Tom Peck on World Cup 2014: Never mind the actual footy, it’s pundit punditry that will get them glued to their sofas


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The Independent Online

Though their distraction proved only minor, it comes as a relief that England are now officially gone, at least in a competitive sense, from Brazil 2014.

Alright, so no one imagined they might threaten Ronnie Biggs’s unofficial Guinness record for Survival in Brazil Against the Odds, amusing as it would have been to find Rooney suddenly the victim of a botched kidnap attempt by the British intelligence services, saved from a furious Coleen only by the intervention of the Barbadian coastguard.

But this tournament has been proving far too full of distractions from the nation’s newest and truest footballing passion - pundit punditry. The unforeseeably high quality of play, the goals, the comebacks, that too has interfered.

This column, marooned as it is on the parochial outpost of Copacabana and forced to consume British cultural life entirely through the realm of social media, surely cannot be alone in realising that no one actually cares about football anymore, at least not the inconsequential part of the game that involves the players kicking the ball about between one another.

If Facebook, Twitter and most of the rest of the internet is to be believed, this is not Neymar’s tournament, nor Suarez’s nor Messi’s. It belongs to Chiles, to Henry, to Shearer. Phil Neville is the star now, the players merely the bright oils with which to paint his analytical masterpiece.

As such, this column gives away free to any enterprising television executives the idea that will transform the game forever. Pundit punditry belongs on screen.

It’s shocking to think it’s not been done properly yet. Why pay Fifa’s astronomical rights for the football itself? Instead as soon as the second half kicks off, on come a new team of analysts to argue over the nitty gritty of the half time analysis. Whose insight shone? Who underperformed? Best tie? Best joke? Best venomous barb? Best twee ‘in my day’ self-deprecation?

Naturally, the viewers can join in too. “Yes, we’ve got a tweet here from David, in Newcastle that says, ‘Alan Shearer is a legend.’ But as for Ian in Sunderland, well he doesn’t agree at all.”

All the scandals are there to be ruminated over, and the transfer speculation. “Coming up next, we’ll have all the latest on Roy Keane’s eleventh hour withdrawal from ITV. And with Hansen finally out of contract, could Al-Jazeera come calling?“

Then there’d be the fantasy leagues, where you play the producer, with the whole year’s programming budget to control. It’s Chelsea vs Bayern this week. The Champions League quarter-final. Ballack will cost you fourteen grand, that’s two thirds of your studio budget. You could get Owen Hargreaves for ten. Or do you just pick up Clive Allen for a tenner, save your money and buy an option on Benitez in case they get Liverpool in the next round?

Of course it might just be that, to the person sat on their sofa watching at home, the I-could-do-better-than-that resentment that calls forth the fingers to the social media keyboard is felt more strongly towards the middle-aged men sat pontificating on their sofa over Copacabana, than it is towards the younger chaps on the pitch, actually running about.

In reality, as Phil Neville proved, neither is as easy as it looks.

You have to pity Chilean fans their unarmed conga

The Chilean fan invasion of the Maracana press centre might appear a touch unsavoury, but in the main, it is a cause for much optimism.

One has to pity Los 85, who have burned less gloriously in the glare of the international spotlight than their mining counterparts. The pictures of them being marched in single file by riot police are a sad spectacle. Billowing flags still tied round waists, hands held on the shoulder of the man in front, a day that should have been remembered rather differently, ending in a sad conga all the way to the border and deportation.

In the amateur footage of the opportunistic raid itself that has done the usual rounds, one has to feel most sorry for the only two women featured who are, in the ensuing rush, the only two of the 85 to faceplant into the Tarmac. Even a leading feminist theatre producer has identified it as a ‘classic white wine tumble.’

One school of thought is that it is most unlucky for Fifa that of all the gates to be breached, it should have to be the one that leads directly in to the wide angle lenses of every news organisation in the world.

But on the other hand, it serves as proof that the sideways blinking lizards who control football may not be as evil as is regularly put about. Also in that room - raided by a third party with whom no traceable links could be established - were so many of its mortal, pen-pushing enemies. The CIA would have armed them first.