Phil Neville knew all along that the English would lack ‘Wow’ factor at 2014 World Cup

Brazil's Neymar. center, practices during a training session with Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner) Brazil's Neymar. center, practices during a training session with Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Chris Goreham
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
8:45 AM

This World Cup has had more than its fair share of the ‘Wow’ factor. Great goals, thrilling games and some extraordinary moments of brilliance have lit up Brazil 2014 to the extent that many are calling it the greatest World Cup ever.

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Dazzlers in chief so far have been the talented Brazilian youngster Neymar, Lionel Messi and the Colombian sensation James Rodriguez. What do those three supreme entertainers have in common? None of them are from England.

That’s not to say that the competition has been without its moments of English creative genius. To find them you must look beyond the three games England actually played during which Roy Hodgson’s side managed to reduce the average levels of excitement at the competition significantly.

A World Cup is also a crucial time for TV’s advertising executives. Suddenly there is a captive audience forced to sit and take in their messages. It’s quite possible in this day and age to watch hours and hours of television without ever having to see a commercial break. With I-players, on demand services and catch-up channels the traditional word from the sponsors has never been easier to ignore or fast forward through. It was at half-time during the ITV coverage of Colombia’s win over Uruguay on Saturday night that I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually watched the adverts. That is partly because we are, of course, a loyal BBC household (just in case the boss reads this) and also because the presence of a three-year-old son means that the advert-free CBeebies channel dominates what TV viewing there is.

If England’s midfield had just a fraction of the imagination of those making our TV adverts we might have caused the collective defences of Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica a few more problems. Within minutes on Saturday they were using Ray Winstone’s disembodied floating head to suggest it would be a good idea to put £1 worth of hard-earned cash on Diego Forlan to score the next goal, convince us that dapper Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman does his weekly shop at a budget supermarket and that well-known fast food chains will gladly hand over a box of gherkins to any customer claiming his pregnant partner has cravings.

That last example was a step too far. I spend a lot of time in these places, often to break up long journeys during the football season and my experience suggests that if there’s no button on the till which says ‘box of gherkins’ then the member of the ‘Computer Says No Generation’ behind the counter will not be convinced that such an outlandish creation is possible. I’ll try it on the way back from the first Norwich City away game of the season and report back.

Perhaps the biggest unheralded genius at this World Cup is actually Phil Neville, pictured. A fortnight ago the former Manchester United player was being castigated by just about everyone for his co-commentating debut. The main complaint was that he didn’t seem excited enough about England’s opening game against Italy. Two weeks on and the whole country is gnashing its teeth about the lack of inspiration in the England team as we watch other countries attacking players thrill their way towards World Cup glory.

Could it be that Neville knew what was coming? He should be held up as some kind of visionary. His lack of animation on that first night was an acceptance of what was to follow and if we’d all calmed down a bit and been a bit more Neville Junior about things it might not feel like such a disappointment now.

‘James is not the easiest word to say’

The exciting emergence of Colombia’s James Rodriguez during this World Cup has caused as much panic amongst British broadcasters as it has within opposition defences.

His name looks pretty simple written down. James Rodriguez is, at first glance, infinitely easier to handle than Greece’s goal scorer against Costa Rica on Sunday night, Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The problem comes when you find yourself having to talk about him on the radio. The Colombians call him ‘Hamm-es’ Rodriguez and many of the British commentators have embraced this while describing his goalscoring exploits in Brazil but not Clive Tyldesley. Perhaps upset at having no more England games to describe, ITV’s number one stoically stuck to the Anglicised ‘James’ all the way through his coverage of the game against Uruguay on Saturday. Clive made it sound like the Fat Controller’s railway had been bought out by a Spanish corporation and they’d tried to wield their influence by altering the name of Thomas the Tank Engine’s bright red friend.

But how much of an English flavour should our broadcasters be adding? It’s a difficult balance. When the golfer Sergio Garcia emerged on the scene many tried willingly to go along with what they assumed was his preferred pronunciation and he was regularly called ‘Sergio Garthia’ on British sports bulletins. But if you try too hard to emphasise the Spanish you can end up sounding like a poor impersonation of a Fast Show sketch.

Asking players how they want their name said isn’t always the simple solution you’d think. Keen to make a good impression, I asked Norwich City’s record signing for the correct pronunciation of van Wolfswinkel this time last year. How many of the W’s did he want said like V’s in commentary? His response was a shrug of the shoulders and “just call me Ricky”. So perhaps it doesn’t really matter as long as the listeners know who you are talking about.

The next major tournament will be interesting. The 2016 European Championships are being held in France and on the night of the final I wonder how many of the commentators currently hollering about ‘Hamm-es’ Rodriguez will be prepared to talk about being in ‘Pareeee’. I bet Clive will give the ‘S’ in Paris extra emphasis that night.

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