The usual tripe from the TV commentators this past weekend: “The more they can get the ball, the more they can create.” Or how about “Both teams want to win”? There was plenty more such pathetic stuff -- but of course, you listen to a lot of it as you want to get some insight as to what’s going on.
A forlorn hope, on the whole. You can hear plenty of lengthy and supposedly learned analysis of action that you’ve just seen -- mostly you won’t recognize the commentator’s version of it.
Banalysis is my term for that sort of analysis. It is delivered by a banalyst, who evidently sees his job to be one of making everything more complicated and abstruse than it really is. The very opposite of clarification.
The banalysts should harken to Edgar Alan Poe: “what is only complex is mistaken (a not unusual error) for what is profound.”
In fact, as anyone who has watched more than a dozen soccercasts must know, there is not much in the game that readily lends itself to the faux --intellectual approach of the banalysts.
Time and time and time again we hear the same old keys to understanding: they’ve got to use the width of the field, they’ve got to be careful when they attack not to expose themselves at the back, they’ve got to get their crosses in (we get a lot of that because crosses are the staple of the English game and so many of the banalysts we hear are Brits), they’ve got to slow the game down, or speed it up ...
Take those few keys, liberally sprinkle them with incessant use of the word “little” (a little back heel, a little chip, a little give-and-go, a little nudge, a little trip, a little pass), add plenty of “little bits” (a little bit too aggressive, a little bit too high, a little bit too easy), and you have just about the full range of the banalysts’ view.
One more thing, though. This question of making runs. That features a lot. “What a great run!” is much heard, even when the run turns out to be sterile, with no effect on the game at all.
It’s wondrous strange why there should be this adulation for runs, even abortive ones. Running -- isn’t that what soccer players are expected to do? How long would a player last in the game if he didn’t move about? A “run” can be taken to mean movement that covers some noticeable distance, and that is performed at some speed. Short bursts of acceleration don’t really qualify.
“Smith is making a run!" pants the banalyst -- and yes indeed, here comes Smith charging down the flank, no doubt expecting to get a pass. He may not. There may be better options. Possibly better runs made by other players. Or maybe the player with the ball will choose to play a quick 1-2 with a teammate hovering only a yard or two away ... no run involved in that.
That last example is very much on my mind right now -- thanks to Shep Messing, who is the TV analyst for the Red Bulls. Not a banalyst, Messing is better than that -- but during the Red Bulls-Toronto game, Messing came up with a splendid example of over-emphasizing the importance of runs.
After Bradley Wright Phillips had scored the opening goal for the Bulls, Messing -- having had time to watch the replays -- told us that BWP had “made a good run ... if [he] doesn’t make the run he doesn’t get the goal.”
Messing is absolutely specific: “As [Mike] Grella was collapsed upon [by Toronto defenders], Bradley Wright Phillips made a good run ...” As I couldn’t recall such a run, I played the goal back -- quite a few times -- looking for it.
I’m starting the action at 26:05. The Red Bulls’ Anthony Wallace has the ball, on the left, some 35 yards from the Toronto goal. At this point, BWP is near the right corner of the Toronto penalty area, edging along the 18-yard line toward Grella, definitely not running.
Wallace passes the ball infield to Felipe who pushes it forward to Grella, centrally placed, just outside the penalty area. No movement from BWP. Grella tangles with Toronto defenders Josh Williams and Ahmed Kantari at the edge of the penalty area. This is Messing’s key moment ... but BWP is barely moving, never mind “making a run.”
Grella then manages -- at 26:14 -- to slip the ball past the defenders, on the ground into the area, a pass of maybe 5 yards for BWP, who responds at once, moves maybe a foot or two, controls the ball, then shoots it into the goal -- at 26:17.
Absolutely no sign of a run there. Indeed, in the 12 seconds of that action, there isn’t barely time, and surely no space, for a run. I can start the action 16 seconds earlier, at 25:49, when Toronto’s Michael Bradley has the ball, only to give it away to Felipe, who gives it to Dax McCarty on the right, gets it back, then gives it to Wallace. During that brief exchange, BWP ran a few paces back toward McCarty. That was all.
Apologies for all that detail, but how else to reveal that Messing has invented out of thin air a “key” play that never happened? This is, I’ll admit, somewhat unfair to Messing, who is far from being the worst offender when it comes to over-elaboration.
I guess this fantasizing is the natural result of the air of superiority that descends upon TV commentators. They feel obliged to spot clever things that the hoi polloi are too dim to notice. And evidently, if those clever things don’t exist, then they need to be invented.
A determination to see the game in terms of “runs” must lead to misinterpretation. In the particular instance of BWP, I think his sharp, instinctive reactions in the penalty area, short bursts of acceleration, cool and quick thinking, are much more central to his goal-scoring, goal-poaching game. Of course, his movement is vital, but its subtlety gets lost in that crude “making a run” designation.