They do say that the best referees are never seen, they are background. The same should apply to television football commentators. Mr Kenneth Wolstenholme, forever associated with the World Cup and probably the best football commentator ever, once said that we should emphasise the ‘comment’ part of that word. These days television football commentators are not a solo act, they have the mandatory summariser alongside. The pundit, usually a former professional footballer of variable competence and achievement, is there to offer incisive comment (there’s Ken’s word) based on having been paid to play the game.
The theory is that such a pairing will help the viewing public digest more easily that which is laid before them. Not on Tuesday evening for example when Mexico faced hosts Brazil in the World Cup. Both teams won their opening game, so another win and qualification for the next round would be assured.
Brazil, spearheaded by Neymar, who continues to impress with each subsequent game, did not have everything their own way as Mexico, led by their imperious skipper Rafael Marquez, pushed the World Cup favourites all the way.
If 35 year old Marquez was impeccable the game belonged, not to Neymar, but to Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. He was man of the match as he thwarted a succession of goal bound efforts and Proven Quality feels he should be given more credit than he received from BBC commentator Jonathan Pearce, which was eventually forthcoming, better late than never perhaps. Unfortunately it took Mark Lawrenson’s input to convert Mr Pearce’s assessment of Ochoa’s performance from blissful ignorance of just how good the saves were to belated wholesome praise.
It all started when Memo clawed away a towering header from Neymar. It wasn’t to be the last time the Brazilian icon was to be denied by Ochoa. The next stop and when Jonathan Pearce didn’t do himself any favours was when the Mexican stopper did what good goalkeepers do, he spread himself large to make superb block in denying David Luiz.
The commentator said that the keeper spread himself but ‘the ball just hit him’.
Er, actually, that’s the whole idea. Spread as big as possible to maximise the chances of negating the goal bound effort. But at least Mark Lawrenson knew and was a bit more accurate when he called it a big save from a big chance for Brazil adding that it mattered not how the goalie was keeping them out as long as he was doing so.
Ochoa then made an excellent near post save to deny Neymar, again, which drew the comment from Mark Lawrenson, ‘another top stop’. Perhaps the best save on the night was another positional one.
Goalkeepers work on percentages and in the instance where there is little reaction time the members of the ‘keeper’s union tend to position themselves centrally because, percentage wise, players making an attempt at goal aim for the biggest target, usually central. So when Thiago Silva rose majestically to thump a powerful header goal ward, he was central and by taking a central position Guillermo Ochoa was able to make another save.
In fact in making six saves on the night to keep a second consecutive clean sheet the Mexican number 13, claimed the best total in the World Cup so far.
Goalkeepers are a breed apart, loners by nature of their unique role within a team. So when they do their job very well, as Guillermo Ochoa did against Brazil, it’s particularly incumbent on those who were paid to comment to do so.