad or indifferent, their matchday marks out of 10 are almost as important as the players.
Savage’s breakfast programme on Radio 5 Live has been surprisingly good: the man himself is an accident waiting to happen, but appears to escaped serious damage. It helps when Rio Ferdinand and Freddie Flintoff are there as chief supports: the Savage-Flintoff partnership is the new Saint and Greavesie.
The one downside is Savage’s challenge to commentators that they include a certain phrase in their coverage of a game. During the Russia v Egypt game on Tuesday, Ian Dennis took up the challenge and instead of saying “Salah hasn’t managed a clear path to goal” he said “Salah hasn’t managed a Cleopatra to goal”. Geddit?
Sorry, I may be a fuddy-duddy, but I take my football seriously. But it’s a minor moan, that’s all.
Terry Butcher and Robert Green were guests the following day, with Savage defending goalkeepers from criticism by pundits who had never played in goal. How could an outfield player criticised a keeper for letting one in at his near post?
Greenie was happy to defend his cause, Butcher happy to add some sarcasm... and, by the way, he is pretty funny.
“I take what Rob says about goalkeepers on the near post but is there anything else wrong with the ball, Rob? Is there atmospheric conditions, is there the axis of the world that will give goalkeepers an excuse not to save a shot?”
It’s a good show. There. I’ve said it.
The programme usually ends with Savage’s mum giving her prediction, which is just as valid as a pundit doing it, although not being able to pronounce Polish surnames because “they’re not Smith and Jones like us are they?” was an eyebrow-raiser.
Spotting friction between pundits has been fun: Roy Keane and Slaven Bilic anyone? Keane still rarely has anything good to say about anyone or anything (“Huddles! They’re world champions at that. Try and play football” - he advised Nigeria) while Bilic is very heart on sleeve - and hand on Keane’s sleeve when he gets up to full analytical speed.
At the end of the row of pundits you had Evra slumped in his chair and looking like he was going to slide off. The camera broke away for a few seconds and miraculously, he was sat straight - must have been one of my old teachers doing the floor management that night.
Does Jermaine Jenas get angry? Reacting to Phil Neville he said “you don’t need to tell me how to play centre midfield, Phil”. but wouldn’t we all? Get in, JJ.
And the swamp thing: commentator Jon Champion to Ally McCoist at Kaliningrad Stadium: “This stadium is built on a swamp. It’s sinking.” That sort of thing doesn’t ruffle an ex-Rangers manager.
Then there was Mark Lawrenson during the Argentina v Croatia game on Thursday. When the commentator said a scything tackle reminded him of Boudicca and her chariot with bladed wheels, Lawro replied “Whoever she is.”
But what really takes the biscuit is listening to Martin Keown. Sorry, I hate to do this, but he isn’t my cup of tea by some distance.
England were playing “some of the best football we’ve seen at the World Cup” against Tunisia. No they weren’t.
A goal disallowed because a player was narrowly offside brought the line “It’s marginally offside there so surely it shouldn’t be offside then”. Offside is like being pregnant, you either are, or you aren’t. And those deep breaths of his when he stops talking... what one earth is that all about?
The truth is, it is easy to criticise. Far too easy. I couldn’t do the commentary (the thought of it would bring me out in a cold sweat) nor the expert analysis. Nope, we have people for that, and so far they’re not that bad - just not quite as good as the footy.
Out on a Limb
I’d heard a lot about Harry Limb when he was banging in goals for Wisbech a couple of years ago, but, for one reason or another, never saw him play.
Hopefully that will be rectified in the next campaign when he wears the colours of King’s Lynn Town.
The youngster left Wisbech for Burnley 18 months ago, but it didn’t work out and, after being released by the Premier League club, was quickly snapped up by Lynn boss Simon Clark.
The pair of them were kind enough to chat to a couple of us media types on Tuesday, and it was refreshing: Limb is a decent young man and his manager open and honest.
I was a big fan of Ian Culverhouse and his work as Lynn boss last season: a top man, but it wasn’t always easy persuading him to come out and do post-match interviews.
Media-friendly isn’t always good: I remember one manager, who will go un-named, who did the biz for me once – great stories, no problem... he was sacked within weeks because he just wasn’t very good.
Shame to see James Maddison leave Carrow Road, but it was inevitable enough not to upset too many Norwich City supporters.
Those of shouty disposition who needed to let off steam tended to do so in the direction of sporting director Stuart Webber who, it appears, is selling of the family silver, if they are to be believed. Which they shouldn’t.
Webber inherited City’s financial strait-jacket. He didn’t take the club down, he didn’t spend the money on players trying to get it straight back up again. He was charged with building a squad with what was left and trying to sort out the shortfall. Many clubs survive through the sales of players – which is what City are doing.
I’m not sure what some fans expect: Webber to dip into his personal piggy bank?
Fortunately, the sales of Maddison and Josh Murphy have helped enormously. That self-sufficiency is the order of the day and no amount of moaning and groaning changes that fact.
Tough times. Get on with it.