Gullit tackles Ginola in the ratings game

Mike Rowbottom looks at the expensively assembled teams who will line up in TV studios
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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL. It's a funny old game, right? ITV are clearly assuming so, judging by the way they have given David Baddiel and Frank Skinner four live shows a week for the duration of the World Cup finals.

The fantasy footballers, ITV believes, will represent a prime draw as it squares up to the BBC in covering an event that will involve the live screening of more than 160 hours of football. Skinner and Baddiel say they have been given free rein, save for the use of one particular four letter word. It might be BARB.

Because the British Audience Research Bureau has some unpalatable statistics for ITV. The last match screened live by both channels, the Euro '96 semi- final between England and Germany, saw 17.5m viewers turning to BBC, while ITV secured just 6.3m. The same ratio held good for the Euro '96 final - 12.6m to 4.2m.

As the World Cup finals approach, then, the score stands at BBC 3 ITV 1. Both teams, however, have been working with kebab-free fervour on their preparations...

Ruud Gullit, whose combination of looks, intelligence and sophistication seemed to abash even the super-suave Des Lynam during his time as a BBC match analyst, has transferred to ITV. How easily he will get along with his new anchorman, Bob Wilson - the former Arsenal goalkeeper who finds composure harder to hang on to than a football -remains to be seen. I'll have to stop you there, Ruud - we'll be right back after this break.

While Gullit has gone, the BBC has retained the squad rotation system the Dutchman introduced with such profound effect during his time as Chelsea manager. The Beeb will switch its players around to suit individual matches, although the antipathetic pairing of Alan Hansen and Jimmy Hill as analysts for the opening game between Brazil and Scotland indicates that some time- honoured traditions will be preserved.

The cruellest decision, in television terms, will be taken by the BBC once the tournament is under way, when either John Motson or Barry Davies will hear those dreaded words: "Sorry son, but you're not needed for the final." The choice will rest on which commentator is performing best.

While Gullit provides the ITV sex interest amid a host of managers, the BBC has responded by signing the dashing David Ginola to add a certain je ne sais quoi. England's former coach Terry Venables will also be on hand to analyse the workings of his successor - adding, no doubt, a certain je ne sais pourquoi.

Eurosport, despite its title, is not relying on continental opinion - its anchorman Steve Cram will be canvassing Bryan Robson, Trevor Steven and Billy McNeill.

Both terrestrial channels will be basing their operations in France, employing teams of around 150. ITV will be using the technology they have employed in Champions' League coverage, which measures the speed of the ball and distance travelled.

Meanwhile at the BBC - whose World Cup budget is pounds 8.5m - minds are being concentrated by the impending government decision on what events should remain protected for terrestrial viewers. Among the recommendations is the dilution of protection for the World Cup finals to the final itself, the semi-finals and games involving "home" sides. The rest would be open to sell, with mainstream broadcasters only gaining access to recorded highlights.

The BBC has already voiced its "serious concern" that viewers may never have the opportunity to see the whole of the World Cup finals as they will this summer. Even if Lynam and Co maintain their pre-eminence in the ratings game, they could be fighting in a losing cause...

BBC

Turn-ons

Des Lynam

Masterfully adroit anchorman, confident enough to go with the flow as studio discussion gains momentum. Is that the producer's voice in his ear, or is it piped music? You wouldn't know. Perfectly agreeable, too, for women viewers susceptible to the charms of the older man.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: Ironic usage only

Aggravating rating: 0

David Ginola

Charming, laconic, Gallic. Every thinking woman's dream Frenchman - and no prizes for guessing what they are thinking. Something about the eyes and the movement of the hips, apparently. Men, too, may be interested in the views of the talent scandalously discarded by the French.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: No relevant

Aggravating rating: Women: 0

Men: HHHHH

Alan Hansen

Knowledgeable, smart and not afraid to say what he thinks. A man for whom there is no defence for poor defence. But manages to be droll as well as derogatory. Damnably handsome too as it happens.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HH

Aggravating rating: 0

Tune-ins

Barry Davies

Genial, excitable commentator - and none the worse for that. Errs on the precious side at times, but has the essential ability to react to whatever he witnesses. Should enjoy himself if the tension of his play- off with Motty doesn't cramp his style.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HH

Aggravating rating: HH

Trevor Brooking

Has managed to graft a harsher element on to his, at times, aggravatingly even- handed analysis - although there are still times when you can see the join. His chuckle is catching and he interacts well with the sharper character of Hansen. Affable team member.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: HHH

Gary Lineker

Mister Nice Guy has allowed his waspish side greater play recently - and is the better for it. Unlike goalscoring, broadcasting doesn't come naturally to him, but he has worked diligently at his game. Still disinclined to criticise individual players.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: H

Turn-offs

Jimmy Hill

Has an unmatched ability to make every passing comment resemble a hobby horse. Has provoked scornful reactions from some of his fellow pundits - Hansen and, in the past, Venables, have clearly found him insufferable. But this trooper takes it all on the chin.

Sex appeal: 0 Cliche count: HH

Aggravating rating: HHHHH

John Motson

Like the classroom swot, Motty knows it all - because he read about it all while everyone else was out enjoying themselves. Some call it diligence, but the weight of knowledge can be stifling. And his flights of fantasy tend to dip swiftly into bathos. Loveable? Perhaps. Aggravating? You bet.

Sex appeal: 0

Cliche count: HHHHH

Aggravating rating: HHHH

Chris Waddle

It has to be said: his Geordie accent is often difficult to understand in the heat of a match, especially when he is not talking to camera. When you catch the gist, there is a good deal of wit and knowledge employed. But it isn't easy.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: HHH

ITV

Turn-ons

Ruud Gullit

Imaginative, perceptive and able to get straight to the important points of any game. Able to call upon years of top class experience for Ajax, Milan and the Netherlands. Decorative, too, if you like that sort of thing.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: 0

Aggravating rating: 0 (Ken Bates excepted)

Terry Venables

As Glenn Hoddle's predecessor as England manager, perfectly placed to talk about the team and many of the players whom he steered to the semi- finals of Euro `96. Not afraid to criticise his successor, as he did over the Gazza affair. Is there more to come?

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: HH

Brian Moore

Commentator with more then 30 years' experience, will retire at the top after covering the final. A satisfying finale for a man who has been frustrated more and more by Sky's incursions into domestic coverage. Partisan - but warm, and still passionate about the game.

Sex appeal: 0

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: H

Alex Ferguson

Not exactly Mr Happy, but there is more then enough inane grinning on ITV to counter-balance that. A man with an awesome record in management, despite Man United's ultimate frustration this season. Watch out for verbal jousting with his old rival Kevin Keegan...

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: H

Barry Venison

His image change - out went the appalling suits and bleached hair, in came designer clothes and intelligent glasses - is a little calculated for some tastes, but the former England defender usually has thoughtful contributions to make and is articulate in making them.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HH

Aggravating rating: HH

John Barnes

Unfortunately, less flamboyant in his opinions than in his play - and indeed dress. Has been described as a vision in Versace. Sometimes illuminating about the way players behave, but still far too polite. Son of a diplomat, of course...

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HH

Aggravating rating: H

Ron Atkinson

Usually gets his cliches in early doors, but sometimes he is never at the races. At least, that's what we've seen of him up to now. Colourful to some; to others, his comments have all the spontaneity of an after-dinner speaker.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHHH

Aggravating rating: HHHH

Kevin Keegan

A patriot to the core, but his frustration with perceived weaknesses often turns into peevishness. Will want to forget his excruciating misjudgement at the last World Cup, when he refused to condemn Brazil's Leonardho for the brutal use of an elbow against the US. Even Brian Moore ticked him off for that.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHH

Aggravating rating: HH

Bob Wilson

Glides across the surface for periods - but then you see the feet working madly underneath. Not good at reacting to the unexpected. Genial and authoritative - but his lack of ease as an anchorman often spreads to his fellow analysts. Not helped, of course, by commercial breaks.

Sex appeal:

Cliche count: HHHH

Aggravating rating: HH

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