David Haye and Tony Bellew, two pretty average boxers who have somehow found themselves competing in the most anticipated fight of 2017 so far.
Okay, that is slightly harsh on Haye, who back in his heyday (excuse the pun) was a good fighter. However, even if he’d lived up to his potential he would have never gone down as a great fighter.
Merseyside-born Bellew also has a decent record but it seems that after his acting role in the 2015 film Creed, he’s happy just to get up in front of the cameras to bring the attention on himself.
The fact that their non-title fight at the O2 Arena has got attracted so much attention is a sign that boxing and the broadcasters who televise it have got their priorities wrong. Too much effort is now put into hyping up a fight – just for it to be one big let down.
Let’s look back at the eagerly anticipated (and long overdue) Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao fight in 2014. It generated $400m through pay-per-view, a record in boxing, but turned out to be complete letdown after months of hype and build-up.
Both of boxers looked too scared to lose, there was no risk-taking, just a lot of defensive boxing and plenty of disappointed fans.
Admittedly, there is pleasure you can take from the pre-fight mind games. It’s part of playing the game – getting the upper hand before you step into the ring.
However, it is getting way over the top now, to the point where it is not even fun to watch anymore.
And I would expect another letdown when Haye and Bellew finally come face-to-face in the ring. It feels like all the effort from both sides has been put into promoting the fight – with lots TV coverage building up an picture of the two hating each other.
To be honest, the two boxers have done a pretty good job of cranking up the animosity. There has been shouting, insults, a bit of pushing and even an attempted punch thrown by Londoner Haye. It seems like they really do hate each, right?
Perhaps they really do hate each other, although there are many people out there like myself who see it all as a bit of manufactured aggro, with Sky orchestrating it all to increase their PPV numbers.
It’s not the first time and it certainly will not be the last time we see Sky come up with ridiculously over-dramatic campaigns for this reason.
But does this really benefit the spectacle everyone wants to see – the actual fight. With all the trash talk, the promises of harm being inflicted, can Haye and Bellew actually live up to the expectations that have now been put on them?
You would think that after having to talk such a hard game that the biggest thing on the two’s mind is to avoid an embarrassing early round knock-out.
Is the fight just going to be another Maywhether-Pacquiao borefest, with the whole thing is forgotten in a matter of weeks?
And it’s not just boxing. So many sporting events are hyped up with great expectations only to end in a disappointing spectacle.
It’s not rare to see a match such as Arsenal v Manchester United end in a dull stalemate, after hours of build-up.
Formula 1 is another example. Last year saw an extremely dull season of racing, with Sky seemingly putting more effort into stirring up off-the-track issues betweens Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Okay, Sky do not make the rules in F1, but it gets pretty tiresome watching manufactured drama away from where we want it to be; on-the-track, on-the-field-of-play, not off it.
So Sky are not entirely to blame when the spectacle is not what we expect it to be, but they are just making things worse. And at times, as with the Haye v Bellew fight, it’s becomes embarrassing.
It’s time to get back to basics and start focusing about what we are all really want to see – the sport.
The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.
Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.
Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.
Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.
Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.
“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.
Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).
Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.
The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.
Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.
And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.
“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”
Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.
Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.
Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.
To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.
Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.
Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.
“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”
A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.
It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.
But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?
Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.
The money that Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.
New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.
Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.
In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.
But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.
It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.
“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”
Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.
They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.
Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.
That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.
That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.
Since leaving Manchester United in the summer, Ryan Giggs has become the latest high profile ex-player to step into a TV studio and chance his arm at punditry.
The Welshman’s transition from Old Trafford’s left wing, to the ITV sofa, (via the dugout), is a path trodden by many in recent years. Tune in to football coverage, be it on TV, radio or the internet, and you’ll struggle to not find the opinions of a former player.
So why exactly are so many ex-pros finding their second careers within the media?
Peter Lovenkrands played at the highest level for clubs such as Rangers, Schalke and Newcastle United, and also represented Denmark in two major tournaments.
As is the case for many an ex-sportsperson, replacing the buzz of competition proved difficult following his retirement.
Yet, while nothing can ever replicate the feeling of 90 minutes on a football pitch, for Lovenkrands, media work provides the perfect way to remain closely involved in the sport.
“I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching”
“For me, it’s the closest thing to playing. When I stopped playing, [punditry] was the thing that helped me get over missing it,” said Lovenkrands, who co-commentates on German Bundesliga games.
He explained: “There’s a thing in the football world, people who don’t have anything to go into after playing kind of struggle, and some people get depression, even.
“It’s something that a lot of players find hard. I even find it hard still sometimes when I’m sitting in commentary, you think ‘I want to be out there, I want to be playing’.
“But by sitting watching and talking about it, that’s the closest thing to getting the atmosphere in the stadium and being [out] there. I really enjoy it and that’s what helps me get over retirement.”
Giggs may believe that coaching or management is the closest thing to playing.
After the disappointment of being overlooked for the United hotseat, some might argue that his regular appearances on our TV screens serve only to keep him ‘relevant’ in the eyes of fans and club owners alike, reminding us of his suitability for a role in management.
In his excellent book, Living On The Volcano, Michael Calvin discusses the way in which Tony Pulis left his post at Crystal Palace, only to find himself the new manager of West Brom, thanks to a little help from the media.
Wrote Calvin: “He maintained his profile as a media pundit, refused to enlarge on the circumstances which led to him leaving Palace by ‘mutual consent’, and watched the stakes rise. He would join West Bromwich Albion almost as soon as his gardening leave ended.”
Gary Neville, of course, is a fine example of an excellent pundit who enhanced opinions of his highly thought-of coaching ability, by educating (rather than patrionising) us on screen.
“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach”
Neville provides no catchphrases, no clichés and certainly none of the ‘faux-intelligence’ displayed by many of his peers on alternative channels.
However after three tournaments with England as part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff and a short-lived spell as Valencia manager, Neville himself feels it will be difficult for him to step from commentary box into the dugout once again.
But what about everybody else? Jamie Carragher once joked on Sky’s Monday Night Football that “no pundit on TV will ever get a job again, he’s [Neville] ruined it for us all”.
Lovenkrands, who now works for Rangers TV, makes the point that the demands and differences between working ‘on-pitch’ and working ‘on-screen’, may make it difficult for others to follow in Neville’s footsteps.
“I think these days you’re one or the other; you’re either a pundit, or you’re a coach,” said the 36 year old.
“He [Neville] was kind of the first one to go from being a proper Sky pundit, to go and take the Valencia job. Even though he was a pundit, he had the England job, but that’s not full-time.
“I praise him for taking the chance and trying to go and do his thing. I love him as a pundit, I think he’s fantastic. Him and Jamie Redknapp are two of my favourites.
“But I don’t think you’ll see many more now going from punditry to coaching.”
Neville’s success as a pundit can be attributed to his obvious desire for hard work, his undoubted knowledge for the world of football from training ground to boardroom and, quite simply, his knack for talking honestly and passionately on air.
Other pundits choose to go down a different route, offering controversy and sparking vicious debate amongst viewers, listeners and people within the football industry alike.
Neither approach is wrong or right; success for Neville could look different to success for Robbie Savage. Either way, they are both successful.
For Lovenkrands, controversy should come with a hint of caution.
“I’ve spoken about that with people before and a lot of people say you can go two ways. One is knowledge, knowing so many things. And then there’s the controversial side of it,” said the Dane, who still holds a close affinity with the fans of many of his former clubs.
“Chris Sutton, for example, has been quite controversial with a lot of things, especially up here in Scotland. He’s had a lot of criticism because of the controversial way he’s been talking about the game.
“But for me that becomes a little bit like the X Factor and Simon Cowell, where somebody’s being negative. The same as Strictly Come Dancing where one of the judges will be negative, it creates a lot of interest for people watching it because they’re thinking ‘what’s he going to say next?’.
“I feel like you have to be careful when you’re going down that road because I don’t like being hated. I like to be positive, but of course you have to be honest if certain things don’t happen right.
“A lot of people don’t care about being controversial and that seems to have helped them in getting more jobs because people want to hear what they have to say, even if they maybe don’t like what they’re saying.
“My view on it is you can be negative and controversial, but try to put a positive spin on it and not upset too many people.”
The reality is that football is a sport in which no matter how positive one may be, someone will always be upset.
Like anyone, footballers can be sensitive to the comments of others; they are human beings after all.
John Terry has been the captain of his club and country, played in major games in front of some of the most hostile supporters, and faced public disgrace over his racist comments to a fellow professional.
Yet for Terry, receiving criticism from Robbie Savage over his form last season was not something he planned on taking lightly.
He responded by comparing his own successful career to Savage’s, and insinuating that criticism offered by a less successful player was not welcome.
“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all”
Lovenkrands however believes that criticism is to be expected as a footballer, as long as opinions never become personal.
Having played with Joey Barton at Newcastle, the Liverpudlian’s current situation with Rangers could potentially have put Lovenkrands in a tricky situation.
“Sometimes it’s something you need to think twice about. But if you want to be in that kind of business you have to just say what you feel because you get paid to be honest and talk about what you see,” said Lovenkrands, who finished his playing career in the Championship with Birmingham City.
“If I feel like there’s certain things that have happened that I feel are negative, I have to say it and I have to just deal with it. To be fair, most people in the football world would understand.
“You try not to be too controversial and there’s a limit, I feel. You can be critical, but about football and not being personal at all.
“I think that’s the fine line I’m finding as a commentator.”
Carragher and Neville hold the prestige of being one-club defenders who gave everything for Liverpool and Manchester United respectively.
Whilst their rivalry on the pitch has turned to admiration in the studio, the passion they have for their old clubs still remains.
Yet a major strength of both, is that through their media work you would struggle to work out their allegiances.
Being fair and balanced is a must for any journalist, however, were the ex-defenders to work for their club’s own TV channel, would their approach be encouraged to change?
Shedding some light on the subject of bias, Lovenkrands said: “The Rangers commentary that I do, it’s for Rangers TV, so I don’t need to be biased in any way.
“I really enjoy that because I’m a Rangers fan as well so when they score I can celebrate and be part of it in that way. That’s really exciting.
“But when I do the German football, or sometimes when I’ve done Premier League games, or Scottish football for radio, then of course you have to make sure you commentate on both teams and be professional about it.
“I like that as well, that I have to be that aware.”
So to revisit the original question as to why football coverage is now saturated with former pros, each individual will have their reasons. Some will say the salary appeals, whilst the job security far outweighs that in management or coaching.
Others may see it as a profile booster, a public job interview every time the ‘ON AIR’ light is switched on. For those who have no interest in coaching, media work provides a no-pressure involvement with the game.
But for Lovenkrands, his reasons are far simpler. “I just love football,” summed up the former striker.
“I get carried away when I commentate so when a goal happens, no matter what team it’s for, in the Bundesliga for example, I get carried away and start celebrating.
“That’s the way it should be. It should be coming across for people to listen to that you’re excited about your job and what you’re doing.”