Matt Stanger watched Mesut Ozil answer his critics with a telling contribution in Arsenal's 3-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. It's now a question of playing him alongside Alexis Sanchez...
That's the message from a Man United fan in the mailbox. Plus, thoughts on Paul Lambert's new contract, the Alan Pardew dilemma at Newcastle and lots more...
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, it's Manchester United's Clive '...not for me, Clive' Tyldesley...
Most of us don't really know what Clive looks like except for a small, squirrelish image beside his name when the commentators are announced pre-game. This is how it should be. He's a voice, not a body. Enthusiastic, seems to be genuinely happy to have landed what is by any measure a pretty cool job. Is prone to the use of previously prepared quips or sayings, many of which don't really land, but then taking a football commentator to task for that is like getting cross with a dog for licking itself. Don't get the sense of him larging it up and trying to play the media big beast, or demanding female colleagues get their tits out.
Manchester United. Specifically, of course, "that night in Barcelona", which became a sort of generational shorthand for the media's slavish zeal for all things United from the mid-1990s until the end of the Fergie era. In fairness to Clive, he has at least shown himself to have a sense of humour about his United-ness. We personally don't mind a bit of bias in a commentator. They are, after all, (mostly) human, and it is, after all, football and not a man on trial for his life or something. That being said, pretending average football is brilliant gets very tedious.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Enjoyed his best years when paired with Big Ron, for whom he was a good straight man. As Ron went off at a tangent deploying metaphor, similie, analogy and, quite possibly, litotes, Clive was ground control, keeping things ticking over. Andy Townsend is clearly a different sort of expert analyst, one who, cruel observers have suggested, isn't an analyst at all. Or an expert. Or different. Or clearly. That means that such colour as is available has to come from Clive's fertile brain.
He's as guilty as anyone of wildly overestimating the capabilities of English players, despite repeated evidence to the contrary. This is especially true when England play and is, without wanting to be harsh, really sodding annoying. Almost by instinct he dresses up mediocrity and plain competence as high skill. Used to be very, very annoying about Paul Scholes - the indulgent little chuckle as the ginger midfielder whacked some foreigner in the shin for his 400th yellow of the tournament. Now reserves most of his giddiness for Rooney or, "ROOONEY!!", as Clive would shout it. Anything Wayne does from the most basic short pass (keeps it simple), to going puce (shows committment), to running puce (what work rate), is brilliant to Clive.
This wouldn't be so galling if Rooney was, in between all of this basic work, brilliant. But as all objective viewers know, he simply almost never is. Also has the common commentator's riff of saying a player's name in full just before he shoots on goal. Again, this is not exactly a high crime or misdemeanour against all that is holy or decent; it just gets our goat a little bit.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
The nature of ITV, and the nature of Andy T, mean that this is not an especially important part of Clive's role, and on the whole we think this is probably for the best.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Yes. A long-time media presence, if you have to sit next to Andy T most weeks of the year, you'd better be happy to josh and be joshed with, otherwise you'd soon be dragged out screaming after committing some terrible act of violence. Clive seems like an affable sort of bloke, and we're sure he is full value in the matey stakes.
Having been an actual journalist for many years before ascending the sportstainment pantheon, we sense in Clive a good brain and probably a bit of distance from the more brainless locker-room mentality of the ex-pros. But then, we don't really see or hear him outside of the commentary box so he may be compelled to make jokes about the sexuality of men in flowery shirts and make observations about how one doesn't get many large breasts to the pound. We doubt it though.
After years in the saddle, he uses a lot of what we think are 'commentator clichés'. The over-extension of the vowels in names, the above-mentioned pre-strike full name announcement, the strangulated cries of delight at anything Manchester United does - all ones that Clive all but invented for himself.
Not a major offender on the "at the end of the day" side of things, but certainly not shy of a stock phrase or three or ten. Provokes sense that an Accidental Partridge is never far away but we also sense he knows that too. Which probably means Clive is very post-modern, aware of the meta-theatre context that is football commentary. That or he just shouts out some names and hopes for the best.
Why does he get gigs?
He's pretty good at a very hard job or at least he's at a consistent level, whether you like that level or not. The job is even harder still when your co-comm just says 'that's better' a lot. Probably is a tolerable sort of chap to work with. Intuits that a lot of casual fans want Man United or England to win and don't care about the niceties. Has become, thanks to Townsend's verbal ticks, a sort of stock comedy reference. 'A stock comedy reference? Not for me, Clive.' Plays to the gallery, has no time for anything not in the mainstream and knows where the common denominator abides. He's on ITV1, after all. And man alive, he has been doing this gig a long time now: like him or not, he's not going to go anywhere soon (other than Barcelona, obviously).
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.