It's funny how pundits still talk in that chest-puffing
nationalistic way about the English Premier League as being the best in
the world when a) it self-evidently isn't and b) it's dominated by
foreign stars, not to mention a Scotsman running the FA and a French
insurance company sponsoring the FA Cup.
I suppose it's appropriate, then, that ITV's football coverage is
sponsored by a multinational based in Atlanta, Georgia, whose
football-related ads are made by the Amsterdam office of an American
agency, Wieden & Kennedy, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Ah well,
that's the global village for you.
Thankfully, as the nation tuned in to the opening night of ITV's
Premiership highlights show, the reassuringly British Des was there to
take us by the hand. But first, naturally, there was a message from the
sponsors that, as it turned out, was one of the more interesting bits of
an unbelievably dull show.
The opening sponsorship credits, of which more in a minute, featured
quick-cut interviews with the family of Robbie Savage, the Leicester
Now I have no particular animus against Savage, but it was at this point
that I wondered whether talk of the global village of football wasn't a
load of nonsense. Savage, for those who don't know, is one of the game's
less talented players. His mane of blonde hair may give him a bit of
faux glam in a Becks-wannabe kind of way, but in footballing terms he is
a hod-carrier in a team of hod-carriers. Once laughably dubbed the Welsh
Ginola (on account of the hair, not the sublime skills), Savage is a
typically British player: relentless energy, bugger-all skill and zero
personality. No wonder he plays for Leicester.
Only an agency or a client that knows nothing about football, I thought,
would dream of putting someone such as Savage in their sponsorship
credits. Surely they'd feature someone who at least represented the
glitz and the excitement of the Premiership, not a journeyman pro.
But that is where I may be wrong. Perhaps there was method in W&K's
Maybe Savage is the embodiment of every schoolboy or Sunday footballer's
dream: that you don't actually have to have any talent to make it big in
football, just lungs, legs and endless enthusiasm. Maybe, you see, it's
Savage's very ordinariness that is the point.
Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I incline to this argument.
The two best football-related ads of recent times have been Coke's "Eat
football, sleep football, drink Coke" (made by W&K Amsterdam) and Nike's
"Park life", both of which celebrated the ordinary fan's passion for the
game and its ability to bring friends and families together. Both looked
at the game from the bottom-up rather than, as is so often the case when
big business tries to co-opt sport, the top-down view.
As for the credits themselves, I liked them. They featured comments
about Robbie from his mum, brother and gran. Shot in a casual, natural
and obviously unscripted style, they're both charming and entertaining.
"I taught him everything he knows," his big brother says (don't they
always?). "He does a little bit of modelling, you know," his proud gran,
scrapbook on lap, says. "Is it Armami (sic) or something?"
By the end of week one, though, weren't we all sick of the Savages? One
of the pitfalls of TV sponsorship is staleness. For Coke, with a
thrice-weekly show containing a lot of ad breaks and lasting nine
months ... well, that's an awful lot of sponsorship credits. On the
bright side, however, this is at least a vehicle that allows Coke to
refresh the content on a regular basis within the same format. But no
more Robbie Savage. Please.
Dead cert for a Pencil? No, but it's a worthy effort.
Will it work? Is Roy Keane a nancy boy?
What would the chairman's wife say? Er, correct me if I'm wrong, but
didn't Leicester lose their first match 5-0?