Outside the Box – Football on TV: A football overkill but Fabregas’ Barcelona adventure keeps us watching
At the top of this article you will see, if you can get past the crass, self-congratulatory overuse of my own name, that the tagline for this column mentions that there isn’t enough football on the TV. Obviously this pithy line is actually nonsense as there is in fact far too much football clogging up the television schedules, particularly if you are a Sky Sports subscriber.
In fact the saturation of ‘the beautiful game’ on our screens is only surpassed by the 68 episodes of Friends that are shown every day. I suspect that we are not far away from a Sky Sports special in which Chandler Bing is coached by Wayne Rooney for a chance to earn a contract with Stockport County. Well, I’d watch it.
The inundation of footy reaches chronic levels at this time of year though, and in the last seven days there has been more football on television than Go Compare adverts, and that really is a colossal feat. However, the TV execs were still not content with all the live games and found time to ram some further soccer-shaped action down our turkey-filled throats throughout the festive period.
Take for example Sky Sports News’ Special Report – Cesc in Barcelona in which Georgie Thompson stalked the former Arsenal captain around his Catalonian homeland. She followed him to a match, she followed him to his old school, she followed him to a tennis court and she even followed him to a man date with Barca teammate Gerard Pique. A strange three-way interview around a restaurant table ensued in which Cesc and Pique indulged in some playful banter and one-upmanship, presumably in an attempt to pull Georgie. Pique seemed to be suffering some kind of delusionary self-grandeur though when he spoke of the über-talented squad Barcelona have assembled: “We have Messi, me and now him (Fabregas)”, he triumphantly announced. Alright mate, you’re a decent centre-half but what about Xavi, Iniesta and Villa? I bet Jonny Evans has never been picked ahead of any of them.
The documentary was a wistful and at times tender insight into Fabregas’ much-heralded return to his boyhood club and was a refreshing change to the wearisome and phoney badge-kissing that is so often witnessed in football. Fabregas is clearly devoted to all aspects of the club, town and life at Barcelona and it was a pleasure to cast a glimpse of a footballer that is genuinely humbled to be playing for the team he loves.
We also learnt about Fabregas’ journey away from the Nou Camp at 16 when he came to the shores of England and signed for Arsenal. He admitted that there are choices to be made by any footballer at that time: “At age 16 to 20,” he explained, “you have to make a decision, you are a very good player, or you want to be a great player”. Cesc obviously made the latter choice but he failed to mention the third option of being just a ‘player’. Notable performers who took this course are Titus Bramble, Jean Alain Boumsong and of course Fabregas’ former teammate Nicklas Bendtner who barely qualifies as a footballer, more an expensive clown with poor co-ordination.
Bendtner was on show for the big game on New Years Day on Sky’s Live Ford Super Sunday as his resurgent Sunderland side welcomed Manchester City. A curious game that ended breathlessly with Sunderland scoring an unlikely winner in added time to cap a weekend of astounding results in the Premier League. But as ever at Sky, the game itself was only half the entertainment and the comedy legend that is Peter Reid was in attendance once more. A pre-game clip of Reid with Diego Maradona from last year was a highlight, particularly as it seemed as though Maradona had no idea who Reid was; mind you he probably doesn’t have any idea who the face in the mirror is most days either. Reid also repeatedly said Maradona was “really warm” and that he “didn’t think he could move”. That’s cocaine for you Reidy.
It was the other guest in attendance though that really interested me. Sky had managed to coax Niall Quinn out of the boardroom and into the studio and it was a fascinating change to hear the insights of a man so close to the club involved. Clearly happy with the direction the team is heading under new boss Martin O’Neill, Quinn spoke from a different perspective than that of the usual pundits, and all of his measured thoughts were from the view of a boardroom man. And I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense, it gave him a real gravitas that led you to listen attentively to what he was saying and it was wonderful to have such an intelligent and informed contributor. Although it should be pointed out that a goldfish would look intelligent and informed when sitting next to Peter Reid.