With Taylor around, who needs Borat?

MARTIN KELNER, in The Guardian, reviews ITV’s return to international football, and the documentary fronted by a failed England manager, Graham Taylor’s self-serving England Expects

ITV’s big mistake in the build-up to Saturday’s international was to include, in its 90-second montage of England moments since 1966, footage of the two Brians of blessed memory, Clough and Moore, in lively debate on the subject of Poland’s 1973 goalie Jan Tomaszewski.

It served to underline how unutterably dull TV football punditry has become.

Despite ITV spicing up its Champions League cast of Steve Rider, Sam Allardyce and Andy Townsend with Graeme Le Saux (I’m joking), the 45 minutes of foreplay before kick-off against Kazakhstan rarely strayed far from the bleedin’ obvious.

I certainly do not need a former international footballer to tell me Theo Walcott has “terrific pace”, or that Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are “top-class players”. What might have been illuminating would have been some sort of discourse on whether Fabio Capello’s selection was over-cautious against limited opponents. At half-time, David Pleat noted that the replacement of the holding midfielder Gareth Barry with Shaun Wright-Phillips had liberated Wayne Rooney, enabling him to play in the middle, closer to Emile Heskey. But before the kick-off Capello’s formation prompted barely a murmur of dissent.

ITV was clearly pretty chuffed to be returning to big-time international football but that was no reason to reduce its analysts to the role of mere cheerleaders. Well done, though, to the channel for its restraint in waiting a full 22 minutes before making passing reference to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakh character Borat, and then playing only a very brief clip from the movie, giving the embassy no cause to get on the blower.

It was another great comic character that ITV chose to whet our appetite for its return to the big stage, hiring Graham Taylor to front a documentary called England Expects, ostensibly an examination of the difficulties of managing the England football team, but actually a protracted whinge about the media, of which Taylor is, of course, now a part.

Taylor flew to Mexico to meet one of his successors, Sven-Goran Eriksson. “And you are?” said Sven, as he continued to supervise the minor alterations to his mansion (installation of a full-length mirror and a throne). Sadly we never saw that bit, joining the encounter with the two former England gaffers on a sofa, Taylor smiling obsequiously and inviting Sven to join him in condemning the fourth estate. Interestingly Sven, who suffered far more press intrusion than Taylor, and managed to get beyond the early stages of major tournaments, was more relaxed about the issue, seeming to take the view that complaining about the media was like complaining about the weather.

An interview with Glenn Hoddle, at a soccer school in Spain, was on similar lines. A graphic of headlines such as “He Hod To Go” and “Hod Case”, demonstrating the rapier-like wit of the British press, preceded a short bout of tut-tutting, before our presenter flew off to Holland to meet Steve McClaren. Except he did not talk to McClaren, interviewing Johan Cruyff instead, presumably on the grounds that Cruyff does a better Dutch accent.

Kevin Keegan and Terry Venables were also conspicuously absent from the programme, but Taylor did manage to entice three of his former inky-fingered tormentors to take part, entertaining them to an agreeable-looking lunch beneath the beautifully adorned ceilings of the Grade One-listed Crockfords of Curzon Street.

Having dined well, my esteemed colleagues were inclined to apologise to the cheerful, clubbable Taylor for the root vegetable jibes. Taylor undoubtedly got a raw deal, but now he has joined the punditry gravy train, trousering decent fees for mouthing banalities that neither inform nor entertain, one’s sympathy is diluted.

To read Kelner’s column in full, or to see his previous articles, click here

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