Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sports announcers beyond borders, or, a new nickname for the U.S. soccer team

The American television network broadcasting soccer's World Cup had the happy idea of bringing in former great players from around the world to act as pregame, postgame and halftime commentators.

I know too little about the sport to evaluate their work properly, but the multinational cast has offered interesting cultural contrasts. Bob Ley, the American host of one discussion, thought it noteworthy that a Danish player was romantically involved with a baroness twelve years his senior. "I hear she's worth half a billion dollars!" Ley cried.

Ruud Gullit, a former Dutch superstar who obviously thought his role as a game analyst was to analyze the game, displayed great tact at Ley's inane ejaculation. After a moment of shocked silence, he said, "Wellll, I'm not sure it's that important she's twelve years older."

But the most emblematic exchange happened when it became clear that the United States would play Ghana, a team it outranks by eighteen spots in FIFA's most recent world rankings, in the knockout phase. Despite the superior position, American commentator Alexi Lalas declared with great zest that "The U.S. will be the underdog in the game," to which his German co-commentator Jürgen Klinsmann as much as responded, "Who are you kidding with that Scheiße?"

The United States is the world's mightiest nation by most measures, and it is a strong up-and-comer in soccer, yet it defies the world and bravely calls itself an underdog at the World Cup. OK, Alexi Lalas. OK, America. I accept the challenge. If you insist on claiming the underdog role, then follow the tradition of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions and adopt a colorful nickname. May I suggest The Mighty Underdogs ©?

(Contrast Lalas' joyous embrace of the underdog role with Barry Glendenning's prematch assessments in the Guardian that "I expect the Americans to dominate tonight ... The bookies make the USA 6-4 favourites" and that "in Landon Donovan [the Americans] have one of the players of the tournament thus far."

(Of course, the U.S. lost to Ghana, so maybe Lalas was right. Visit Adrian McKinty's for more discussion of spurious sports underdog claims.)
***
Did you think the French team was nothing but a gang of underachieving, fractious, immature cheats and bad sports? You're wrong. They were also paranoid, imperious and contemptuous of their South African hosts, according to this report from someone who was there.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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41 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Nice nod to Barry Glendenning. He's astute and by far the most entertaining commentator on the Guardian's world cup podcast (the best of the WC podcasts IMHO).

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd forgotten about the Guardian's entertaining play-by-play until the last couple of days. I don't know that they have any equivalent in American sports.

June 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Ghana have long been one of the African powerhouses at soccer, and having lived and worked for a time in West Africa I'm delighted that they're the African team that has most impressed in the World Cup.
(and I know this victory will be celebrated by soccer fans throughout the region).
I think just have too much strength in key areas of the pitch, though, but they're a young side and if they stick together they could well make a serious challenge in the next World Cup

World rankings can be misleading, partly becase of their base settings.

June 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

somehow the word 'Uruguay' escaped from the second-last paragraph of my previous comment!!!

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I guess many people expected France rather than Ghana to go through from that group. I like the idea of Uruguay as three-time champions.

I think FIFA's site explains the rankings; I'll take a look. What I know about them is approximately nothing.

My uneducated eye tells me the Black Stars could go far now that they've knocked off the Mighty Underdogs because the toughest teams are in other segments of the draw: Brazil and the Netherlands in one quadrant, Argentina and Germany in another, Portugal and Spain in a third.

I don't know who to cheer for. Relative underdogs like Uruguay or Ghana would be exciting, and I like the way Japan and Spain play. Portugal seems too often to play dirty and, though everyone loves Brazil, rooting for Brazil is like what used to be said about the New York Yankees: It's like rooting for U.S. Steel.

June 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

more and more it seems Brazil's march to another title is inevitable: especially if they can field their strongest side, including the 3 key players that didn't play against Portugal.
Spain, to me, are a team in decline, although if Iniesta can get back to match-fitness there might be life in the old dog yet.

I don't have a problem rooting for this Brazil team because they look such a hugely impressive unit, with no apparent weaknesses.
If they go on to win in impressive fashion, especially if its against Argentina in the final, they might deserve to rank among the great national teams.
Although I'd love to see Ghana in the final, its highly improbable.

The US team's strengths were its team unity and character.
Theres no way I'd consider Donovan a World-class player

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I know squat about soccer (or sweet f-all about football), but Iniesta scored a nice goal against Chile. And would a victory by this Brazil team be even more impressive in its way than their previous World Cup wins because they have few if any players that everyone, even non-fans knows? Kaka is probably Brazil's biggest name, but he's not as well-known as Ronaldinho, Ronaldo. or Kaka's predecesor in the #10 jersey.

A commentator in the U.S., maybe even at my own paper, singled out Landon Donovan as an example of why the U.S. is not top-level in soccer. U.S. athletes are as good as any, the thinking went, but the best ones gravitate to other sports.

June 26, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Partly whats great about this Brazil team is that their defence is so good, both in snuffing out opposition attacks, and at being the launch-pad of their fast-breaking attack.

Two of their defenders, in particular, are among their most potent offensive weapons
(you might have seen Maicon's goal against North Korea; the other is centre-back, Lucio).

The main difference between Kaka and both Ronaldo and Ronaldinho is that he is mainly a 'playmaker', or an orchestra conductor, if you will, whereas the other two are generally more 'selfish' players with an eye on only one thing: scoring goals.
Plus their 'footwork' is generally more mesmeric than the more prosaic Kaka

June 26, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I have heard that this Brazil team plays better defense than its predecessors and that the decision to leave Ronaldinho off was a deliberate effort toward that end.

I did see Maicon's goal, the tournament's first highlight, I think.

I have seen some of Ronaldinho's footwork in person, and it's mermeric all right. It seems odd to call it selfish, though, since what sticks me is a thread-the-needle pass that he made that led to another player's goal. (He was playing for Barcelona at the time in an exhibition match against Manchester United.)

I don't know how much importance Brazil attaches to these things, but the jersey number they gave Kaka must mean something.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Thats true, Ronaldinho isn't an entirely selfish player and has often set up fine goals for teammates, but Kaka rarely, if ever, would bare down on goal like Ronaldinho, or perhaps especially Ronaldo did at his peak.

I think the No.10 jersey is the most cherished among Brazilians, and perhaps among most creative players, generally.
No. 9 is more for the out and out goalscorer, and was always the centre-forward's shirt number in the traditional numbering system

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian McKInty said...

Peter

Its a pity more people didnt root for US Steel. China now makes more steel than the US, Germany, Japan etc. etc. combinded, most of in horrible black earth sites far from prying eyes.

And its fine to root for the Yankees if you're from the NY area or Man Utd if you're from Manchester or Brazil if you're from Brazil. Why the casual fan would root for Brazil is a little tricker to understand. This isnt the Brazil team of 1970 and 1982 - this is a dull, mechanical, safe and pretty boring team. A Germany v Brazil final would be a tedious one.

The Dutch are the team to root for. Small country, nice style of play. Also I have ten bucks on them at 120 to 1.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for that primer on numbers. I'll pay more attention to who wears which numbers for Brazil. And who wore 10 before Pele?

June 27, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Don't know anything about the pre-Pele history
I vaguely recall hearing about a great centre forward they had in the 1950 World Cup but thats about it.

Did you know that the Irish for (the game of) football is 'Peile', pronounced Pel-eh.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Adrian, Van Persie's diving skills ain't gonna help him against Juan and Lucio.
And I suspect its more the old Arjan Robben we'll be seeing than 'this year's model'

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian: Next thing, you'll be knocking the safety record in China's mines, you old Sinophobe. But don't worry. Public pressure will force desirable, humane reforms.

And how long need one have lived in the New York area to root for the Yankees?

A casual fan might root for this Brazil team because of past Brazil teams and maybe out of appreciation for the daring change this team has made in its style -- if it was daring, that is, and not a result of desperation.

Yes on the Dutch. Their big two of Van Persie and Robben are exciting to watch, especially if Robben is recovered from his injuries. But I fear for that small country should the team win. I have partied with Netherlanders. They can get out of hand.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sounds like a shame a Netherlands-Brazil match would happen in the quarter-finals and not later.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't know about "Peile" either, but I do know that the Spanish for soccer ball is "pelota" and that some linguists of posited a hypothetical common ancestor for the Italic and Celic languages subsequent to their splitting off from the hypothetical proto-Indo-European, so who knows? Maybe the words are related. Ball games have been around a long time.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The one big plus of this Dutch team is that they're a united squad: too many previous Dutch squads have been fractured by big egos and racial divides.
And their coach seems more sober and level-headed than its predecessor.

My man, Nigel De Jong, who has a key defensive role in the team, has sailed too close to the wind with his tackling, though: he needs to keep on the right side of the law if they're to have any chance.

But Wesley Sneijder is arguably their most important player right now

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sneijder certainly seems to have been the man so far, and may I add how unexpected it is to find a fan who pays so much attention to defemse. You will gladden the heart of tactically minded coaches everywhere.

In re tackling, the U.S.-Ghana referee seemed to be letting the players play, which is a welcome change from, say, the inconsistent calls and non-calls in the Spain-Chile match.

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

If you're a foreigner lets say after 1 year's residency and twenty games you can call yourself a Yankees fan.

If you're a US citizen switching from another city I'm afraid the rule is 10 years and at least 500 games.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hey, I can't complain abour rules written to benefit one group or even one person. I got into this country on the backs of thousands of Irish immigrants/would-be Democratic voters.

Trying to watch the reaplay of Uruguay-South Korea on my computer. I feared briefly that I might be stuck watching The World Series of Poker. Now, happily, the streaming is jammed, and I am watching nothing. So I'll let the computer idle for a while and then, if I can't watch soccer, I'll go for some Truth.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

may I add how unexpected it is to find a fan who pays so much attention to defemse.
Whenever people ask me who do I think was the best player ever, Pele or Maradona, I answer Franz Beckenbauer, and not because I played in defence, myself.

As for 'supporting' teams, I'm a (long-suffering) Manchester City fan of 40 years vintage, and while I 'supported' New York Mets for the 1986 Series, I've long since been an unapologetic Yankees fan, although I thought the Phillies might just win the World Series last year

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I wonder how many people have rooted for the Yankees and the Mets. I wagered a dinner on the outcome of last year's World Series and lost.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Some of us have long-standing feelings of enmity toward the Yankees (since 1941, in fact, nine years before I was born) such that we could never ever even consider rooting for them. Even if their financial condition became as dire as US Steel's eventually did, some of us would rejoice.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What would one say today? "Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Microsoft, Starbucks or Amazon?" It seems almost exotic to think that there was a time when American culture did not worship big business, doesn't it?

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, do you realize there are no English-speaking teams left in the World Cup? I'm with Glenn Berk. It's clearly a left-wing conspiracy.

v-word: redbath (I wish I could make up words like that)

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Some in the Netherlands speak English better than some in the U.S. And you could make up words like "redbath" if you were one of the people who wrote Glenn Beck's material for him.

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Sorry, Peter. I wasn't trying to be smart but I thought you would have noticed that my spelling of whatshisname wasn't quite correct and that something else could be read into my misspelling.

Or course, berk is an Englishism, and there's no reason why you should be expected to recognize it.

Still, egocentric git that I am, I'm rather glad I can be so easily misundertood.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aye, do you not do deadpan, or is that restricted to the English?

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

I'll leave deadpan to Canandians. Nobody needs it more. Hail Canada!
(PS, I love you (well, not you, just Canadians in general)

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Glenn Beck is the real stand-up comic here. Imagine his schtick as a "Saturday Night Live"-style news rant, and it works. Except this guy is apparently taken seriously in America and makes big money, though I try not to play too much attention.

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Glenn Berk, Peter. That's the way I think of him. Anybody who makes Nazi comparisons the way he does is obviously history. Nothing to worry about.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, Berk might be lost on American readers, who might prefer something like Glenn Douchebag.

But Rush Limbaugh is still around lo these many years later ...

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous Adrian said...

I take back what I said about the Germans. That was a lovely display. They're growing with confidence in every game. If I was Diego Maradonna I'd be afraid, very afraid.

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Yes, Berk will escape many of your readers. And even for those Yanks who might understand it, berk would hardly cover Mr Limbaugh.

I like his first name, though. Rush! Now, where does he get that from? It's a druggie name, obviously. Prescription drugs, perhaps? Amphetemines? Some drug has to be responsible for such a deep-seated hatred as he espouses.

Is he the original for Breaking Bad? No, he's probably a bit too fat for that. I'm sure there's a nice guy trying to get out there, if only he lived in a blue state.

But what do I know. I'm only an Irishman.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Quite an evisceration that was, one of the bigger ones ever in knockout-stage play, I have to think, and will add interest to the Germany-Argentina quarterfinal.

Now, a question on a related note. I've been listening to the Guardian's "World Cup Daily" poscasts, and do Englishmen really say "progidy," or is it just Sean Ingle? It wasn't a slip or my ears playing tricks, he said it twice.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, if there's a nice guy trapped inside, he's struggling to break free of the malevolent fudge pot in which he is kept prisoner.

June 27, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Apologies for not keeping up with the football. I've been watching old movies instead (gracias, YouTube) The Big Heat was even better than I remembered it.

Sorry, it's American, and not foreign, bad manners of me to even mention it in this space. Time for me to take a holiday, I think. Thanks, Peter, for tolerating me so long.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fritz Lang was German, so you're allowed to discuss the movie here, and The Big Heat is stunningly good.

I remember before I saw it for the first time, about all I knew was the famous coffee scene, so paid close attention to the camera work. Lang keeps the camera on the reaction of one of the card players rather than on Gloria Grahame's character, which was a master stroke.

June 27, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

I preferred Marcelo Balboa's English announcing skills(from the last world cup)to Lalas, although I mostly watched or listened to the games on the Spanish channel. When are US announcers going to learn to yell "GOOOoooooooAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL" like the Spanish announcers? I was really confused when one of the announcers said that the English invented futbol?! and it was priceless when one of the Euro announcers said to the US "look at your Hispanics if you want to win". Many of my friends also view the US as futbol underdogs, since the reason it continues to gain popularity is because of American families that pass on the love of the game to their children because that love was nurtured in the "old country".

June 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have considerable sympathy for the job American announcers face trying to strike a balance between explaining the game to infrequent fans on the one hand, and holding the attention of experienced viewers on the other.

I have heard the theory that the United States could rise in soccer, in part because of "your Hispanics," though my correspondant did not put it quite so crudely. I have heard the suggestion as well that Australia might have a bright future in the sport because of its openness to incomers from soccer-loving nations.

June 28, 2010  

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