Cantona revisits Manchester

Simon Tyers watches ITV’s build up the Manchester derby, while Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker returns

This column recently speculated on the appeal to football show producers of David Ginola. He has to be coerced into saying anything of interest but nonetheless has the inbuilt advantages of a French accent and the fact that he’s going grey in a dignified fashion. For these people, Eric Cantona is the lodestone. Write in a couple of aphorisms, allow him to sparkle gently with a sideways look to camera and you’re away. Cantona turned up as the de facto centrepiece of Looking For Manchester, essentially ITV’s preview of a derby for which they had no broadcast rights. It did not promise much for City fans hoping for a fair hearing and, sure enough, all they got was Denis Law’s backheel and a brief clip of the 5-1 derby win in 1989.

Cantona was shown haunting a club now not as successful as when he played for them, his head and shoulders projected onto walls around the city. Less than ten seconds in Eric was informing us that, “In Manchester people’s love for football runs like blood through their veins”, because this can obviously be said of no other club or city in the world, a narrow narrative reinforced when the derby is referred to by bluff northern narrator Nicholas Gleaves as “the ultimate footballing clash”. Gleaves then described City’s status as “new found millions threatening [Cantona’s] legacy”, the legacy apparently being to have made United into a big club. It’s often said of modern football coverage that it pretends nothing happened before 1992; how nice of ITV to put an exact date on it for us.

Perhaps if Wayne Rooney spoke with enigmatic gaps between sentences people might have been more forgiving of his wage hike. Rooney’s Street Striker returned to Sky One for a third series and another go at quantifying the act of kicking a ball around as social endeavour. Of course, street football in the Sky sense has very little to do with the basic act of playing in the street – the term now means doing some tricks in front of your mates before attempting to get the ball through one of those vertical stacks of tyres that litter our highways and byways.

When exactly Rooney had time to film this between being injured, pretending to be injured, being in moral disgrace and at the World Cup is unclear. But taking on all these extra activities seems to have affected Rooney’s confidence in front of camera. Never the most loquacious of men, he now barely seems able to raise his voice beyond a murmur or string together a sentence of more than four words.

That, presumably, is why Andy Ansah starts every other sentence with “Wayne wants…” Ansah is the show’s “football consultant and choreographer” whom some may remember as a lightweight striker who played for six League clubs, most notably for Southend. Here, when not standing around like a spare wheel, he feels compelled to add a comment to every touch anyone makes. His one attempt at levity comes when he asks what the voiceover calls “the question on everyone’s mind” three times: “Would this be a good time to ask you about the World Cup?” Rooney’s response – “You’re joking, aren’t you?” – indicates that we will not be getting any glimpses into his world beyond the fact that he sometimes watches people kicking a ball into a skip in a wet car park.

The peak of television fakery scandals is three years passed now, but every broadcaster is surely aware that any hint of impropriety in highlights commentary will be pounced upon. Therefore we can only assume that Tony Jones is a multitasking wonder, given that on November 6 he was heard on ITV covering Dover’s FA Cup giant killing of Gillingham at exactly the same time as highlights of his work at Birmingham v West Ham were shown on Sky Sports’ Match Choice, the games having been played simultaneously.

ITV at least nodded to gritty non-League realism through the medium of Havant & Waterlooville, goals from whose game against Droylsden were shown with a time and date display in the bottom corner. H&W’s Cup run of a couple of seasons ago surely ought to mean that they can afford professional facilities rather than some bloke with a camcorder – and a badly set camcorder at that, as the date displayed was 01/01/01.

The following day saw a fine example of the trust people still place in the Daybreak team. After Kate Garraway helped draw the potential meeting of AFC Wimbledon v MK Dons, Cup draw host Jim Rosenthal summed up the mood of the nation with: “AFC Wim-bledon, the prospect of another home tie there.” When Adrian Chiles got the opportunity to discuss the draw he specifically mentioned the likelihood of an AFC v MK meeting to the pundits, with the clanging rhetorical question: “Which is the real Wimbledon?” They ignored him to talk about the rest of the draw. You could have forgiven Chiles had he chosen that moment to turn heel and walk all the way back to Broadcasting House.

From WSC 287 January 2011