As Tottenham prepare to face Chelsea, Adam Bate looks at how Mauricio Pochettino has changed Spurs. There's a massive emphasis on tackling and energy...
It's a really good Friday afternoon Mailbox, with thoughts on Spurs' ground development, the Europa league (leave it alone) and one man running for a very good cause...
Along with the rest of the football-speaking world, we had been looking forward to the big game this week. Without wishing to be needlessly contrarian though, we have found that the huge interest around the Man United v Real Madrid match does further support our theory that the greater number of people who are into something, the more annoying it can be having to listen to them talk about it.
Part of the reason why watching England in public can be such a wretched experience is that when we cast our mind back to viewing an England friendly in a pub, the enjoyment of the occasion is ruined by a man behind us shouting "Heskey you farcking slaaaag I oughta staaaab you up you caaaaahnt". The man on further inspection was revealed to be a nice Jewish Hampstead dentist of our acquaintance, the England game on the television apparently offering him carte blanche to behave not only like a complete twunt, but like another person entirely.
Anyhow, let's not get too into the "we liked them before they were famous" blues, but these big matches do bring the part-timers out of the woodwork. Perhaps that explains why TV commentary and punditry sometimes seems so facile to those of us who watch more than a game or two a month. Maybe there are people who really do need Andy Townsend to tell them that "Giggs has passed the ball there". We wish them well, albeit through grinding teeth.
Therefore we do tend to take a perhaps inordinate amount of pleasure in any sort of even vaguely unfamiliar football person appearing on our screens.
Tuesday night's Valencia v PSG match on Sky Sports 2 gave a welcome chance to see former Teesside fave Gaizka Mendieta spilling the beans on the financial and political machinations at the Mestalla stadium, and some inside information about Leonardo's role at PSG - Mendieta picking up with some amusement on the modish use of "the project" to describe a bunch of Arab dudes picking up a new plaything in a major world city.
Mendieta archly implied that it all seemed to be code for "Please don't sack us after six weeks if we haven't won the Champions League, league and Nobel Prize, Mr Sheik sir, because we very much admire your interesting collection of modern money." Not necessarily top secret revelations, but a nice improvement on the usual Brit ex-pro "Big Derek is doing a terrific job there" chummy chum-chum.
Butch Wilkins also had some insights, saying: "I don't know why Carlo (Ancelotti) has gone there" when there where, you know, real football leagues in which he might coach.
Incidentally, Ray also coined the phrase "geniusy", to describe what he identified as "the mixture of genius and lunacy" that make "arrogant Swedish genius" Zlatan such a joy to behold. All in all, ornery old farts that we are, I guess we just like the football commentary more when it's about less familiar topics.
We saw an interesting side to Roy Keane in the Celtic match, setting aside his normal steely rage and ultra-professionalism for a partisan approach. We would not have wanted to be running into Keano post match were we Efe Ambrose, the Cork man seemingly utterly disgusted with his performance. Lee Dixon said "Ambrose has paid the ultimate price" when describing his goal-causing error: he certainly would have done if Roy got hold of him.
In fact, the ITV team as a whole made absolutely no attempt at impartiality from start to finish, with Adrian Chiles declaring "we're all gutted in the studio." This sort of thing gets up some people's noses but we actually quite enjoy a bit of one-eyed jingoism in our coverage every now and again.
All of which brings us to The Big One. Sky told us it was 'the game the world has been waiting for'. Yes, Shakhtar v Dortmund. Only kidding. Obviously, it was Real Madrid against that other lot.
This was a broadcaster's cream dream. Two big sides that even people who know nothing about football have heard of and thus might actually boost their viewing figures. Sky's programme started a mere one hour and 45 minutes ahead of kick off in order to really get our juices flowing.
So, medals on the table, boys. Present pitch-side was three-time European cup winner, Graeme Souness, Peter Schmeichel for a bit of seen it, done it, won it with Man United presence and Jamie Redknapp, who was injured when Liverpool won the UEFA Cup but who wore what appeared to be a long black undertaker's coat, which obviously was the main thing; that and the squinting and stubble.
Gary Neville had prepared a little bit of magic at his iPad pulpit to kick things off. This was as good as you'd imagine and virtually exhausted the need for any further analysis, which didn't stop it happening, of course. There were interviews with Rio (who wore a 1970s style disco Stu-style denim shirt), a shiny-faced Cristiano, a cheerful Sir Alex and a glum Jose, who the Govan managerial master calls Josey. We prefer him as Josey but then we grew up with a peculiar fascination for cartoon girl group, Josey and The Pussycats. Mind, we also got to sleep on teenage nights dreaming of Judy Jetson too, so clearly we're perverts.
We noted that Rio accidentally dissed (as we believe the current vernacular would have it) Big Wayne when he said Rooney was 'a scorer of great goals, especially when he was young.' This is very true, indeed for all the Spanish media painting him as a 'freckled demon' this was surely a reference to the old Wayne that Rio was talking about, when he was inspired and reckless. The current Wayne has no demon in him at all as his performance all too well illustrated.
Inevitably after such a game has been billed as a guaranteed orgasm, it didn't quite live up to the billing. Jamie dispensed some half-time wisdom on the Reds' goal, saying, "United get a bit of luck with the initial award of the corner, but make up for it by scoring," which obviously makes no sense at all. We doubt his wages were docked though.
Not to be out-done, the BBC's Robbie Savage said, "I think getting the second away goal could be crucial for Man United." That's exactly the kind of acute, in-depth insight only the ex-pro can bring to coverage. Who amongst the lay-football community could have conjured such wisdom?
However, we did like Souey describing Sergio Ramos as a squid. More seafood-footballer interfaces would be welcome.
Considering the sheer naked bias of coverage on British teams in Europe, it was ironic that Gary Neville, in the co-comms seat displayed the least of it, though more than anyone he really, really must have wanted United to win.
Big clubs, big games in big stadia; it's always quite a spectacle and impossible not to enjoy, even if the football isn't always quite the mind-blow the pre-game and indeed, post-game hype would have you believe.
Ironically, the really big games don't need the hyperbolic tone which tries to makes Reading v Wigan sound as big a deal as anything you might see in the Champions League at the Bernabeu. In fact, because such over-bearing blarting is the norm on football TV, when the truly big game comes around, they have no adjectives or emotional place left to go. It's all been spent on trying to make the ordinary seem special the rest of the time.
Still, a good time was had by all.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here
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or Johnny here.