Matt Butler on the Box: Don't mention the war - we just love the Germans now
The love-in with German football has infiltrated ITV, big-time. Adrian Chiles talked of his feeling of "strong man-love" towards Jürgen Klopp, the Borussia Dortmund manager. Two-thirds of his familiar trio of pundits, Lee Dixon, Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane concurred – German football is the best thing since sliced bratwurst. You can guess which was the contrarian.
They had good reason to gush about German football, if only for the reason that ITV 4 has shown Bundesliga highlights since last August. But in their 45-minute build-up to the Champions League final, they had ample time to discuss the Teutonic rise, including Bayern's resurgence, Dortmund's eye-catching football and why Germany is the new Catalonia. And they did it well, with some insightful interviews.
Klopp was entertaining, but the best of the pre-match chats was with Paul Breitner, the former Bayern player, who was brilliantly scathing about English football and the Premier League in particular. "Five years ago the Premier League was amazing," he said. "Now it is boring. It is football from yesterday."
Cue fighting talk from the pundits. Or not. Southgate, until last year head of elite development at the FA, more or less shrugged his shoulders and said Breitner was right. German academies and the relationships between club and country are so much better than those in England, he said.
Chiles put his oar in: do the Germans, and Bayern in particular, have the alchemist's mandrake root, the secret ingredient to conquer the world? Keane scoffed: "A few years ago we were saying Barcelona had all the answers. I certainly don't think Bayern have the answers." Harrumph.
Insightful punditry was all well and good but don't worry, there were a few Second World War digs chucked in here and there. Chiles trod on thin ice with his opening gambit, talking about "a local dispute on a global scale" and Southgate prompted an uncomfortable silence when he spoke of a "night of long knives" in reference to Jupp Heynckes' impending departure from Bayern. And you should have seen Dixon's face when Keane described Arjen Robben's winner for Bayern as a "beer-hall putsch of a goal".
OK, so he didn't really say that, but as the camera panned over the Wembley crowd before kick-off, Clive Tyldesley, the commentator, rattled off all the superstars from the home nations who had graced the turf – Moore and Best, among others – as if making a desperate attempt to hammer home that Wembley was still ours, despite the invasion of Germans. Just before the second-half kick-off he mentioned that if it went to penalties "we may still be here next week" and if someone did lose in this way then "at least we could see a German lose at Wembley". But by the end even Keane got under the spell. "It was amazing," he said after the final whistle.
If the magnitude of a sporting event can be gauged by the time dedicated to the build-up, the women's FA Cup final is 77 per cent as big as the Champions League final, judging by the BBC's 35-minute pre-match preamble to Arsenal v Bristol Academy at Doncaster. The punditry was in-depth and one exchange in particular deserves a mention.
Casey Stoney, pitchside with Sue Smith and Faye White, was explaining to the host, Jacqui Oatley, about a yellow card she got last week for tackling Arsenal's Steph Haughton. Her excuse? "I wasn't born with as many fast-twitch muscle fibres as she was." Brilliant. Enough about modelling German football: if we don't hear Stoney's excuse used more next season, there's something wrong with the game.
Belfast Telegraph Digital