Monday, November 27, 2006

Spanish Football Commentators

Spain has its own particular rules and rituals when it comes to sports commentary in general, and at times they are so idiosyncratic that they leave a foreigner baffled. For example, people sit for hours gawping at the telly during the Tour de France every summer, commenting on the commentary. What the guy on the box says seems to be of more importance than what is actually happening - which is unsurprising, given the nature of the sport. If you don't understand it, nothing ever seems to be happening.

The world of basketball commentary - a huge sport here in Spain, is also prone to expert analysis from the public sidelines. English cricket can leave people similarly baffled with its statistical overload, but there is nothing (on the surface at least) baffling about football.

Some of my fondest memories of Spanish football have involved long drives through dark Sunday nights, through the half-empty motorways of Spain, listening to OndaCero, Radio Marca or any other national radio station that floats across the ether and down through the car aerial to wake you from your silence. The Spanish give good radio in general, and their ability to create a 'tertulia' (chat) from nothing never ceases to amaze.

There are usually three commentators watching the same game, but they rarely provide a blow-by-blow account. That's too mundane. A fair percentage of the time is spent discussing what they had for tea, the weather, what they're having for supper and what the barman was telling them last week when they dropped in for a vino.

They even argue, in that special Spanish way that seems to be mutually insulting but which is really just a show of masculine matiness. Your Spanish has to be pretty decent to understand, and even when you can cope with the language you then have to cope with the historical references, the slang, the nicknames. But it's very relaxed, and it works.

What La Sexta have seemed to have overlooked is that the 22.00 match is on the television. The obvious idea has been to try out the radio genre on the TV, but it doesn't quite come off. Saturday night at home means that I can watch this game then switch digi-boxes to BBC's Match of the Day. Nothing could create a greater contrast.

The MC for La Sexta, Andrés Montes, has been plucked from Canal Plus and the world of basketball. He'd built up a large fan base with his eccentric style, but at least he knew something about the game. Despite his obvious lack of knowledge about football, he's seen as the man to endorse his new station's national image. So he heads the live match team, aided and abetted by Barça's ex forward, Julio Salinas, and ex-Atlético Madrid and Cádiz forward Kiko.

Kiko used to be funny when he was a player, largely due to his incomprehensible Andaluz accent. Now he thinks he's supposed to be a serious commentator, and like Ian Wright on the BBC, has absolutely nothing to say of any interest whatsoever. But he's fairly decent on the banter. Salinas laughs constantly at his own jokes but is likeable, in a Salinas kind of way. These things are important. They can make or break a Saturday night, and they can condition the way that you view La Liga - if it becomes your main source of non-live viewing.

During Saturday's game, Montes' obvious ignorance of the Sociedad line-up was only slightly less bizarre than his occasional sloganeering: 'Enz La Sexta...fútbol con fatatas!' I know what 'patatas' are (chips) but not 'fatatas'. Answers on a postcard please.

At one point, clearly unable to say anything of any consequence about the game, Montes asked Salinas 'Has merenda'o tío?' (Have you had your tea mate?). Salinas replied 'La mujer no me he dejado' (The wife wouldn't let me), to howls of laughter around the studio. Not quite the BBC.

Then Gari Uranga scored for Sociedad, and Montes was suddenly in his element.

'Ah! Robinson Crusoe has scored!' he screamed. 'I like this kid. He was at Getafe a few years ago. We chewed the fat a few times. Good lad. I must go up to San Sebastian some time and have a few glasses of wine with him'. But at least he recognised Uranga. Throughout the game he mixed up Ansotegi with Juanito, and Juanito with Garitano. When Socidedad made two changes, the token lady voice, Susana Guasch, managed to get both players completely wrong. Oh well - that's the sort of attention you get when you're bottom of the league.

Earlier on that evening Ronaldinho had set about re-confirming his status as the planet's most-talked about player, with a 'chilena' (bicycle-kick) against Villarreal that was straight out of Roy of the Rovers. The goal was wonderful, but even better was the flood of post-match soundbites. 'I've been dreaming about that goal ever since I was a kid' said Ron, teeth a-gleaming.

'I used to practise it all the time, on my bed'. So there you go. Villarreal's goalie, Barbosa, was moved to comment, 'Yeah - it was a great goal. I threw myself at the ball but I didn't really work out its trajectory. At least I'll come out on all the photos'.

Sunday saw a juicy fixture at the Mestalla between Valencia and Real Madrid, which the latter won 0-1 with a goal from Raùl. The game was dubbed 'morboso' (with plenty of needle) because like Atlético and Sociedad, there is little love lost these days between the two communities.

Real's Director of Football, Pedrag Mijatovic, sparked off the bad feeling when in 1996 he was transferred to Madrid, and his return to the Director's box was eagerly awaited by the insult merchants.

Fernando Morientes was also making his first appearance for Valencia against his old chums, and made it clear before the game that he had every intention of celebrating in the event of scoring. He last did this when playing on loan for Monaco, when his two goals put Madrid out the Champions League.

Since then, Real have contractually banned their loan players from turning out against them. Valencia's manager Quique Flores once played for Real Madrid, under no less than Fabio Capello. It was the Italian who decided Flores was surplus to requirements, hastening the fading player's departure from the Bernabéu.

Flores took some comfort from the build-up to the game, as it seemed to temporarily close ranks against the visiting enemy. This season has seen a bitter internal struggle between the manager and the new Director of Football, ex-defender Carboni, and so bad has the conflict been that one head at least is expected to roll in the non-too-distant future.

Raúl's goal might not have done Flores any favours, in the long run. Valencia look fine in Europe, but are spluttering in the league, whilst Sevilla just get better and better, winning again (1-3 in Bilbao) just four days after waltzing through a midweek UEFA game.

A top three is beginning to take shape, but my money's still on Sevilla. They're so good that even commentators on La Sexta know their players' names.

From the weekly article on Spanish Football by Phil Ball, which appears on Soccernet


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