The force is strong with Giles but Lineker makes the empire want to strike back


TV VIEW:The RTÉ panel take pleasure in dispensing wisdom while the boys on BBC delight in double entendres

It’s important to announce from the get-go that comparisons may well indeed be odious or as Shakespeare once asserted in Much Ado About Nothing “odorous”. Comparisons are though subjectively arranged to endorse a viewpoint.

Take for example the respective merits of RTÉ’s Premier Soccer Saturday and its BBC cousin, Match of the Day. Sometimes there is very little to choose between the two, in the same sort of way as being asked to state a preference for lethal injection or electrocution. It’s unpleasant all-round. In the land of the banal it appears the double entendre is king.

There are times though when the national broadcaster gets the composition of the Saturday night panel just right and it elevates the programme from a morass of cliché-driven soccer phraseology into a show to which it’s worth watching and listening.

The presence of Darragh Maloney in the anchor role, flanked by John Giles and Richard Sadlier was once such occasion. Giles is the Yoda of the soccer pundit’s terrestrial channel star wars. And it’s not just in appearance. That’s just down to a little bit too much slap in the make-up room.

No, it’s the manner in which he, Giles not Yoda, dispenses wisdom: “know he Wenger is wrong,” he didn’t say but fingers crossed will some day as he hovers over his chair. Not to mention the tricky nature of pronunciation where English can get a little mangled or at least, distorted.

Giles’ reference point for many an analogy harks back to the olden times when men were men, pitches were muddy and there appeared no discernible difference between a tackle and a mugging. There were few foreign players.

How he must pine for the days when Arsenal’s centre of defence was manned by Tony Adams and Steve Bould.

On Saturday, the Gunners rearguard contained Thomas Vermaelen and Per Mertesacker, or “Van Mail Man” and “Mart Secker” according to Giles’ reckoning. At one point, being so uncomfortable with the tongue-twisters, he turned to Sadlier and implored, “what do you think, Richie?” – desperate to escape the clutches of players with 11 syllable surnames.

Listening to Giles talk about the sport is easy on the ear. It’s not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with his views but because he’s invariably got something that develops the topic of conversation. Maloney prompts intelligently and with an ear for nuance but it is Sadlier that continues to play the role of the accomplished front-man, longer after his playing days.

He is articulate and knowledgeable. He listens to the question and answers it. He talks in specifics not woolly clichés and offers an opinion without fear or favour. There’s no showboating. It’s refreshing and a striking contrast to the stale and jaded offerings of the Match of the Day crew.

Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, the self-styled three wise men of football punditry, didn’t mine too many nuggets, their gifts to the viewer, nonsense and mirth. The smugness quotient can be difficult to palate when weighed against the largely tasteless morsels of analysis.

Lineker will pursue a double entendre, back in time to the Beazer Homes League. It’s difficult to escape the notion that he regards the whole show as a preamble to a “clever” outré. Hansen’s tone is occasionally one of bespoke boredom, where he finds the educational process wearing. Shearer just fails to rise above the mediocre.

RTÉ might care though to look at some of the match commentary in the highlights programme, where the BBC enjoys a pronounced edge.

There is a difference between attending a game live and doing a match off tube but that doesn’t extend to the vocabulary. The boy may do well to pull the trigger at the right time when the opposing defence is all over the place and after the ball breaks kindly for him but that doesn’t mean he’ll be over the moon following a game of two halves. Does it?

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