RTE hopes Ossie and squad will spur fans to back home team
HE is a cult hero in England, a small man who cast a giant shadow on soccer's stage at club and international level.
And yesterday, Argentine legend Osvaldo "Ossie" Ardiles was unveiled as a surprise new "signing" to the RTE team providing TV and radio coverage of the World Cup in South Africa.
The legendary football coach and 1978 World Cup winner made his name playing for Tottenham Hotspur.
Ardiles, who is based in the UK, togged out yesterday along with former German international and ex-Liverpool player Dietmar (Didi) Hamann as part of RTE's team of soccer panellists for the 2010 World Cup.
They will join a seasoned squad of studio-based pundits led by Bill Herlihy while another team of 11 headed by commentator George Hamilton will head out on Monday to South Africa to prepare for more than 200 hours of coverage.
"Getting Ossie on board was a big coup for us," said RTE TV's deputy head of sport Ryle Nugent. "He's a considerable signing. We made an approach and he was available."
Ossie and Didi will join Irish international Kevin Kilbane and pundits John Giles, Eamon Dunphy, Graeme Souness, Ronnie Whelan and Richie Sadlier together with Liam Brady and former Manchester Utd and Irish star defender Denis Irwin for their expert analyses.
Bill O'Herlihy and Darragh Maloney will anchor proceedings along with Peter Collins and Con Murphy.
RTE is sending an 11-strong team to South Africa: four commentators, four co-commentators and three producers.
Anchored by George Hamilton, the team will consist of Ray Houghton, Gabriel Egan, Trevor Steven, Stephen Alkin, Damian Richardson, Adrian Eames and Matt Holland. There will also be contributions from the legendary Jimmy Magee.
The size of the squad RTE is sending to South Africa pales in comparison with the depth of the squads and the budgets of "big boys" in the BBC and ITV.
The BBC, which will have 300 people in its team, has splashed out a reputed £1m (€1.2m) on building a special glass studio in Cape Town while ITV is believed to have a staff of up to 160 to provide its coverage.
RTE said it would show 56 live games with highlights of another eight.
For Bill O'Herlihy and George Hamilton, this will be their ninth World Cup tournament. "It's a fantastic occasion which generates its own momentum," O'Herlihy told the Irish Independent. "Even if Ireland is not in it all kinds of favourites emerge."
George Hamilton said he was not intimidated by the sheer size of rival teams from the BBC and ITV.
"We are a smaller, tighter, leaner and fitter outfit. You are very much in charge of your own destiny with a small team than you would be with a cast of thousands."