As you may have noticed it's the summer, which means that Johnny and Al are interested to see how different football and cricket punditry differ. Football has a lot to learn...
When you think about it, a surprising amount of football TV is predictable and scripted. The questions asked of pundits by presenters are pre-written, the analysis calculated, even live commentators often drop into their usual groove of pre-prepared expressions. So something genuinely spontaneous is a rare beast to see in the football TV jungle and as a result we found ourselves gripped by a couple of minutes of Soccer Saturday (on, er, Sunday) when Johnny Phillips was reporting on the Watford v Leicester play-off. Jeff Stelling went to him as a penalty was awarded to Leicester, which was twice saved before Watford raced up the other end and scored. It all happened in less than 90 seconds but it was a mini-epic.
Phillips' increasing astonishment as this remarkable scenario unfolded was a total joy, culminating in the kind of tight-throated, squeakily excited honking that is impossible to fake. Vainly he tried to hang onto his headphones and to his ability to cohere a sentence whilst being utterly caught up in the incredulity of the moment. Behind him, fans were jubilant. Here was football being played, invisible to the TV viewer, and yet every ounce of the disbelief and thrill as the extraordinary turn of events unfolded was conveyed by this instinctive performance.
In an era of the sterile and the cynical, in an era of scripted improvisation and corporate mind-wipe, this was a rare and fantastic moment of humanity. Cheers Johnny. Heartwarming.
And while we're talking about heartwarming, we must talk to you about Rafa Benitez's media performances this season.
We are huge fans of Rafa. We feel he is a kind of football Buddha. Rotund, quiet, smiling and wise. We find ourselves waving at him as his egg-shaped, slightly flushed head appears on our TV screens. 'Ah Rafa, old boy,' we say, 'join us for a glass of Rioja and some cheese,' and he grins modestly, amidst a haze of rosemary and garlic. We like how his shirt is always slightly untucked, a shirt we imagine adorned with at least a few drops of gravy and grease stains. He looks like a tremendous man to go for a meal and a few bottles of wine with in a way that, say, Tony Pulis just doesn't.
We love his pre and post-match interviews conducted with a wry smile on his lips, darting eyes looking from side to side, always ready with a calm, reasoned point, but careful to not give a hostage to fortune. We've always thought his mind is racing and that he only says 20% of what he's thinking. His interview on ITV after winning the Europa League was typical of the man - still a little serious, very measured but with occasional delighted grin. Magnificent.
The legendary rants and meltdowns of the Liverpool era have been sadly absent this season except on one special occasion when, after beating Middlesbrough in the cup and being roundly abused by his own fans for the umpteenth time, the old arsey Rafa we love so much re-emerged in magnificent fashion. This is what we want to see from managers on the TV - having a pop at the fans, sticking it right up them and calling them out on their infantile behaviour. Some fans are respected too much by all concerned. We wanted some pipe-uppage and Rafa dished it out in fine style.
"The fans are not helping us. At the end of the season I will leave. They don't have to worry about me," he said, the anger barely concealed, his usual bonhomie evaporated. The 'interim manager' title was a 'massive mistake' but in a 13 -minute verbal savaging the highlight was the way he shoved his own CV down the throats of his abusers.
"I have been in charge in football for 26 years, I won the Champions League, I won the Fifa Club World Cup, the FA Cup, the Italian Super Cup, the Spanish league twice, nine trophies - all the trophies you can win at club level."
And now he can add a Europa League to that too. Yeah man, you bloody well tell them! Of course this made Chelsea fans dislike him even more and that's why it was exactly the right thing to do. They deserve to wallow in their own bile for treating this manifestly decent, clever and interesting man so poorly. They could have enjoyed Rafa because he's immensely likeable and funny and a pretty damn good manager. That they choose not to was, in Rafa's own words, 'a massive mistake'. Ironically, in doing so they have only boosted Rafa's reputation. In the face of such adversity he has taken the club to European success and to Champions League qualification and will effortlessly walk into another high-profile job as a result.
There remains few working managers we'd rather see on our TV than Rafa Benitez and we hope we see much more of him next season wherever in the world he ends up working.
Oh, and a memo to any TV producers looking for a series: with Jamie Redknapp and Yoko Ono both being on Jonathan Ross last weekend, surely there is a spin-off show to be made? Ideally, an odd-couple cop show 'Ono and Redknapp', where the duo solve crimes and discuss the relationship between Dadaism and the Arsenal back four.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
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