thu 04/06/2020

World Cup Finals 2014, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

World Cup Finals 2014, BBC One

World Cup Finals 2014, BBC One

Cool psychological class puts the Italians on top

Gary Lineker: peddling root vegetables again

Gary Lineker has been honing his marketing schtick for several decades now, selling us a spud-based product that promises to make us feel great, only to fill us with self-loathing as soon as it’s finished. Yes, the England football team, seemingly made of potato, slickly packaged, but ultimately unsatisfying and undoubtedly bad for your health. (The crisps, I hear, are much healthier than they used to be.)

Gary Lineker has been honing his marketing schtick for several decades now, selling us a spud-based product that promises to make us feel great, only to fill us with self-loathing as soon as it’s finished. Yes, the England football team, seemingly made of potato, slickly packaged, but ultimately unsatisfying and undoubtedly bad for your health. (The crisps, I hear, are much healthier than they used to be.)

Of course we lost. We lost to Italy in the European Championships in 2012, and haven’t beaten the Azzurri in the World Cup since 1977. They’ve won it four times, most recently in 2006, when several of this team were playing, but when Raheem Sterling, widely considered England’s best player, was still in primary school.

And they’re good people to lose to. They don’t bore you to death with their little triangles like the Spanish, or simply exhaust you with their efficient crosses like the Germans. They’re stylish, and they make it look so easy. Their most influential player, Pirlo, strolled around the pitch like Socrates around the Agora of Athens, asking difficult questions of people.  

The Italians are so likeable, as a team. They’re also fragile in penalty shootouts (though not as fragile as us, who have the worst record in the tournament). In Balotelli, they have a cranky, incendiary player of occasional genius and regular frustration, like Rooney or Gascoigne. It was a very good-natured contest.

As for the viewing experience, the fellas in the studio (they are, of course, all fellas) generally, like the lads, done good. Lineker chaired proceedings effectively, given the time at his disposal. Alan Shearer talked common sense in a laddish way, while Thierry Henry talked common sense in a sophisticated French way. OK, Rio Ferdinand was a plank, and a plank too close to his Manchester United colleagues at that. But he was largely harmless.

Match commentator Phil Neville was appalling, however. His vocal delivery made the landscape of the Netherlands seem positively alpine, but despite not having the expression for it, his words suggested a permanent state of stress. It was like having a Manchester-accented satnav read the Book of Revelation. BBC, you must employ vocal coaches. Phil needs one flown out today.  

The language of football is an oddly closeted creature, that clearly needs to get out more. Rio talked about a player’s ability to “put the ball on a sixpence”, but he’s far too young to have ever seen a sixpence. Phil went on incessantly about time being “on the clock”: there’s still “time on the clock,” said robot armageddon, forlornly. (There wasn't, as it happened.) But where else would time be, Phil?   

In the end, of course, it took an Italian to tell us where we went wrong. And he did it before the match began. The sagely bearded Italian star Gianluca Vialli suggested the English players lacked psychological resilience. Though the Italians had fewer chances on goal than we did, they took their chances efficiently, while England, especially towards the end, laboured ineffectually. In football, England has quite a record of naturally talented players who don’t fulfil their potential because of their temperament. The arts are surely the best means we have for toning the mind, and stiffening the psychological sinews. Vialli was interviewed at home, his shelves apparently heaving with difficult fiction in plain covers. That’s what gives you psychological toughness and temperament.  

When the post-match excuses arrived, they all boiled down to: “We played well, and didn’t deserve to lose.” That was Roy’s take. Steven Gerrard’s, and the studio commentators largely agreed too. At this level, fellas, you need to keep your collective cool. You don’t always get what you deserve, or think you deserve. Life’s like that. Gianluca will lend you some books on the subject, if you ask him nicely.

Phil Neville's commentary was like having a Manchester-accented satnav read the Book of Revelation

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