Simon Tyers tries to get his head around some strange happenings in football broadcasting
This was a strange month. After Sky's build-up to the second leg of Arsenal's Champions League tie against AC Milan seemed to assume a comeback was inevitable, Rob Hawthorne reckoned Massimiliano Allegri would "put his faith in his team holding onto what they have", as if he might have considered letting Arsenal score as many goals as they fancied instead. There was Harry Redknapp on Match of the Day after the league defeat at Everton letting his chirpy pragmatist mask slip by framing every statement as a question – "What can you do? We battered them second half?" – while considering any query about the game as a personal affront. Interviewer Guy Mowbray nearly burst out laughing, which seemed an appropriate reaction.
Then there was Adrian Chiles, before extra time in Chelsea's Champions League tie against Napoli, putting it to the pundits that "presumably Chelsea are fitter" without offering any explanation, as though accounting for why a non-League team lets in a couple in the final minutes of an FA Cup match.
Most of all there was Jonathan Pearce's comprehensive abandonment of composure in the closing seconds of Swansea's defeat of Manchester City. Joe Hart had gone up for a corner in the last minute of injury time, only for the cross to hit the first defender and be cleared to Scott Sinclair, who took a shot from ten yards inside his own half. "Is it going, is it going?" Pearce screamed, while, one would like to think, leaning fully over the table in front of him waving the ball towards the goal, temple veins bulging. We heard "Is it going, is it going?" twice more for luck, as the ball trundled to a halt on a trajectory some way wide of the far post.
Pearce was famously the very opposite of toned down in his Capital Radio and Channel 5 days, back when he was creating his public persona. His outburst at Swansea, however, was the sort of thing television has edged towards in the Fanzone era, the matchday commentator as uninhibited onlooker. Men shouting in pubs would have seemed more controlled.
These were just fleeting moments, not prearranged features involving television's idea of bankable stars. Of course Noel Gallagher would have to be the first person selected to interview Mario Balotelli in Britain, the pair brought together for Football Focus. After years of experience of private-members bars, Gallagher is inclined to see things entirely through rock stars' eyes. Our first sight of Gallagher at Manchester City's training ground involved him running into Sergio Aguero. Noel took the opportunity to affirm both his own place in the world and Aguero's true standing: "I met your father-in-law once in Buenos Aires, at a party. It was a good party." Maradona's parties, yeah? You see what he is getting at there?
A few minutes later, Noel was palpably disappointed to discover someone else had set off the famous fireworks for which Balotelli was blamed. Gallagher trotted through the myriad stories about Balotelli, even though his interviewee was bemused at most of them. Despite his image as a straight-talking deliverer of amusing swearing and meat and potatoes rock, Gallagher is not a natural interviewer. This became clear when he began listing Manchester bands Mario had not heard of in a vague attempt to assert some sort of cross-cultural understanding.
While he demonstrated a blunt sense of humour (on the relationship between celebrities and journalists: "They that go out from the line, kill them"), for the most part Balotelli came across as an awkward 21-year-old coerced onto television and left to fend for himself in his second language. Required to have Dan Walker sit next to him for a brief introduction, he adopted the downward glance and body slouch most often seen in school dramas where a pupil ends up in the headmaster's study. Asked if he had any questions for Noel, Balotelli had just one: "Why do you like me?" BBC Sport could have saved so much time and effort just by broadcasting that clip.
From WSC 303 May 2012