In these times of social isolation, previous cornerstones of our lives have been uprooted leaving only uncertainty in its wake. This has contributed to the background noise of shrill hysteria that accompanies any intrusion outside – it is now vaguely possible to see why so many citizens felt compelled to join the army during the First World War. Boris Johnson’s declaration of twelve weeks until normality returns has serious ‘over by Christmas’ overtones.
Personally, my routine of walks and trips to the supermarket remains largely unaffected for now. However, in the spirit of the moment, I settled down to watch Football Focus on Saturday lunchtime.
Having reversed their horrific decision to broadcast Mrs Brown’s Boys in place of Match of the Day the previous week, the BBC made Dan Walker present the show on his own- leaving him as isolated as a striker in a Tony Pulis team. This only served to highlight that Walker has one of the more irritating personas on television, but in truth he did little wrong here. The real horror was to come.
MOTDx was established last year in order to bring us, according to the BBC website, ‘football, fashion, music and culture from around the Premier League’. At this point, I must make a disclaimer: there are tribes in the Amazon rainforest untouched by human civilisation that meet the target demographic better than me. The exclusive focus on the Premier League serves to chill the blood and it is hard to shake the impression that this show is simply Match Magazine brought to camera.
Despite this, it is clear MOTDx knows its target audience. This became quickly clear when presenter Jermaine Jenas uttered the phrase ‘don’t @ me’ unironically. Jenas is apparently being lined-up to replace Gary Lineker on Match of the Day and he does exude the required establishment vibe. However, on MOTDx his persona and use of language bought to mind a suburban teenager adopting the mannerisms of his favourite rapper.
Joining him was footballer Chelcee Grimes (whose contributions were largely ignored), DJ Reece Parkinson and Craig Mitch. Mitch has already been the subject of controversy, being forced to apologise over an old video where he called the city of Liverpool a ‘shithole’. While such a claim is open to interpretation, it does portray Mitch as a classless individual. Nothing I saw in this clip changed this opinion.
In fairness, the group correctly picked David de Gea as goalkeeper of the decade. Things quickly took a questionable turn though with the selection of Kyle Walker over Pablo Zabaleta at right-back. Walker, a defender who demonstrates the full range of concentration levels per game, has recently been dropped from the England squad and should not have been anywhere near this XI either.
When attempting such an exercise, it is important to build a balanced team – no midfield could contain three attacking midfielders and exist as a credible entity. Shoehorning players into unfamiliar positions also serves to undermine.
With this in mind, the inclusion of Harry Kane on the left wing and Virgil van Dijk as a left-back confirms that this was an exercise in futility. Alternatively, the inclusion of an out-of-position Kane brings to mind countless England teams at major tournaments. If Kane took the corners for this team, the resemblance would be complete.
Continuing this theme, the selection of John Terry and Steven Gerrard was surprising. It would be perhaps be understandable if the panel believed this was 2006. In truth, Terry had become statuesque by 2012 while the suggestion that Gerrard was better than Kevin de Bruyne over the decade is fanciful at best. Again, selection of players well past their best based upon their reputation seems a very English trait.
The segment concluded with a straight choice between Raheem Sterling and Eden Hazard for the final attacking place (Aguero was thankfully an undebated choice). While not wishing to speak for everybody, my perception has always been that while Sterling is a good player in great teams, Hazard was a great player in a good Chelsea side.
Mitch thought otherwise. Throwing all his toys out of the pram, Mitch’s argument for Sterling included his role in Brendan Rogers’ Liverpool team (still the funniest title choke of the decade) and his admirable stance against racism. While I’m not inclined to agree with Mitch, Sterling’s stand against racism has indeed made him an important role model. However, it does not make him a better player than Hazard.
Proving that those who shout loudest often get their way, the panel eventually succumbed to Mitch’s argument, perhaps in the hope it would shut him up. Grimes remarked that she was won over by the ‘passion’ of the argument, a view shared by Jenas.
In a way, this final debate was a microcosm of English football for years, where passion was valued over competence. Sterling does have a similar goal ratio to Hazard but no serious pundit would suggest he is the better player. We should be thankful that the hysterical Mitch is nowhere near the England set-up.
All in all, this segment of MOTDx shown on Football Focus last weekend provoked nothing but incredulity. Maybe this was the intention and such an exercise will always be subjective in nature. However, MOTDx achieved the impossible in making Mrs Brown’s Boys seem almost appealing in comparison.