I was fortunate enough to meet former Football Italia legend and new European football expert and presenter James Richardson of BT Sport yesterday. BT Sport clearly mean business in the league of sports broadcasting, signing up talent like Richardson as well as great figures in the game like David Ginola and Uwe Rosler to their arsenal of pundits.
My day started off with a journey to the BT Sport studios at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford. To my delight, BT Sport is among several companies trying their best to utilise facilities that remain from the glory days of the Olympics in the summer of 2012. Their commitment to basing their channels in the former International Broadcast Centre of the Olympics in a clear commitment to enhancing its legacy.
Upon arrival, I was treated to a tour of the BT Sport studio. Our minder reminded us that unlike previous broadcasters of European football placing their coverage in a ‘box-like’ studio with a sub-standard feed for matches, BT have really tried to go the extra mile in enhancing the viewer’s experience. This was no more evident to me than in the broadaster’s LED interactive pitch for both football and Rugby coverage. Impressively, they also had the capability to run several shows at once in the same studio from different presenting points.
After the tour it was time to get down to the nitty gritty and grill James Richardson about European football, his new show on BT Sport and Serie A.
What is it like to be working in such an impressive studio?
“I’ve worked on European football for other broadcasters but I’ve never has the pleasure of working on something that has as much relevance as the Sunday Night Football show we’re doing for BT because we’ve committed a lot of resources to it.
“It’s a four-hour slot, so we’ve got time to do all the news and goals from Germany, France and Italy as well as a featured live game. It feels like there is a real buzz about it.”
What can viewers that haven’t seen your Sunday night show expect?
“The resources we’ve been given allows us to update every game in progress broadcasting the goals from all the European Leagues we cover to viewers from other matches while our featured match is still live.
“We really have made the biggest effort to enhance the viewing experience and entertainment for viewers. Our Sunday Night show will bring all the goals, with expert opinion and news on all the players people wouldn’t have heard of as much.
You presented coverage of Italian football during the 1990s in what many football fans saw as the glory days of Serie A – do you think the league is anywhere near rekindling those days?
“I don’t think any league is or will ever be as dominant as Serie A was in the 1990s. Nowadays, I don’t think there is anything to suggest Serie A will ever be as dominant as it was. Before they had more money like the Premier League has currently, but they were also tactically and technically far more adept than any of their rivals.
“In the present time, Italian managers are the most sought after in the world so that could be viewed as a strength of Italian football. Serie A never used to need to innovate because it was so dominant, now it’s getting stronger again it will have to if it is to sell itself around the world like the Premier League. At the moment, I can’t see anything bursting the Premier League bubble.”
With the strength of Italian football in mind, how do you think Napoli, Juventus and AC Milan will get on in the Champions League this season?
“Napoli are looking very, very strong. Rafa Benitez obviously knows his onions at European level.
“They’ve made some great signings; the only problem is they’ve been drawn into a hugely difficult group with Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Marseille.
“AC Milan – frankly no – the DNA of the club means they can always pull a result out of the bag but I don’t think they’re strong enough.
“Juventus you can make a big case for because they were strong last year and with the addition of Carlos Tevez anything could happen.”
Of the Premier League’s acquisitions from Serie A, who catches your eye?
“I’m always surprised Premier League clubs don’t go for goalkeepers like Samir Handanovic.
Paolo Di Canio is manager at Sunderland, can he turn their poor start around?
“The Italians won’t be able to turn it around there. He’s talking about bringing back the old backbone of the team even after signing 14 or 15 players.
“Di Canio tries to get his teams super fit and this is great but you run the risk of starting off the season completely shattered and this may be the case with Sunderland, or they may just be rubbish.”
I can’t leave here without asking you about Gareth Bale, can he live up to his price tag?
“I don’t think anyone can live up to that price tag but Bale has proved he is world class player more than capable of playing in Europe. However, at the moment he doesn’t look an integral part of their team yet.
“When Ronaldo called him over to celebrate against Galatasaray – it was almost as if Bale said ‘who, me?’ I have no doubt he’ll do well for Real Madrid though.”
Watch BT Sport’s exclusively live coverage of AC Milan v Napoli on BT Sport 2 from 7.30pm on Sunday 22 September. Build up to the big game with Sunday Night Football, which covers the game across the continent, from 6.45pm on BT Sport 1 on Sunday 22 September.
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