As pre-season silliness moves into full swing, Tottenham and the two Manchester clubs elected to spend their preparations in the USA, home of turnovers, upper-90s and cross-passes. This enabled us in the UK to grab a taste of football state-side, through the host broadcasters of FOX and ESPN. Forever-mocked on this side of the Atlantic, I decided to indulge in the various pre-season tournaments, backed by the tune of our American cousins, and left the games optimistic for the future of soccer in the US.
With anything slightly ridiculous going viral in minutes via modern technology, the USA have frequently been exposed as seeming to lack any proficient football knowledge at the most crucial of times. From the New York Post hollering ‘USA WINS 1-1’ after their draw with England in the World Cup, to Rosanna Scotto’s cringe-worthy ‘Good Day New York’ interview with ‘World Cup winner Thierry Henry’ after his move to her native Red Bulls, the Americans have an outstanding knack of shooting themselves in the foot just as they begin to gain credibility with the traditional football nations. And being the football snobs we are, the rest of the world laps up the seeming ignorance of the leader of the free world where our beloved sport is concerned.
However, a deeper analysis shows all may not be as it seems. Firstly, the World Cup itself proved an embarrassment for both our terrestrial TV channels in terms of punditry and commentary. Ignorance of any player not partaking in the Premier League, borderline xenophobia, Mark Lawrenson’s stand-up-routine commentary and a completely lack of research before important games left any football fan with any minor knowledge of the game curling their toes in anger, wondering why they aren’t the ones being paid thousands to provide a better analysis of a simple game.
Such accusations cannot be leveled across the pond to commentators such as JP Dellacamera and Christopher Sullivan, from ESPN and FOX respectively, whose research and knowledge proved absolutely watertight and impeccable throughout this pre-season. I watched in awe as the ages, heights and previous clubs of Tottenham youth prospects were reeled out seemingly from memory. True, a quick search through Wikipedia would provide all of these statistics in seconds, but the question must be asked why Lawro et al didn’t bother during the World Cup to do similar research before the biggest event in world football. The question is answered by Lawrenson himself, who famously said in a radio interview that ‘he didn’t see the point’ in any form of prior research. So, the ‘ignorant’ Americans research every nook and cranny before a pre-season game featuring Tottenham Hotspur and Sporting Lisbon, and the lead co-commentator of the birthplace of football doesn’t see the point in researching any of the players in the World Cup Final. A disturbing parallel indeed.
It’s all very well and good knowing your statistics, but you need a grasp of the game itself to provide a well-rounded picture of the event to your audience. Many in Europe splutter at the terminology used by the ‘play-by-play’ commentators of a football match in America, with players ‘ejected’, keepers aiming for ‘shut-outs’ and players wearing their ‘cleats’. However, why do we ridicule the idiosyncrasies of the Americans, yet embrace the terminology of the commentary teams featuring other languages? An elongated ‘Gol’ is seen as a romantic element to watching Brazilian football, where as similar phrases are used in slang-terms, throughout Spain and Italy without the mockery shown to the American game. Whilst the football glossary of our Latin neighbours sounds colourful and exotic, the pundits of the USA are bound by the fact they speak the same language as us, leaving them open to ridicule if the slightest phrase is unique to their own version of the game. Such ridicule of terminology seems immature and unnecessary if the commentators of ESPN and FOX back their phrases up with a rounded knowledge of the game, which they carried out with fantastic aplomb throughout the pre-season.
Finally, after a World Cup where negativity flowed through the pundits and commentators of the UK, with many seemingly ungrateful to even be at football’s showpiece, the refreshing raw energy provided by the Americans is nothing to be sniffed at. At times, the WWE-style whoops and kapows can seem over-the-top to an audience used to the nonchalance of Alan Green and the ilk. However, in a growing sport, it is the job of an American pundit to exhilarate the viewer in the USA, and the unusual optimism and genuine excitement at seeing Premier League teams in American stadiums made each of the pre-season friendlies a more positive experience for all at home. Football should be an enjoyable experience, and whilst the BBC seems to see footballers as gladiators dragged in front of a crowd to entertain, ESPN stands back in awe of those with the natural talent to play the game, and the respect shown towards those on the pitch can only be a positive asset.
I enjoy the NFL and NBA more than most in this country, and this may provide an immunity to the negative facets of what I have heard over the past ten days from across the pond. However, the only things we should all ask of commentators is to provide nuggets of factual information those at home may enjoy, and depict and amplify the atmosphere that already exists in the stadium itself. The colour commentators of the US of A have more than adequately provided all of this and more in recent weeks, and the death of soccerball may be upon us, and a seed of football knowledge may have been planted deep in the hearts of soccer fans all across the nation. God Bless America.