Straight from the coach's mouth -- well maybe not

By Paul Gardner

I don’t know about this. Someone -- one of the TV guys, I suppose -- is under the impression that, during MLS telecasts, we don’t get enough of the coaches.

Pre-game and post-game and halftime and during-game interviews are not enough, it seems. Even when you add in the frequent sideline shots of coaches waving their arms wildly and all the adolescent jumping about ... even after all that, someone still wants more.

So this season, for selected games, we’re going to have the coaches wired up with microphones. During the game. Everything they utter will be recorded.

Difficult to work out what those TV guys expect to get out of this. For sure, coaches sometimes can be amusing (usually inadvertently). But much more frequently they’re pretty boring.

They can cause “incidents” of course, arguing with officials.

And -- or so we are supposed to believe -- they can show tactical genius by rearranging things on the field while the game goes on, and by making clever substitutions.

They can also use some pretty salty language -- the British coaches are particularly noted for that. Which means we can make a pretty safe assumption that whatever their mikes pick up will not be broadcast live. It will have to be edited and approved before getting the air.

Then again, I may be getting that wrong -- for the same reason that the TV guys get things wrong so often. They should know -- after all it’s their job -- that the mere visible presence of a television camera is almost certain to change the way people behave.

Coaches, without doubt, will adjust to the camera’s presence, holding out the ominous possibility that their utterings and mutterings will be even more banal than the stuff they now spout during interviews. Heavens help us!

When will we get to listen to the bench recordings? First, they have to be sanitized, which means we won’t be getting anything live. A process that will remove the only genuinely new and interesting aspect of this eavesdropping -- its immediacy, the fact that it’s live and therefore cannot be edited to conform with family values, or to satisfy any agreements TV may have reached with the referees or the coaches or MLS on what must be censored as “undesirable.”

Presumably the edited remarks, shouts, yells and comments will be slotted in anywhere during the action, or at halftime. But I think TV needs to find a way to convince us that these sound bites will be reliable, that they will be an accurate reflection not only of what is being actually said on the bench, but of the context. By context I mean the atmosphere and the mental attitudes on the bench.

That will not be easy. It will be made even more difficult if the suspicion exists that anything reflecting badly on the coaches or the referees or MLS has been removed. With a tape-delay format I do not see how that suspicion can be dispelled.

Anyway, why do we need to overhear the coaches in action? The scenario for MLS games happens to be rather different from that which applies to soccer games anywhere else. For sure, MLS must make sure that its games conform to the rules and the accepted practices for the world game. But that still leaves plenty of space for doing new things, for innovation. There is, in fact, pressure for that innovation, a pervasive pressure that is unique to the USA.

I’m talking context again. MLS exists surrounded by other pro sports, sports that have been around in the USA longer than soccer. Those sports, competing against each other, have had to develop fan-friendly ways of doing business. Soccer has rarely -- and only recently -- bothered with things like that. It has traditionally operated in most countries without much competition, a recipe for complacency.

But MLS is required to keep its eyes on what the NFL and MLB and the NBA are doing to keep their fans happy. This is no bad thing.

There are unquestionably helpful things that soccer -- without altering its own character -- can adopt from those sports. (An obvious example: Post-game locker room access for the press, which is rare or non-existent elsewhere in the world).

I suspect that the origin of wiring MLS coaches comes from the desire not to be left behind by the advances in technology that other sports are using (I know that the NFL mikes its coaches, I’m told that the NBA also does).

But is there a misunderstanding here? I do not believe that the role of the coach in soccer can be compared to the role of the football coach. The football coach is obviously a dominant figure in the sport. Is it too much of a claim to say that he makes all the important decisions?

The situation is so different in soccer, where the coach not only does not make all the decisions, in fact he cannot make them because of the highly improvisational nature of the sport on the field.

What TV will get from miking MLS coaches is going to be rather different from what it gets from NFL coaches. And, I suspect, considerably less relevant to the action on the field.

The danger is that TV, having invested in the idea, will be determined to show us that it works. Which is likely to mean yet more guff unjustifiably inflating the importance of the coach, and no doubt plenty of coaches adjusting what they say to make the same point.

Don’t let anyone tell you that television cameras simply record the truth. They are just as likely to create their own not-so-true version of the truth.

10 comments about "Straight from the coach's mouth -- well maybe not ".
  1. beautiful game, March 4, 2016 at 8:23 p.m.

    Wiring up soccer coaches is a bad serves no purpose...the on field interviews have no substance either. Post game interviews are more tolerable as long as the question asked has merit

  2. Kent James replied, March 5, 2016 at 1:44 p.m.

    Agreed, bad idea (although, I guess, if it was edited and we just heard a few key moments, like instructions to a sub about to enter the game, maybe it would be worthwhile; but if that were the case, they should have done it without telling anyone, so if there was nothing worth sharing, they wouldn't feel obligated to share it). And sports interviews are almost always worthless ("how did you feel when you scored the winning goal?",well, duh...)

  3. Allan Lindh, March 4, 2016 at 8:29 p.m.

    Such blither. Mr. Gardner should have enough pride, that when he has nothing to say, he does just that. Heavenly days, he could have written about the best young US player ever -- Mallory Pugh. Or he could have raised a little hell that those morons at Fox aren't televising all of the best women's tournament since the WC.

  4. stewart hayes, March 4, 2016 at 9:29 p.m.

    I would like to hear what the coaches have to say to their players .... at halftime. But better still let's wire all the players so we can hear their conversations during the game. Now that would be interesting! Perhaps the MLS can promote an Xxx channel for the most colorful conversations.

  5. uffe gustafsson, March 4, 2016 at 9:40 p.m.

    Mr Garder don't write about women's soccer.
    To bad if he did he would tap into a much more exciting soccer then the men's national team.
    And yes why we don't get the the women's cup televised is beyond me. It's up there with leister city game w excitement.
    Look at the amount of people going to their games they fill stadiums.
    Maybe one day Mr Gardner will see the light and incl. women's soccer in his columns.
    He would get so many more readers every week.

  6. John Soares, March 4, 2016 at 11:57 p.m.

    Usually it's hard to agree with both sides of the commentary.....Today no problem. YES, As much as I respect MR Gardner (even though I don't always agree with him:) It is sad that for whatever reason he feels Women's soccer is not worthy of his time. Back to the article; I agree with him. We have way to much chatter as it is. Adding coaches commentary will only make it worse. Did we completely forget there is an actual game going on??? The commentators have...apparently MLS agrees, the game is secondary, sad.

  7. Alvaro Bettucchi, March 5, 2016 at 11:25 a.m.

    Personally, I do not care what the coaches have to say during the game. At half time, low key, for a minute, is o.k. I wish to enjoy the "beautiful" game, with limited comments from the announcers. What I do hope, that the advertisements for soccer remain about the skill of they players and the excitement of scoring the goals. Not the violence, and macho image of the American football and it's fans, which sets a different example to our youth.

  8. beautiful game, March 5, 2016 at 8:51 p.m.

    It would be more appropriate to discuss the wiring up the referee and his ARs. That would capture the verbal abuse from players and give the viewer insight on why or why not fouls are called when chatter happens between the pitch officials.

  9. James Froehlich, March 8, 2016 at 11:03 a.m.

    Again we have the American football media experts trying to shoe-horn in NFL style coverage. This is one more reason to avoid MLS !

  10. Scot Sutherland, March 16, 2016 at 6:46 p.m.

    Good topic, PG. I would rather have the players miked. The communication on the field has a great impact on the game. We can see what the players are doing on TV. You can hear what some of the players are saying when you attend a live game. Miking them would be very cool, even edited.

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