Match of The Day Stoops To New Low with me

It has always seemed churlish to write about the mind-blowing awfulness that is Match of The Day. After all, it is a football highlights package, and as long as it does that bit, then the rest isn’t really that important.

So what if the analysis is less cutting than Paul Merson’s views on the role of the libero in Greece’s successful Euro 2004 squad? The BBC have always responded to criticism of the show saying its purpose has never been to dissect tactically each game, but to provide to a largely post-pub audience who just want to see the goals. Somehow though, they have even managed to mess that up.

As a person who isn’t really interested in pre-match analysis, post-match analysis, or the views of any ex-footballer, the fuzz around the main action has never really bothered me, raising the odd chuckle and the shake of the head if I was really riled. But on Saturday night’s Match of The Day, the court jesters Alan Hansen and Shearer brought “analysis” to a new nadir.

Alan Hansen seems to have an “issue” with Manchester City at the moment (join the queue), probably caused by the usurping of his beloved Liverpool from the “Big Four”. After City had convincingly beaten Aston Villa at the weekend, there were numerous angles the crack team of analysts could have approached the game from when discussing with Gary Lineker the 4-1 score line. Bizarrely, Hansen decided not to focus on the goals, Balotelli’s great performance, Milners’ exquisite 4th goal (made in England), or even a look at how Adam Johnson fared or Toure performed further forward. No look at how Aston Villa’s front two did not help out the midfield by tackling, or how Villa’s defence was too close to the defence. Nope, that’s not important. Instead, he decided to completely fabricate a supposed falling out with Yaya Toure on the pitch, all overseen with a chuckling commentary.

First there was the heinous crime of ranting at a misplaced pass to Toure, a scene never before witnessed on a football pitch. Then there was the small “to-do” with the Aston Villa fans, before focussing on a pretend stamp on Balotelli by Toure, a look at Balotelli leaving stud marks on Shay Given’s chest, and a suggestion at the end that he only tracked back on hearing he had been made Man of the Match.

Hansen wouldn’t include Mario Balotelli in his side “when it comes to the crunch” while Alan Shearer “guarantees” the Italian will get sent off further down the line. Funny, but I bet Hansen would have Wayne Rooney in his starting eleven when that crunch came-a-calling, and we all know how trustworthy he is (but then he’s English too).

Clearly in the Alans’ “Betfair-couch” world of chumminess and golf-course jokes Balotelli is still something of a clown, a joke figure. But as the Guardian suggested today, perhaps it’s about time he was taken seriously. And perhaps it’s about time Messers Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson et al did their jobs.

But as I said I can take some lax analysis or a complete lack of it – because that’s not the worst problem with the programme.

The main problem for me is that they aren’t even capable of showing proper highlights. This first began to dawn on me a couple of seasons ago. You tune in to see how your team did, to check if what you saw earlier in the day was how you thought it was, to re-live some fine goals and revisit the controversies. Now the goals are always there of course, as are the big chances, the big talking points such as red cards or missed penalties. But games aren’t just about that. They’re about the other missed chances and the finer points and incidents. Unfortunately, Match of The Day doesn’t seem too concerned about these. Fair enough, they have just a few hours to edit together an accurate portrayal of the match, but that’s their job. The number of times I have watched the highlights and then wondered whether I had imagined the missed header after 20 minutes, the last-gasp tackle when the game was delicately poised or the thigh-high tackle by the player who doesn’t-attract-a-lot-of-controversy-and-isn’t-that-sort-of-player-so-there’s-probably-no-need-to-show-it.

It is coming to something when I have to go to Manchester City’s highlights on their official website to watch Aston Villa’s chances. A goal-saving tackle by Micah Richards when it was 2-0. A blocked Emile Heskey header too springs to mind. If you were an Aston Villa fan who hadn’t followed the game, I reckon you’d want to know about these half-chances. MOTD editors would have you believe you didn’t leave your half during the last hour.

What’s more it seems to have become a habit to hold back some of the coverage for exclusive use in the analysis in the post-match discussion. This is wrong on more levels than a lingering fart in a lift. The highlights should show the major incidents of the match, in chronological order. End of.

And as for MOTD2, and Colin Murray, the less said the better.

For me, Match of the Day is an institution in the country’s sporting life, and it is that reason its inadequacies rankle so much. Any Premiership fan loves to watch their team’s highlights after a good performance, maybe even after a bad one. Is it too much to ask that the nation’s premier highlights programme could manage to show things of consequence during the match? And then look at the issues afterwards objectively, and with just the merest suggestion of some tactical knowledge? If the Match of the Day editors want “banter” then get three comedians on the couch. Otherwise, use ex-footballers who actually have something of interest to say, and editors who understand what incidents make a game what it is.