We’ve all laughed along with AS Roma’s social media team making waves this season, but no one expected them to jab ESPN FC into a studio meltdown. On this issue, like anyone else, I’m a fan watching from the comfort of my home left wondering if ESPN FC’s new paywall show really wants to pit its own correspondents against one another, then broadcast the fiasco all over the internet, for the sake of attracting new subscribers.
You can see both segments they proudly published online below:
Part 1: ESPN FC Presenter Dan Thomas Goes from 0-100 Real Quick
This was a lot like Damir Skomina’s awarding a penalty against Liverpool defender Klavan in extra time at the Olimpico: a make-up call for early indiscretions. Only ESPN’s indiscretion was their own Alejandro Moreno’s skewed match-ratings of Roma’s performance against Liverpool. One team won 4-2 on the night, yet Moreno and colleague Steve Nicol’s player ratings would have led me to believe that team was Liverpool, if I hadn’t seen the match myself.
In Nicol’s case, he’s a former Liverpool player, so we’ll let him have that much.
But why Moreno seems so personally invested in this is something only he can explain to James Pallotta, in a confrontation ESPN have promised to air, too. I guess we’re being asked to subscribe to ESPN FC’s paywall for studio drama rather than the football commentary.
The channel’s attempt to portray Roma as sore losers for getting knocked out of a Champions League semi final ran into one obvious problem from the get-go: their lead presenter Dan Thomas completely losing it, unprovoked at five and a half minutes into the video.
Can one jab from AS Roma’s twitter account really provoke all of this? Oh dear.
Then Liverpool’s Steve Nicol comes in with a classic, a minute later: “There’s no way that anyone can sit down and read those comments from Monchi and say ‘he’s talking about VAR’. It’s impossible! It’s just impossible to come to that conclusion that he’s only solely talking about VAR.”
Anytime someone wants, they can sit down and read those comments from Monchi.
Whereas I’m left wondering where Dan Thomas read anything from any official at AS Roma, Monchi or otherwise, that left him frothing in anger over the thought that UEFA were being accused of meeting up in dark rooms and hatching plots.
And let’s be real: I’ve seen and read plenty of the usual comments online that will show exactly what Thomas is talking about, but that’s where modern media has gotten a little skewed in their constant rush to plug out content - and probably a little of why viewers (and subscribers?) have been disappointed at football coverage online mixing up Internet banter with actual paid-for “professional” football commentary.
Are we really supposed to shell out money for a channel that can’t (or maybe doesn’t care to) tell the difference between the two?
Part 2: ESPN FC Tries Desperately to Self-Deprecate
Ah yes, I know this kind of move well, being a very sensitive lad myself in high school.
What do you do when you let yourself be provoked by AS Roma’s tweets into exposing yourself as just a little bit touchy? You quickly learned to dress it up as humour at your own expense.
Although Dan Thomas doesn’t hold his hands up and own his own blow-up here, instead choosing to throw Shaka Hislop under the bus to take one for the team.
Steve Nicol then continues to live in his own bubble. One where he hasn’t seen a single Bayern player make the same comments about the standard of refereeing in the Champions League that you can, once again, find here with Mats Hummels after that game.
VAR and New School vs Old School
All this being said, let me do my own-make up call for posting this jab at ESPN FC and pretend like I had a loftier purpose in mind. Some of the match reaction to these Champions League semi-finals unravels two themes at football’s top level right now:
- The use of VAR in the Champions League
- The idea that attacking football has no place in showpiece knockout football
The first issue is one I’m barely fit to talk about, let alone decided on. To me, VAR’s debut in Serie A has been a nightmare - that’s despite the stats on VAR decisions from James Horncastle’s excellent article (the article is about Roma’s Champions League run and not nearly as boring as I just made it sound) to give me cause for perspective.
I only hope VAR’s debut has been a necessary nightmare to open up the door for dramatic improvements - and fast. Otherwise the giant audience watching this summer’s World Cup will find out the ugly truth that politics between people doesn’t get wiped out by the use of technology just by default. Thinking back to the VAR replay footage of Cutrone’s handball goal against Lazio in the league this season, we know the question of how VAR is implemented is as much, if not more, of an issue as whether it is used in the first place.
The second issue is incredible to me and smacks of former professional players and pundits being out of touch with what us, the people who watch them on our screens, really want to see in a football match. We’re seeing not just Roma but other attacking sides like Liverpool being marked down, talked down and played down for delivering entertaining, captivating and effective football on the biggest stages.
Some football punditry and opinion would have you believe Roma should have never even tried, in front of capacity crowds for the Barcelona and Liverpool game, for anything more than bowing down to convention and playing for a safe, quiet result to conform to expectations of how ‘big boy’ football ‘should’ be played on the big occassion. But had Roma done that against Barcelona, they never would have even been in a semi-final to suffer a blackout at Anfield in the first place.
Some pundits will also make the valid point of questioning just how effective is this high-line, positional play style of football? Roma are third in their league and still not qualified for next season’s Champions League. Liverpool could well go on to be beaten in the Champions League final by a far more pragmatic Real Madrid side - the kind of winning side that pundits love to praise for their professionalism in exploting opposition mistakes to win games. Is there really any point in playing balls-to-the-wind football if your end of season results don’t guarantee trophies?
Really and truly, the only victory in Europe’s top competitions - as far as silverware is concerned - for positional play, high-octane football this year has been Manchester City’s blowout of the Premier League. But will that stop teams like Roma, Liverpool, City, Dortmund and others from trying for success with the same philosophy next year? I certainly hope not.
For the first time in a while, the Champions League can say it put on show worthy of the hype in the knockout stages of this competition and, if anything as a Roma fan myself, I’ll be counting on Liverpool to keep bringing great football to the final in Kiev. Now how’s that for sore losing?