(mos def not a recent photograph of Dave O’Brien)
Though he’s in agreement with this observer that Marcelo Balboa is better seen than heard (and preferably, neither), Slate’s Robert Weintraub considers much of the criticism leveled at ESPN’s Dave O’Brien to be unduly harsh.
Of course, O’Brien has made some errors. He had the wrong goal scorer for Argentina against Germany, and didn’t seem to know Portugal’s star was Cristiano Ronaldo, not Christian. On the other hand, he has called around a dozen huge games to an audience with knives drawn, drooling at the chance to pick him apart for every stutter. Meanwhile, he gets no credit for helping to make the sport more accessible to the large number of casual fans sampling the World Cup. This was his charge, not to win over the hardcore minority who were going to watch the games regardless. A cynical maneuver by ESPN and ABC, perhaps, but that’s football”it’s the broadcasting equivalent of playing for a draw.
O’Brien didn’t help his cause among the soccer cognoscenti by referring to them as a “petulant little clique.” This country’s soccer snobs”and I count myself among them”are a persnickety lot. They lament that most of the USA doesn’t give a whit about the beautiful game but bridle at attempts to invite in nonloyalists by, say, explaining the meaning of a yellow card. Our little tribe is like the fans of an up-and-coming rock band. We want them to be successful, but when they break big, we resent the hordes of newbies who weren’t cool enough to be there at the beginning. ESPN’s biggest mistake here was underestimating the wrath of the soccer purist by choosing a baseball guy. O’Brien never got a fair hearing. Hell hath no fury like a footy supporter taken for granted.
Though entitled to his opinion, Weintraub’s take on O’Brien is kind of like saying that the only persons who’d like to see, for instance, Joe Morgan or Ken Harrelson muzzled, are some kind of elitist, hardcore baseball clique. As opposed to, y’know, people who aren’t DEAF.
Still, it’s fascinating to consider that Weintraub might rank the New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein as “a soccer snob.”
And of course, some of the World Cup TV gigs were more glamorous than others. The BBC’s Adrian Chiles describes his thrilling month in Germany to The Indepedent On Sunday :
I’ve had to watch most of the matches in our studio. Obviously I’d rather have been at the grounds, I think, but I’m not sure. It’s a rare privilege to sit around watching football with the likes of Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer, Gordon Strachan, Martin O’Neill and Iain Dowie. Every football fan should get a chance to do this, to hear their insight, their angle on things. As Germany v Argentina headed towards penalties I swear Shearer was physically feeling their fear, their nerves. He was living it all over again.
And during England against Sweden I was truly agog. Michael Owen, to everyone’s horror, had just been taken off on a stretcher. Within 10 minutes Shearer’s mobile bleeped. It was a text from Owen. Now, journalistically, that’s what I call being close to the story.
Well, maybe it was a text from Owen. Or perhaps it was really an urgent text message from Craig Bellamy.