The BBC is an institution that prides itself on accountability and self-governance. If one of their nature programmes is found guilty of faking volcano eruptions – as was reported last week – or if one of their presenters is convicted of disgusting sexual activity involving minors – as seems to be reported every other week – they are the first to report it. They do so without bias and often employing hard-hitting journalistic integrity that separates the news and the unfortunate fact that it is they who are making it.
As admirable as this is it’s worth remembering that they have to and quite frankly it is in their best interests to.
Strange then that what we witnessed yesterday prior to and during Manchester City’s trip to Chelsea in the FA Cup fifth round was the very opposite of their mandate.
There are two opposing ways of looking at the storm in a teacup that has emerged from Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to play a severely weakened team on Sunday afternoon and while I distinctly fall into one camp – as illustrated by my belittling use of ‘storm in a teacup’ – I also respect the views of those who take a differing slant. Perhaps then we should begin with some indisputable facts.
1/ Manchester City are presently enduring an horrific injury crisis that has left them with just 13 fit senior players.
2/ The scheduling of yesterday’s game left just three days for the players to rest, prepare and travel to Ukraine for their critical Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev.
3/ As much as we all like to talk up, preserve and protect the standing of the FA Cup as a tournament it pales to the Champions League in its significance. This is particularly true for Manchester City who have developed something of an obsession with making an impact in the most prestigious club competition in Europe.
4/ Manchester City are one of the few top clubs to show the FA Cup the respect it deserves. It is why they have both won the thing and finished runners up in recent years and why – despite chasing a squad-taxing quadruple – they fielded a strong XI against Norwich and Aston Villa in previous rounds.
5/ The BBC had first dibs on the games to show live on television and were always going to pick Chelsea v City. However, knowing full-well all of the above they chose to schedule this tie for the Sunday teatime kick-off.
There endeth the facts and here come the grey areas.
There are some who believe that Manuel Pellegrini essentially threw his toys out of the pram with his team selection on Sunday. They will presumably be agreeing with every bombastic claim in the newspapers today that the Chilean and City have mortally disrespected the cup.
There are others who believe the BBC has no obligation to consider what is worst or best for any club. They pay a great deal of money – license fee money of course – to be able to screen FA Cup games and their prerogative is to broadcast the most interesting fixture as and when they see fit within their contractual limitations.
If you hold such opinions then please bear the following in mind.
The newspapers can rant and rail all they wish because the newspapers (and I feel comfortable generalising here) have all stood by the FA Cup and staunchly defended its standing for many a year.
You can rant and rail all you wish because (and again I feel comfortable generalising because you’re reading this and you’re a supporter of British football) you too have the best interests of the FA Cup at heart.
The BBC however….well, that’s quite a different story. Whatever your take is on this latest FA Cup farrago it is undeniable that it occurred as a direct consequence of the BBC’s controversial scheduling. Therefore they are the REASON it occurred. Therefore they are complicit.
The team sheets were revealed an hour before kick-off and suddenly the good old Beeb were in something of a pickle. Here was their marquee fixture of the weekend and one of the clubs was fielding six teenagers with five making their full debuts and they were doing so directly because of a decision the BBC had taken.
How would they approach this? Would they take their usual noble stance of separating themselves from a story where they themselves are implicit and report it with unbiased vigour?
The answer arrived from the moment the opening montage cut to three ex players and a failed manager in the studio.
Alan Shearer may well have been an incredible centre-forward but as a pundit the jury very much remains out. He evidently believes that a furrowed brow and intense stare is sufficient to suggest straight-talking whereas the words that tumble from his mouth are the same insipid, substance-lite guff sighed out by his predecessors. And the evidence thus far intimates that he is not the brightest button on the box.
This became apparent yet again from the get-go. The human testicle had obviously been primed by his employers to be their mouthpiece and offer a forthright criticism of Manchester City and so pumped up was he that he began to blurt it out prematurely in his opening gambit. You could clearly see a moment of panic blanche Lineker’s chestnut face as he quickly mumbled something about getting to the team sheets in a moment. Twitter was ablaze with the news and this was undoubtedly THE football news story of the day but come on Alan, let’s not inform viewers just yet that the forthcoming game was now essentially a non-event involving kids because of our selfish decision: let’s talk meaningless shite for five minutes first to settle them into their armchairs.
Once the meaningless shite was concluded it was time for Alan the mouthpiece to let rip. And what followed was priceless.
The pre-rehearsed rant was akin to being savaged by a befuddled bear. Making the bizarre allusion that it was Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero who had made the decision to pull out of the game Shearer pointed out that you never see Suarez or Ronaldo wanting to be left out. He then reminded everyone that Barcelona had fielded a strong side on Saturday despite having the same amount of time to prepare for their Champions League clash with Arsenal this week. In doing so he failed to mention that Barcelona presently do not have an injury crisis and do not presently have just 13 fit senior players. To his credit he did address that however in his climax with a hilariously angry assertion that it is Manchester City’s fault they have so few players because they have all the money in the world and should have simply bought more players. Forgetting for a moment those pesky rules about how many players you are allowed in a squad let’s remember that corker the next time the media accuse City of buying success.
It was an embarrassing tirade that poured from the mouth of a multimillionaire corporate gimp yet was really the BBC attempting to distance itself from any blame. Which is pretty low when you think about it and most certainly very un-BBC.
So did Manchester City disrespect the FA Cup this weekend? That’s your call. I have made my position clear and hopefully we can find some middle ground or simply agree to disagree.
What is beyond dispute however is that the BBC did not exactly cover themselves in glory yesterday. Their scheduling – in order to grab an extra half a million viewers – resulted in this grand competition being made a mockery of. Their consequent attack on a club that directly suffered from their scheduling was cowardly, pathetic and unforgivable.
Over to you Alan.