Saturday 24 February 2018

Euro 2012 TV Watch: I blame Alan Hansen for the centre back cosy consensus


BE careful what you wish for. RTE's "Holy Trinity" of football analysis - Giles, Dunphy and Brady - have spent the duration of Euro 2012, if not the last 20 years, bemoaning defensive mistakes.

And then a game comes along in which the defending is flawless. So were the lads happy? Well, if you've ever watched them, you'll already know the answer.

The lads are never happy. The closest they come to happiness is a momentary frisson of schadenfreude when, for example, England are given a "chasing", or Man Utd are humbled by Barcelona.

They certainly weren't happy last night, when Portugal and Spain served up the long-awaited display of defensive perfection. Giles was particularly unhappy, twice referring to how disappointing the game had been. (Actually, I thought it was pretty good for a 0-0 draw, but who am I to quibble with Gilesy).

This is the Catch 22 of football analysis. Whenever anyone scores a goal, the Trinity of punditry invariably blames it on a defensive error. But when no one scores, they criticise the attackers - for their "tiredness" or their "predictability" or the fact that "Ronaldo went missing".

You can't have it both ways, surely?

In fairness, this is true of all football analysis in these islands. I blame Alan Hansen, the BBC pundit who made up his mind decades ago that he would blame every goal, no matter how superbly taken, on an error by one of the centre backs. All other analysts quickly followed suit, none more enthusiastically than Giles and co.

But there's something about this desire to accentuate the negative that takes the joy out of football. Someone scores a screamer and the viewer jumps off his or her seat, only to be dumped back down again by the pundit, who says something like, "great finish by Iniesta, but where were the defenders?"

The message to the viewer is, "Stop celebrating. Stop enjoying yourself. This is a time for blame, not praise.

"You might think Iniesta is a divinely-inspired genius, the best artist Spain has produced since Picasso, but in fact he's just fortunate to be up against a bunch of clowns".

It's a merciless determination to snuff out all joy. I wouldn't want to have been in the Giles household when the time came to chat to the kids about Santa Claus.

The reality is that virtually all goals are a mixture of the attackers' skill and the defenders' mistakes. It's up to the pundit which to highlight, and, sadly, most pundits highlight the mistakes.

They're like one of those people who comes out of the cinema after watching Star Wars and says, "that was an OK story but the director doesn't know anything about science because those spaceships don't conform to the laws of physics". What they say is true but ... do they always need to say it?

The irony is that, when Giles and co were playing, defending was no better than it is now. In fact, if the footage from that era is anything to go by, it was considerably worse.

When you consider that the tempo of games was far slower in those days, defenders should never have made a mistake. But in fact they made howlers that would shame some of today's amateur teams.

For example, I would recommend that John Giles go to YouTube and watch his Leeds team being torn apart by Colchester United, then in the fourth division. It's a vaudeville act.

And Liam Brady might like to look again at the goal he set up for Frank Stapleton in the 1979 Cup Final. Great work by Chippy down the right, but Stapleton has more space and time in the penalty area than any modern professional would ever have.

Admittedly, Brady is the most generous of the Trinity, and he was the only one who made a serious effort to commend the remarkable defensive skills on show last night.

But even he lapses into begrudgery sometimes. When Alonso scored a great header against France, for example, Brady didn't just think the defending was poor (which it undoubtedly was), he thought it was a "disgrace".

Thank goodness, then, for penalty shootouts. For ten blissful minutes, you won't hear the phrase "woeful defending".

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport