Ex-pros are ruining Sky's Spanish coverage

“It’s interesting to see Guti take that free-kick with his left foot when he’s predominantly a right-footed payer.”

So said Trevor Francis during Sky Sports’ coverage of Real Madrid versus Villarreal recently.

What?! Guti right-footed? Are you having a laugh? Guti is as one-footed as Long John Silver. And that one foot is his left. Now, maybe you should let Trevor Francis off – after all, he is suffering from the most persistent cold in history – but it was yet another example of Sky apparently doing their best to ruin Spanish football with people who haven’t got a clue.

Without even getting into questions of voice (after all, we could argue all day about whether or not you like the sound of someone on telly), use of English (rarely an ex-pro’s strong point), or any of the other skills you look for in a co-commentator and pundit, would someone please, please tell me what the bloody hell Warren Barton and Second Choice Steve have got to do with Spanish football?

Apart from the fact that Barton probably played against a Spanish team once and McClaren’s Middlesbrough were utterly humiliated by Sevilla.

What has Gary Birtles got to do with Spain? What are they doing working as pundits and co-commentators of La Liga games? Even if they were great pundits – which they’re not – what’s their connection to Spain?

Sky have also used Paul Robinson, because he quite likes that well-known Spanish province of Portugal and has a house there. Then there was Alan McInally who did at least play abroad – in, erm, Germany. Why? Why, oh why, oh why?

What makes it so frustrating is that Sky actually have people who do the job far, far better. But they seem obsessed with ex-pros (and, let’s be honest, not even very good ex-pros) and don’t use the people who could actually offer something. Some insight, some knowledge, some appreciation of what Spain is. Even knowing what the teams are actually called would be a start.

Gerry Armstrong is more than capable of mangling a metaphor but at least he knows about Spanish football, has an enthusiasm for the game here and has actually seen most of the footballers play before, as well as having played for Real Mallorca.

Oh for the days when he and the Rob Palmer -- once Sky’s regular Spanish commentator and a guy who genuinely knew about La Liga -- did every game! (Palmer’s apparent relegation in favour of seriously inferior commentators is a whole new subject, by the way).

As pundits on Spain, you’d choose Roberto Martínez or Alex Calvo García over Barton every single time. Or Sander Westerveld, who has played in Spain, or John Aldridge, or the recent excellent yet frustratingly fleeting addition of Chapi Ferrer (who is better still on Spanish telly). All of them have been on Sky before, why not again? Why not more often?

And why does it have to be an ex-pro at all? Apart from one of the two voice-over guys who, despite being on the programme for five years, manages to pronounce every name wrong every time, Sky’s round-up show Revista de la Liga is excellent. In fact, it’s better than anything on La Liga you’ll see on Spanish telly.

Why? Because, quite apart from having a good presenter keen to learn about Spain (and Spanish), it uses two people who are genuine experts and superb communicators: Guillem Balagué and Graham Hunter.

Two minutes with them and they’ll tell you more about Spanish football than Trevor Francis, Warren Barton and Alan McInally can tell you in a year.

The tragedy is, Sky seem determined to limit them to two minutes and equally determined, week after week, all year long, to trot out a bunch of ex-pros who’ve never played in Spain and probably couldn’t find Madrid on a map.

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