TV View: Victory a brief respite from a gut-wrenching time
Presenters and commentators handled emotional night in Sweden very well
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho shows his emotions after victory over Ajax in the Europa League final in Stockholm. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Jake Humphrey was almost apologetic that the final was happening at all when he said a BT Sport good evening from Stockholm. “Welcome to a game of football that in some ways has become completely irrelevant,” he said, but he reckoned it had become significant too, Manchester representing on the European stage, life moving on.
“We’re footballers, all we do is play football, we can’t change the world,” said Rio Ferdinand, one of a string of pundits across three channels – Michael Owen lining up alongside him on BT Sport, Brian Kerr, Graeme Souness and Neil Lennon over on TV3 and Chris Sutton, Richard Dunne and Kenny Cunningham on Eir Sport – tasked with finding the words for the week that was in it, when there really are no words.
They all did well too, it wasn’t easy, not least having to move from talking about unspeakable tragedy to, seconds later, the wisdom or otherwise of Marouane Fellaini being selected for the final. Manchester United fans might initially have thought that shift in the discussion inappropriate, before focussing on that particular slice of team news and proceeding to have a fit. Life goes on.
The night’s moment of innocence came from Henrik Larsson when he turned up pitchside to talk to BT Sport.
“It’s crazy what’s happening around the world today . . . we’re all human beings, we’re from the same planet, why don’t we just get along?”
Rio shrugged. Michael shrugged. If they’d stood there all night they’d have found no answer to that.
Footballing cultureBefore focussing on the football, Jake brought us a snip from Tony Walsh’s divine This Is The Place, the poem he read at the vigil in Manchester on Tuesday. “We make goals that make souls leap from seats in the stands,” he’d said in a nod to the city’s rich footballing culture and the joy it has so often brought its red and blue partisans.
Would there be more joy for United in Stockholm after a spell that has proved less than glorious, coinciding with the departure of the man the camera picked out on the pitch, Alex Ferguson. He’d never won the Uefa Cup with United, though, Jake reminded us. If Ferguson had heard him he’d have pointed out that was only because his teams were too bloody good to end up in the competition.
It’s only in moments of high emotion that the truth slips out. Like when Paul Pogba scored. BT commentator Darren Fletcher didn’t emote about them being on the verge of winning the Europa League for the first time in their history, instead: “United are closer to Champions League qualification!” Which, really, is what it’s all about.
Pogba’s goal was close enough to the only thing of note to happen in that first half, so Tommy Martin had a decidedly grumpy panel to deal with at the break. Brian had run out of fingers trying to count the number of times United had hoofed the ball up to Fellaini in the hope that he’d nod it in to the path of Marcus Rashford.
“Eighteen times,” he sighed. And he asked, not unreasonably, why you would invest €100 million in a midfield player, and then proceed to hoof the ball over his head.
“It’s agony watching it,” said Souness, “this is Manchester United and they’re playing lower-end-of-The-Championship football, launching it everywhere”.
“Bang average,” said Neil, Ajax’s “tippy tappy football” leaving him perilously close to extracting his hair strand by strand from his head. It could only get better, then. Did it? Well . . . not much. But those who rued Fellaini’s inclusion are now writing letters of apology. Heart of a lion, that fella. You’d want him in the trenches alongside you, except you’d probably get an elbow in the face.
Mkhitaryan, goal, all but over. And then it was. Even a couple of minutes on the pitch for Wayne Rooney, finishing up with a complete set of medals. Who said Jose wasn’t sentimental?
The final whistle had hardly blown when Rio began talking about the next transfer window and what Jose needs to buy, so Jake shut him up and handed back to Darren who was trying hard to find some perspective . . . “The city that shed so many tears this week can smile again.”
Out on the pitch Jose had the look of a man who had the weight of Old Trafford lifted from his shoulders, as did Pogba. Back on TV3, Graeme was paying tribute to the Frenchman by picking out clips showing him making a muck of things. “In my opinion,” as he said last week, “United had their trousers taken down paying £100 million.”
That wasn’t the spirit of the night at all, so back to BT where the celebrations were in overdrive. Quite right too. A final that won’t live in the memory, but gutsy stuff from a team of men from a city that won’t ever forget the week that was in it, no matter how hard they might try.