A few weeks ago, when England sleepwalked to a heavy-weather win over Andorra, I must admit I joined the boo-boys in Barcelona from the comfort of this column, and I also castigated Setanta's summariser Chris Waddle for the positive spin he managed to put on the evening. "A professional job," he purred, and I sneered. "Emile Heskey, for me, is what we've been looking for," he ventured, and I fell off the sofa giggling.
Well, it may be time to acknowledge, however reluctantly, that as a football analyst I may possibly leave something to be desired. As Wednesday night in Belarus demonstrated, that Capello bloke – "the square-jawed authoritarian" as Jon Champion called him – seems to know what he's doing; and Heskey the space creator was pure Minsk magic.
But whereas Waddle found nice things to say about England against Andorra, on Wednesday he was wielding a big stick until they started motoring in the second half. "They've stopped working, Jon," he chastised at 1-1. "England are not working hard enough as a four in midfield."
Towards the end of the first half, Disgusted of Tyne and Wear was at it again. "The four midfield players do nothing when Belarus have the ball – nothing. Belarus have played the way they've wanted to do." Thankfully things got better, and he ended the second half a far happier man than he had the first. I suppose we all did.
Champion, meanwhile, was displaying his credentials to take over as Factmeister General when Motty finally hangs up his sheepskin (which he's probably not actually worn since about 1975). He kept them coming: BATE, as in FC BATE, the current Belarus champions, stands for "Borisov Automobile Tractor Electrical Equipment Team" or something (Motty would be proud of that one); Heskey is the eighth England striker to win 50 caps, and the one of those eight with the fewest goals; Peter Crouch is the tallest player in English international football history (get away); oh yes, and David Beckham has reacted with great dignity to his demotion to the bench (he's probably just relieved to be associated with a half-decent side for a change).
Champion, in fact, is a perfectly good commentator, a satellite version of Clive Tyldesley. In the studio, however, Steve McManaman, Sam Allardyce and Terry Venables are up to the usual standard of TV football punditry: which is to say that, like Sybil Fawlty, they've all got degrees in the bleedin' obvious.
It's the same on ITV1, with Andy Townsend, Tony Adams and Graeme Le Saux, the poor man's Hansen, Lawro and Shearer. "Wayne needs to be playing with us," said Adams, in case we're all terminally stupid and hadn't noticed. "Gerrard and Lampard both like to break forward," reported Le Saux from somewhere far beyond the boundaries of Insight City. And none of them, not even "Tactics Truck" Townsend, mentioned that one of the big second-half changes was Steven Gerrard being told to cut off the supply line from Alex Kulchy (Waddle was on to it straight away).
It's a nice touch, by ITV, however, having "Bitter Sweet Symphony" as their theme tune, though watching England until the last few weeks has tended to be more bitter than sweet, more "Road to Nowhere" than "We are the Champions". And a big hand, too, to the Belarus mascots. They showed the watching world that the future of the mullet is secure.
Versatile Stelling the man to count on
When Richard Whiteley died, Des Lynam took over on Countdown, though he didn't last. One of the candidates was Jeff Stelling, Lord of Soccer Saturday and peerless in his realm. Disgraceful. The makers can now put that right with Des O'Connor giving up. Stelling should be a shoo-in. He could do anything, from Newsnight to Blue Peter. From Paxman to Purves, Stelling's your man.Reuse content