Sport on TV: Alien invasion of the Rolex-wearing Bosmanoids
At the beginning of the week, English newspapers picked up on Franck Leboeuf's whinging to L'Equipe about being "club cretin" at Stamford Bridge. The poor petal is underpaid, he reckons, and should be getting at least as much as Chelsea's other World Cup-winning Frenchman, Marcel Desailly. This point is highly debatable given that he is essentially a reserve centre-back for his country, only playing in the World Cup final thanks to Davor Suker, whose despicable play-acting led to Laurent Blanc's dismissal in the semis.
Accomplished though Leboeuf is, there is always the impression that he thinks he's a better player than he actually is, and his gripes sat oddly with the portrait of him in First Edition's "The Football Foreign Legion" (Carlton, Tuesday). Over film of him shopping with his wife down New Bond Street, he insisted that "I try to have my heart richer than my wallet." No Ferraris for him, he says. "I prefer to buy flats and houses," he says. "It's a better investment."
The prospect of reviewing a Carlton documentary is not generally an occasion for gleeful anticipation, but this one exceeded expectations. I was expecting a blast of Hello!, Leboeuf relaxing in his beautiful home with his beautiful wife. It was fairly tough-minded, though, asking whether all these Johnny Foreigners are just over here on Bosman holidays.
West Ham was cited as an example of how not to import foreign talent. Mind you, the conclusion - that the way to do it is to fork out for the best rather than mooch round the "everything must go" department - is blindingly obvious, really.
The low point for the club's manager, Harry Redknapp, was the faith he placed in Florin Raducioiu, who turned out to be the archetypal Bosman tourist, according Rob Shepherd of the Express: "Five years ago he was queuing up for a loaf of bread. Suddenly the guy comes over with a Rolex on his wrist - two Rolexes he had on the same wrist at one point."
At the other end of the guestworker continuum is the Hammers' Israeli, Eyal Berkovic, who, despite having his face famously rearranged by John Hartson's fancy footwork, has settled down on and off the pitch. He was born on a kibbutz and possessed "not a word of English" when he came over - even now, when Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard get together, he says, "I understand nothing - they speak Cocknik".
So he wasn't keen on Southampton, his first foreign posting, where there is no Jewish community to speak of. The move to London worked though, and he's happy living in Golders Green, a ready-made community that most foreigners don't have. He's sufficiently at home, on the film's evidence, to indulge in a spot of mock road-rage banter with bewildered fellow motorists.
So what do incomers have to look forward to when they get here, apart from foul weather and thousands of pounds a week? The likes of Dennis Wise, that's what, whose idea of a joke is teaching the new boys to say "fank you hairy crutch" to waitresses instead of "thank you very much". It's a cheap shot (and an old gag) to observe that his English is worse than some of his foreign team-mates, but I don't usually let that deter me, and I'm not about to start now.
One fruitful direction taken by the film was Crystal Palace's Chinese connection - "tactical decision or cunning move?" The signing of Fan Zhiyi and Sun Jihai more than simply bolstered midfield and defence, providing an entry into the vast Asian market, with a club shop in Beijing and a television audience of 1.2 billion for a game against Sheffield United described in the Independent at the time as "a tedious encounter to which [Fan] contributed little."
Shepherd, who, you gather, isn't enamoured of the alien invasion, is scathing about Palace's motives. "If they can half-play," he says of the Chinese pair, "they put them in the team." Cynical, but probably spot- on.
The highlight of the week was watching Hermann Maier win the downhill at the skiing World Championships in Vail (BBC2, Sunday). He is Jean- Claude Killy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ian Botham, James Bond, Michael Schumacher, Indiana Jones and Vinnie Jones, all packed into one imposing frame. When he comes over the top of a ridge, it's like he's ski-jumping. Gates tend to be flattened. This human avalanche makes skiing compulsive viewing - some achievement.
The highlight of the week wasn't Will Carling's cameo on Norland Nannies, (C4, Thursday) a docusoap series about the school for childminders to the rich and famous. The occasion was polo at Cowdray Park, with the gels given quality time with rich kids and, more importantly, the chance to put down markers with the parents.
Carling and his girlfriend were there with their baby, and one of the young things caught their eye. They'd be getting in touch, they said. Sadly, a couple of weeks later, the relationship was all over, and nursie would have to look elsewhere. "Another career wrecked by the tabloids," said the acid voice-over.
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