Into The Valley


Football commentators should be heard but not seen, I’ve decided. Think of the ones that really piss you off, Alan Green or Jonathan Pearce for example – you’d be able to recognise them in the street, right? Of course you would. Now consider the ones that you generally have no feelings towards, names like Mike Ingham, John Murray and Ian Dennis – these blokes are just voices, doing the job they’re paid to do without resorting to hyperbole or moralising. You wouldn’t be able to recognise them because they’ve never had a camera pointed at them – even their own families might struggle to pick them out in a crowd.

Like referees, being a commentator is a very weird occupation when you consider it. Some try to proclaim it as a ‘dream job’, getting paid to watch football – but it just strikes me as an utterly soul-destroying career choice. All those hours driving up and down motorways, waiting around at airports, nights in shitty hotels, listening to Niall Quinn drone on as he evaluates Knutsford Services’ range of Ginsters’ pasties for the 47th time – it must be horrendous.

Anyway, as soon as these blokes cross that line where the camera is turned on them, they seem to undergo a change where they cease being mere broadcasters and instead feel the need to develop a personality. They hire agents, start earning bigger money and suddenly they’re described as ‘legendary’, ‘outspoken’ and ‘respected’. At this point, the fundamental purpose of their job – to describe the action at football matches – gets lost completely. Instead, you’re left with unhinged, Maude Flanders-type figures, serving up indignation and outrage at the expense of reason and perspective.

The reason for this little rant – as you might have guessed – was the performance of Martin Tyler during United’s game at Cardiff the other week. Tyler was just a normal, faceless-type commentator once upon a time, back in the days when he was ITV’s No.2 behind Brian Moore. He had the foresight to jump on the Sky bandwagon back when satellite telly was in its infancy, a decision that proved to be a very astute one. Alongside Keys and Gray, he became one of the faces of Sky’s all-conquering coverage during the 90’s – and he’s still going strong now aged 68, having survived the culling of his former colleagues.

Tyler is horrendous to listen to these days. Pious and condescending, a self-appointed ‘guardian of the game’ who constantly uses his exalted position to try and provoke witch-hunts and stir up controversy. My terminal distaste for the bloke started last season when he was still hell-bent on pursuing his ‘De Gea is shit’ agenda, even when the rest of the population had woken up to the fact he was the best young goalkeeper in the country. Tyler still wasn’t convinced though, “Hmmm, United’s young keeper under pressure there…we know how much he struggles with the physical side of the game – don’t we, Gary?”

So Rooney gets into a tangle with Daffyd Williams or whoever and boots him. It’s probably a red card but since it’s really early in the game, he gets away with a yellow. It’s the kind of thing you see 50+ times a season, not in the slightest bit controversial in truth. Tyler however, is left utterly bereft at the great injustice that has befallen the plucky underdogs and proceeds to whinge about the decision throughout the entire game. Rooney scores: “well, Cardiff can feel aggrieved at the fact Wayne Rooney is still on the pitch!” Rooney sets a goal up: “Well this is just pouring salt on the wound!” Cardiff player gets booked: “It almost seems unfair that a yellow card is the same punishment Rooney received for what appeared a much more serious offence.” On and on and on and on, he whined – it was absolutely pathetic.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this other than to state: Martin Tyler, what a complete dick.

Fellaini sad

I read the other day that an anagram of Marouane Fellaini is ‘a lone, failure man’. This pleased me immensely so I duly checked and sadly, it turns out that it isn’t strictly true and instead it’s ‘a lone, failure main’ – but for the purposes of this we’ll go with ‘a lone failure man’. Yes, I’m sorry to confirm that our new, midfield lynchpin looks a complete dud at present. Slow, no physical presence, immobile, shit passer – the guy looks lost – just as many doom-laden sages predicted he would.

In every decent game I saw him play for Everton (invariably against United), he played much further forward but Moyes has so far tried to integrate him into the side as a deep-lying defensive midfielder. The problem is that Michael Carrick has made that position his own in recent seasons – it’s the one area of the midfield where there hasn’t been an issue. With Carrick injured at present, the hope was that Fellaini would be able to thrive in his absence. However, when presented with a starting role at Sociedad and Cardiff he looked lethargic and out-of-sorts as United regularly surrendered possession. Playing Phil ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Jones has proven a much more successful alternative – as witnessed in the games vs Arsenal at home and Leverkuson away.

Despite a less-than-impressive start, it’s too early to write him off just yet, especially considering he’s playing with a busted arm – although yes, I know that never stopped Eric. Worryingly, Moyes has suggested that part of the underlying problem is that he’s been played so deep – hinting that in future he might be utilised further forward. Evertonians would no doubt smirk at this suggestion, as it became common knowledge at Goodison that Fellaini moving up front signalled ‘last-throw-of-the dice’ tactics that usually failed. He’s not an attacking midfielder, he just he played there a few times with limited success – more often than not against United.

Overall, the team look to be building up a nice bit of momentum as we approach the (clichĂ© incoming) ‘busy, festive period’. After a ropey start we’ve clocked 11 games unbeaten – although please bear in mind, I’m writing this before the Spurs away game where things will inevitably come crashing down. We’re reasonably well-placed then, and although I don’t expect we’ll win the title this season – remaining in contention and a comfortable top four finish will be enough to prove most doubters wrong. For now.

Just as David Moyes is starting to get his head around the job, I’m starting to get my head around him too – it’s all been a bit like being introduced to an eager-to-please, new stepdad so far. He still has a fair bit to learn about us, however. Just as that element of trust is being established he comes out with a statement like “I would have taken the result before the game”, following the disappointing draw in South Wales.

Listen David, with all due respect, this isn’t Everton. We’re Man United – we don’t take draws at places like Cardiff, we suffer them.

Copyright Red News – December 2013

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