The World Cup is still the greatest football show on earth. It brings together diehard fans of the beautiful game, while less vociferous followers are more attentive to proceedings.
The World Cup cuts terrestrial television free of Sky’s vice like grip on domestic and European football for a brief, fleeting period. For our national broadcaster RTÉ in particular, the five weeks of the World Cup offers them rare liberation. So do they grasp that opportunity with both hands? Do they produce broadcasting of a high standard? Of course not.
Ahead of the first game of the 2014 tournament, I was prepared to watch RTÉ’s coverage with an open mind. Perhaps research will have been put in, warm up matches watched and articulate opinions formed. Last night’s pre opening ceremony barbs dismissed such ideas. The show got off to an auspicious and yet highly predictable start, with Eamon Dunphy nailing his colours to the proverbial mast.
While Liam Brady, who due to no coincidence is the only one of RTÉ’s trio of analysts still involved in the game, correctly brought up the merits of this Brazil team, Dunphy dismissed the hosts and questioned their character without pointing to any tactical reason in particular. Dunphy then fixated on Neymar, an easy target with his flash tricks and funky hairstyle, and one certain to provoke controversy.
“If they (England) get to the quarter-finals, I will show up with a dress on.”
Dunphy classed Neymar’s Barcelona career a failure, despite only one year at the club. When Brady mentioned Neymar’s 31 international goals in 47 appearances, Dunphy described those goals as worthless as Brazil didn’t have to qualify for this summer’s festivities. Dunphy also ridiculed David Luiz and the League of Ireland in one quip (quite the achievement) and when asked of England’s chances, he said he would turn up in a dress if Roy Hodgson’s team made the quarter-finals.
Neymar, of course, was one of Brazil’s stars last night and he helped retrieved a deficit and engineer a 3-1 Brazil victory with his 32nd and 33rd goals for his country. Least we forget that Dunphy dismissed Cristiano Ronaldo as a “cod”, a “fraud”, “overrated” and a “ladyboy” for the vast majority of Ronaldo’s career. This is the same Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored 375 club goals and 49 international goals in a career which has seen him win two Champions Leagues and two Ballon D’ors.
Any self respecting football fan would realise his opinion is facile, yet this has been Dunphy’s blueprint for years and he’s still employed by RTÉ. Dunphy deals in creating controversy and spouting soundbites. No doubt his editors at the Star rub hands together in collective glee with every “Dunphyism” that attracts more readers to his shallow column.
The upsetting thing is that Dunphy is highly intelligent. Listen to him discuss and debate politics, current affairs, music, history or his life story and you’ll find a genuinely fascinating public figure. But Dunphy has realised that by formulating catch phrases and creating a persona, he stands to win. The tabloid column and the fawning public will eat up his words, despite him making no attempt to actually analyse the game and showcase some superior knowledge.
As Bill O’Herlihy (despite clearly being a lovely man) tried for the umpteenth time to try and sound as if he had some modicum of knowledge on the sport he is covering, and John Giles struggled to remember who played in midfield for Brazil, as a viewer you’re left wondering if this is the best we can do. Granted, flicking over to ITV and watching Adrian Chiles and his collection of bumbling ex-pros swelter in the Brazilian sun is no less excruciating, but surely we can do better?
RTÉ, funded by the public tv licence fee and dominant place in Irish homes, are in a position to be brave. There are an array of talented broadcasters/pundits who could be utilised. Richie Sadlier deserves a much bigger role on the RTÉ panel. Eoin McDevitt of Second Captains, for one, would make a brilliant anchor. Would it hurt to make a more concerted effort to include intellectual journalists as part of the show? Unfortunately in our conservative country, ratings tell. And the ratings for the showcase of the “Dunphyisms” will probably lead RTÉ to stick with conservatism.