It only took Andy Townsend the half-time break to completely rethink his damning conclusion of Real Madrid goalkeeper Diego Lopez. Whether that says a lot about Townsend’s credentials is one thing, but the bigger picture is that the match between Manchester United and Real Madrid offered another glimpse at the bubble that exists around football in this country.
No one is really forcing a product on anyone, but you’d like to assume that football journalists and pundits in this country would do a little more to familiarise themselves with the leagues on the continent. The fact that the Champions League offers so many opportunities to get a small hint of what’s on offer elsewhere, it’s worrying that those who should be more aware have such little knowledge of the European leagues.
It took the Soccer Saturday panel about three seconds to conclude that Tottenham would win the Europa League. No discussion, no nod towards the difficulty of travelling to places like Russia, or that Lazio, Benfica and, of course, Chelsea are fairly decent teams. Now, Spurs may go on to win that competition, but I’d like a little more of an explanation other than, “because they’re English.”
It was incredibly disappointing to hear the experts on ITV come to the conclusion that Diego Lopez wasn’t good enough for the standard of the Champions League following a fairly common mistake. Later in the game, the Spaniard gave a fantastic account of himself, proving that he did indeed have plenty of experience in the Champions League with Villarreal, that he was highly thought of in Spain and that he’s more than good enough to legitimise a claim that he could replace Iker Casillas.
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Wanting to advocate the Premier League and promote it as the best product in Europe is completely fine. But considering this country is in such regular contact with foreign leagues, it’s more than essential that the voices of football in England are able to find some level of footing when they blindly belittle players from abroad.
It was also suggested by the aforementioned ITV commentator that Juventus have no stand-out players, while Gareth Southgate suggested that Bayern Munich have no match-winners. Amusing considering both teams advanced further than any English side this season and have convincingly beaten Premier League teams at some stage during this campaign. It was even more baffling when Southgate claimed, probably with a degree of confidence, that Mats Hummels was the weak link in Dortmund’s side.
It completely flies in the face of the admiration that was shown for Andrea Pirlo last summer. Manchester United surely weren’t heavily linked with Manuel Neuer if they didn’t believe him to be a “match-winner.” Such is the strength of Bayern’s squad that Arjen Robben can’t find a place in the starting XI, and Mario Mandzukic is the first-choice striker ahead of Mario Gomez.
When you’re looking for those who should be well informed to part with an insightful piece of knowledge on the game, especially the foreign game, where exactly is it?
It’s become too easy. Getting away with knowing the starting XI and a couple of names on the bench for the England national team isn’t enough, and it never should be. It’s a little disrespectful of a football nation – one who thinks of itself as the football nation – to look down upon a team who went unbeaten in Serie A last season, and another who were deemed better than any side in England for Pep Guardiola to choose ahead of his return to management.
ITV will probably mourn the loss of all the English teams for the remainder of the Champions League. However, they should be going the extra yard to promote a competition which really hasn’t decreased in value. At this stage, is there a match in the Champions League which isn’t deemed highly attractive? It will be interesting to hear the conclusions reached following one of the quarter final ties, which coincidently features Bayern drawn against Juventus.
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