ESPN’s executive producer for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Jed Drake, lead play-by-play commentator Ian Darke, and match and studio analyst Steve McManaman participated in a media conference call to preview the month-long quadrennial tournament. Full details of 2014 FIFA World Cup on ESPN networks HERE.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
JED DRAKE: Thank you so much and thanks to all of you for taking the time to get with us on the call today. I am calling from our host set location and main control room here in Rio. I’m pleased to report that things have gone exceptionally well in terms of our set‑up and our preparation, which, when you see iton the air, you’ll see, I believe, an overall presentation that really is going to be tremendous and worthy of the event itself. That’s always been our target to live up to those kind comments that were made in 2010 by many of you, and to the accolades that we got in terms of awards.
It’s not an easy thing to do, but we’ve been working at this for a long time. I was actually thinking back to the first time that I came to this location, and I think it was the fall of 2011 when we decided this was going to be where we would host our coverage from. It is magnificent. I’ve never seen anything like it. In fact, the water on a couple of occasions has come up so far it actually came in under our three‑story scaffolding on a couple of nights, so we are that close to the water. We’re almost literally on it.
In terms of the overall event itself, we are in good shape. Mac (ESPN PR) is going to be releasing match assignments, commentator assignments coming up in the next few days for the first week, and we are in really good shape. Of course the question that I always get asked is will the country be ready? My answer is that, look, the World Cup is going to be held here in very good fashion. It’s clear that some of the stadiums are not at the level of completion that the country would like to have seen them be at this point in time, and the logistics are going to be a bit of a challenge getting around because the infrastructure is not what it should have been. But that said, in the end, it’s the World Cup. It will be glorious, to use the word that Ian has used on occasion about other things, and we will, in the end, I think be able to focus on the World Cup itself for the matches and the spectacle. We will also, as we have done in the past, focus on the cultural aspects of the host country. Some of those aspects are magical in terms of the diverse culture of this country and its geography and its history and we will cover all of that.
Inevitably and importantly we will also cover the news of the day as it warrants, whether that be the protests or anything that goes to any higher level. We have that commitment. We made that commitment to ourselves, we’ll make it to our viewers. By extension, we’ll be working even more closely this time around with ABC News. They have a large contingent of people coming down here, and we have said to them that we’ll be not only your host, but your provider of facilities should we be called upon to shift gears and go into news coverage in and around covering the World Cup itself.
We have a very large staff here candidly, several hundred, and we’ll be ready for the news aspects of this tournament outside of football should that be required. With that, we are just absolutely ecstatic in terms of being ready for this event.
Bob Ley actually came on to the set yesterday, and after he got up from his chair and was looking around and marveling at what we’ve achieved here, he said, let’s go to work. I said, Bob, we’re not on the air until Saturday. In deference to Bob, we are ready to go, so we’re going to light up a segment that will air on SportsCenter tomorrow, and then we’re on Good Morning America on Saturday with Julie Foudy. Then we have a preview show on ABC that we are recording and sending down, then we’re also going to host our coverage of the final USA friendly against Nigeria 5:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. We’ll host that coverage from here as Ian calls that last USA match prior to the World Cup with Taylor Twellman.
So we’re all in, we’re ready to go, and I’m sure you have a lot of questions, and I’m happy to take as many of those as you’d like or if you’d care to direct those towards Ian and Macca, all yours.
Q. Jed Drake, how are you breaking down the host assignments between Bob, Mike, and Lindsey?
JED DRAKE: We look at each match and decide based upon a variety of different criteria. In other words, Bob has a long history with the USA and he’ll host those matches. Other matches there might be more of a European angle and Lindsay obviously has a good handle on or great handle on teams that are generally from the European area or have a heavy European influence in terms of club teams. And Mike is one of the best hosts in sports television, one of the very best, I might add, so he’ll do a number of the big matches early on.
We’ve only made assignments through the first week. I want to see how chemistry develops between our hosts and our commentators, because, again, that is one of the things that we really look to as part of this complex fabric of production. It’s that wonderful chemistry and camaraderie that exists. We emphasize clarity in terms of information and making sure that we are getting the most out of our analysts, but we also enjoy the camaraderie that comes from putting different groups together, and we will definitely evaluate those assignments as we go. Plus we’ve got now the luxury, if I may, of a 90‑minute program nightly. World Cup Tonight, and within that show, as you may have heard, we’ve got the last call sort of sub‑show that will live within the body of that show at the end. We’ll move people around. It’s going to be an ensemble cast. Mike, and Lindsey, and Bob will host that show at various times. Others may host it, Julie may host it, Jerry may host it, who knows who is going to host it.
But we like the opportunity to have a real variety of personnel. That’s one of the strengths that you need for over 300 hours of coverage, and we’re happy to have those people available to us. We’ll see how things play out as they go.
Q. As of today, you’ve made no decision as to who will be the host of the final?
JED DRAKE: No, that decision has been made. We’ve given that to Mike, if that’s the focus point 31 days out, yeah. Mike is going to host the final. Other than that, in the first week’s assignments there’s a ton of hours in between the first week and the final match.
Q. … within ESPN, what kind of sense or what kind of ratings do you think, what is the potential for this as far as America getting into this World Cup and the ratings potential? How do you view that?
JED DRAKE: Well, I think there is obviously a couple of key factors there. One of them is as good as our ratings were in 2010, now we’ve got the opportunity with a time zone that is virtually identical to the East Coast of the U.S., and while the start times of the matches have been moved up slightly to accommodate what is obviously a huge audience in Europe with the other world broadcasters here, it works out well for the group stage. The matches on the East Coast are at 12:00, 3:00, and 6:00 primarily on those days that there are three matches. That’s great. That means the third match of the day is going to end up in the primetime on the East Coast. So I mean, just from that perspective, we should have ratings candidly that will improve over 2010. It’s a foregone conclusion that the ratings should improve because of the time zones.
Now, there are all kinds of factors that go into ratings as you know. Some of that is going to depend inevitably upon the US Team. As we say at every turn, we are not hanging our hopes on the success of the US Team. We did not do so in 2010, and the ratings, even when the U.S. went out, proved that the event itself is much bigger than just the success or lack thereof for the US Team.
We televise the whole tournament. I think the ratings are going to be better than 2010. I see no other outcome. How much better they are remains to be seen. I think a lot of that is going to be determined by the stories that unfold. I do think if Brazil, as people, the pundits seem to think is quite possible, win this thing, it will be a fascinating journey and ride for not just those in Brazil, but I think for everybody that is a fan of football and certainly of this event.
Q. Just a follow‑up for all the guys, what is your sense as far as, obviously, this Cup has a much higher sense of awareness among American sports fans, not just football fans than ever before. What is causing that? How much of that is due to ESPN really promoting the heck out of this thing, and how much is it the growing popularity of soccer?
IAN DRAKE: Hard to say, really. I think it is the growing popularity of the game and the growing understanding of the game in the United States. I actually think that was something of a breakthrough moment four years ago when Landon Donovan scored that goal against Algeria to save the USA’s World Cup life. Maybe a penny dropped there because it was quite a dull game, and suddenly there was this huge moment at the end of it. This huge release of tension which seemed to spark, judging by some of the scenes we saw, a huge national celebration.
So, yeah, I think that was part of it. The fact that the kids all played the game in the United States or a lot of them do now, and I think they understand the rhythms of it, and I think everybody’s got the general idea now that the World Cup is a very, very big deal.
STEVE McMANAMAN: I go along with what Ian said. I’m in England at this moment in time, and all anybody’s talking about is the World Cup. I’m not just talking about the people in America and USA. I’m speaking for people in England. All anybody is concentrating on. Now the prospective leagues have finished across Europe. Now the Champions League finished. The day after the Champions League people focused their attention to when is the World Cup starting. When are the teams travelling over? Who is traveling over to Brazil first? Where are they staying? What friendly matches have you got? And all the newspapers in England and across Europe are all focusing on who is fit? Who is going to be ready? Falcao is not playing in Colombia. He’s missed the cutoff point.
Everybody is saturated with talk of the World Cup, and the fact that there is no other footballing event going on across the world apart from the World Cup, the football match fans and non‑football fans are focused on watching the World Cup because it is a hugely, hugely enjoyable tournament.
JED DRAKE: One thing that I’ve said and for those of you that were with us in New York last month when we did that press deal at the Paley Center, look, I think what we did in 2010 is rather remarkable in that you could make the argument that the United States was really the last hold out, if you will, for somewhat of a level of indifference in the World Cup. Certainly not in terms of devoted soccer fans, and certainly not in some of the more urban areas. But by and large as a country, I think there was ‑‑ I’ve not used the term before, but I think it was appropriate that there was some indifference to the World Cup. We changed that.
We fundamentally changed that in 2010. We did so through I think a production approach and marketing approach that made people understand how important this event is on the rest of the planet. By doing that, we created this understanding of just how important this event is. Now, I think, that has certainly carried through from 2010 in terms of soccer in general in the United States. But for this event, it does transcend soccer. This is a global event that people, I believe now, even in the United States, will tune into because of the sheer scope and magnitude of it. For now, 31 days, it is my hope that people truly do alter their lifestyle just to be able to watch this event in whatever form they can watch it on, whether it’s on television, on a tablet, whether it’s on the phone, whether it’s on the radio, that they do that because that is the beauty of this event. That for four years, people can, in essence, put their lives aside and focus on the event for the sheer spectacle and enjoyment of it. That’s what we did in 2010, and that is certainly our goal in 2014.
Q. Jed, you said before that the broadcast will be directed at the most sophisticated of soccer fans and everybody else will catch up. If you could sort of talk a little bit about how that will be reflected in the broadcast, what we’ll see? And for Ian and Steve, if it makes any difference for you all that you are talking to a more sophisticated fan as each World Cup passes?
JED DARKE: Ratings are always two things. How much people watch and for how long. What we decided going into 2010 is we would reset our coverage to focus on that knowledgeable sports soccer fan, the soccer fan that understood when we were talking about lineups and changes and nuances and styles of individual players and teams and countries. That we’d not be starting from square one. We adopted that approach. So right when we came out of the blocks, our announcers, our commentators were speaking from the mindset that they were speaking to an audience that understood those nuances.
Again, you just have to look at time marching on here. We’re four years later now, and it’s arguable that that knowledgeable soccer audience has not only grown, but that soccer is now a better understood sport in the United States.
So we’ll continue down this path because we do believe that for the soccer fan, we have that responsibility. But we also recognize, and 2010 bore this out, that the casual viewer will come to this event just for the sheer spectacle of it, and when they do, they will become enamored with it, and they’ll begin to understand what is being said by our commentators.
It may not make total sense right out of the block, but I do believe that because the event lasts a month, that even the casual viewer will be a far more knowledgeable soccer fan on the back side of this tournament based upon our coverage than they were going into it, and that’s our plan.
IAN DARKE: I can only endorse really what Jed has said there. I remember covering the World Cup for ESPN way back in 1994, which was my first involvement with the company. Back then it was different. Producers were asking me to explain what the offside law was, and I understood that at that time. But I think the sophistication of the American audience has grown, and I would almost regard it as an insult, really, to their intelligence now to be asked to explain the basics of the game. Having said that, I think Jed’s spot on. There is a new casual audience that is watching and maybe we’ll be looking to tell personalized stories about some of the players to bring them to life.
So we’re not giving you a list of names of players who have the ball. If there isn’t a heart-warming, personalized story about a particular player who happens to be in the limelight in a game. I wouldn’t hesitate to do that. I think it adds to the color and fabric of the commentary.
STEVE McMANAMAN: Yeah, I’m the same really. It’s important to sell individual stories or if you know individual players, you can maybe spend a little more of what they do outside the field. If you know anybody personally, which we do, of course, in England and across Europe there are a huge amount of football players. Though I know a lot personally and professionally as well. So if you can add a little bit more color, as Ian rightly said, to the story to make the people who are watching a bit more familiar with the players, and they can maybe follow them for future reference, but I think that helps. Whether you change the style of commentating towards particular people, I don’t think so. As Ian and Jed rightly said, the majority of people who watch will totally understand what myself, what Ian, what Taylor, what the rest of the boys are talking about, and hopefully we’ll make it as enjoyable as feasibly possible.
Q. I have two questions, first, if Ian and Steve could talk about the passion for soccer in Brazil. I know there is that passion in basically most countries in the world, but what makes the Brazilian passion and love for the game different? What will be palpable in Brazil and in the stadiums and on the streets that maybe we don’t see in even some of the soccer‑crazy European countries. That’s one. The second one is if you could each comment on the US Team and what you’re expecting from the US Team?
IAN DARKE: I’ll start for the passion of the game in Brazil. It isn’t just a game in Brazil. It is a religion. Every kid plays on the beach. I think they have something like 6,000 professional footballers not just playing in Brazil but all over the world. We’re talking about the five‑time winners at the competition. Probably the country that produced the greatest team ever to play at the World Cup in 1970, and the names still resonate down the years of Pelé and Rivelino, Dede, and I could share some ‑‑ I could go on. It’s a long list. The place will just simply come to a standstill with every game. It’s going to be the wildest night imaginable, even when they win their first game against Croatia, if they win it, of course. It’s just going to be the most enormous happening. I can only imagine what it would be like if Brazil were playing in the final against Argentina. Bigger than big, that’s football in Brazil.
STEVE McMANAMAN: All England, Ian, of course.
IAN DARKE: Yeah, same applies.
Q. Steve, could you talk about Brazil also, and if you could each comment on the US Team, that would be great. Thank you so much, Ian.
STEVE McMANAMAN: I think as Ian said, I know a lot of Brazilian players, Brazilian football players. Everybody, every child growing up aspires to be a Brazilian football player. Every child growing up aspires to be a Brazilian No. 10 footballer because they’re normally the most skillful. The most mythical number is the No. 10 worn by the likes of the players Ian just mentioned.
Of course. in England, in lots of countries like America, we have film stars, we have entertainment stars. In Brazil, the number one rising star is the football player, and that’s why they’re idolized so much. People see it as a way of getting out of the slums, playing for their team, moving onto Europe and becoming the superstars that they become. So it’s literally everything to become a footballer. The Brazilian players I know have always held to the end. They’ve always sent money home. They’ve always looked up to families and cousins and generations and friends, and everything that goes back to Brazil to look after other people.
IAN DARKE: Just to add to that again, I think the only rider to it, of course, is there is a tremendous weight of expectation on the players because of all of that as well. They are playing under big pressure. They played under that kind of pressure or something like it in the Confederations Cup last year and were brilliant and won the tournament. And young Neymar, who is going to be the poster boy of Brazil, of course, wearing the No. 10 shirt, he responded very well. But this will be cranked up ten‑fold.
But to go into your question about the USA, I think at the moment, like a lot of the teams, they don’t look quite ready for the tournament. They’re not the only team. Italy drew with Luxembourg yesterday, and there are questions about them, one of the favorites of the competition.
But Jurgen Klinsmann has a bold way of going about things. He’s made a huge decision to leave out Landon Donovan. He will either look like a genius about that or face a big inquest over it in about a month’s time. They’ve got a mighty tough draw, probably the toughest draw USA have ever had after World Cup. It will be a big, big achievement, and they’ll have to play way above themselves to get out of a group, including Ghana, Portugal, and of course, Germany, who they play in the last game.
It’s obviously a massive game as far as Jurgen Klinsmann, playing against his home country, a country for whom he won the World Cup.
I think the big problem with USA, judged on the other day against Turkey, they looked inventive, the attacking work was good, they looked as though they had goals in them. They were too expansive and the defense because of that looked shaky. So we’re looking to see them tighten up. Still look good in attack, but look much, much more compact when they play Nigeria in the final prep game coming up from Florida. We’ll have that live on the weekend. I think that is a big and important game for the USA to try to get everything right going in.
STEVE McMANAMAN: I agree really. I think USA like a lot of teams, England’s performance yesterday wasn’t fantastic, but they changed the team around a bit, and they’re just building up, trying to peak at the right time for a couple of weeks. There are a lot of teams out there who were winning threes and fours and five nils and we’ve got a pair. After a long, arduous campaign in Europe, a lot of the players have a little bit of rest and a little holiday, so they’re finally finding their feet. You have to remember ten days, with two weeks away from the first game, so the players will be peaking nicely.
Like everybody can say, it’s not just me and Ian, and it’s every fan you speak to, USA has got a really difficult group. They’re underdogs actually in their group, as much as Jurgen’s doesn’t like to say that, but they are underdogs in the group. They’ve got a really good chance. Everybody expects Germany and Portugal to qualify even though Portugal only just qualified for the World Cup, so it’s a very tight group. I actually think USA video have got a really good challenge of qualifying, I really do.
Q. I have a question just going back. Looking back at Euro 2012, you all had record ratings in the States. Part of that, we have Spain as defending champions of the World Cup defending champions of the Euro Cup. How important is the Spanish speaking in the States, which is probably slightly more familiar with football now?
JED DARKE: They’re a very important component to our overall rating. I can’t give you an exact number. But look, we’ve invested in the English language right through the Mexican National Team in the United States. So we are very cognizant of the Hispanic audience, and we are going to make sure that our coverage of the Mexican National Team is significant, in fact, with our ESPN international operation here. We’ll take advantage of the resources that they have, and, in fact, John Sutcliffe, who you may know well from our coverage, is going to be with the Mexico team throughout just as Jeremy Schaap will be with the US Team throughout. We’ll bring full measure of our coverage as it relates to the Mexico team.
As far as Spain goes, Spain, my gosh, they are a team that everybody has focused on. We all have talked about. If they were to win this event, case closed on the discussions as to whether the greatest team of all time. That’s not me saying that, that’s any number of our key commentators.
So, Spain, they’re a fascinating team from everybody’s perspective, but especially, the Hispanic audience, of course. Then the Mexico National Team, we obviously will be focusing on as well. In terms of our overall coverage, we’ll be focusing on the US Team with great significance. The Mexico team, Brazil, and then we’ll see where the stories start developing and move resources. I think one of the things, if I may, that’s really important about this time around for us is when we went to South Africa, we were in there ostensibly on our own. ESPN International had a small group there. ESPN Brazil had a small group there. Now here in this country, we’re taking advantage of the fact that we have ESPN Brazil as a major, major part of ESPN. They have been absolutely phenomenal in terms of helping us create the production, plan, and executing everything that we’ve done to date. We’ll be taking full advantage of that relationship, and they’ll be taking full advantage of working with us. It’s an opportunity that’s completely different than what we had in 2010, and it’s worth mentioning, because it’s going to make us that much better and that much deeper in terms of our resource capability as we share it with them and our ESPN International colleagues.
IAN DARKE: With Spain, I think the question with them is they’re obviously a fabulous, fabulous football team and have been for the last five or six years, is this a tournament too far for some of them? Is he keeping up the belief in those players for too long? I think that is the question we’ll get answered in Brazil.
Q. Jed, could you elaborate on the infrastructure difficulties that you noticed in Brazil? Are there specific stadiums that you believe you’ll have some problems with?
JED DARKE: Some of the stadiums that have been written about at length, São Paulo being one of them. Yeah, São Paulo, it is ironic, because it is obviously the stadium of the first match and a key focal point for Brazil. We were there in March at nine other stadiums as well, some of them are in perfect shape. Some of them, in particular those that were part of the Confederations Cup, and others are just not what they would have wanted these to be to start the World Cup, Curitiba, Porto Alegre, São Paulo. The challenges to the infrastructure will be that it’s going to be difficult to operate there. It’s not impossible. Things are not at a state of readiness that you would have wanted them to be.
I think the infrastructure issue just sort of in general as it relates to these World Cup crowds that will be going to these stadiums, I think it’s going to be a big challenge at virtually every stadium. I think the traffic to these stadiums is going to be a real challenge. I’ve said to our commentators and our producers, time and patience are going to be your two biggest allies because you’re going to need large measures of both.
But in the end, the event on television will be all the spectacle that people expect it to be. The matches will be the matches. They’ll be magnificent to the extent that they can. They’ll be unencumbered by the logistics completely. It’s clear from a television perspective that we’re going to be fine. If you were attending a match in person, that would be a far bigger challenge, I think, at this point in time.
Q. If you can give me your thoughts on Group D? We found statistical analysis that show England, Italy and Uruguay with all virtually the same chance to advance. I’m wondering if you can give me your thoughts on the group?
STEVE McMANAMAN: I’m thinking England has a real good job to be very honest. If we look at the two teams playing, and we look at the recent form Ian mentioned yesterday, Italy’s poor performance against Luxembourg. If you look at Uruguay, their very poor performance against Ireland the other day. Of course Luis Suarez, whether he will be fit for the opening game is another question. But I think going forward, everybody seems to focused on and everybody seems to be obsessed certainly in England with the force of Suarez and Edinson Cavani because they’ve got really good seasons. Likewise with their performance in Euro 2012 when Italy knocked England out of the tournament, and England was very poor.
But the positive things for me is that Hutchens has gone with a very different squad for England. He’s gone with a lot of young players, a lot of enthusiastic players, a lot of quick, dynamic players. I really like the shape and feel of his squad. I think if we analyzed the two sides, you don’t disrespect the Costa Rica squad.
Italy is still very reliant on the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Chiellini in defense, even the goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon. The mad man, that is Mario Balotelli up front. There are going to be no surprises for England. England know those players inside and out. They’ve played against them many, many times. Question is whether the heat and humidity of Manaus will help England. They have a more youthful side, a speedier side.
So I think Hutchens’ squad, the squad he’s chosen, I think it’s a breath of fresh air really for me. Looking at the squads, and looking at the subsequent squads of their arrivals in Uruguay and Italy and Costa Rica, I don’t see why England can’t qualify or qualify top of the group. The fact that there is no pressure on them this year for the first time in history nobody expect them to qualify or to go anywhere near winning the World Cup. I’m one of them. I don’t think England has a chance of winning the World Cup, but I think they’ll qualify out of the group. As long as they lose their knockout phase with a bit of fight and a little passion, and a little excitement and attack minded players, I’ll be more than happy with that.
IAN DARKE: It’s a fascinating group. You can say the USA group is a group of death to use the cliché. I think this one is as well. The conditions favor Uruguay because it’s South America. You can’t understatement that factor in a South American World Cup. They’re a battle‑hardened side. They all know each other. They’re very good tournament players. It is a big problem if Suarez isn’t fit. I think he might end up missing the first game but will take a part at some point in the tournament. The danger is they’re trying to rush him back and he is key. So if they do that, it could be that he breaks down and ends up missing the whole tournament. So they have to be careful with that.
But Cavani’s fantastic as well. So good that the guy that won the award as the best player in the tournament last time will probably only be on the bench this time as well. So I quite like Uruguay from that. They’ll be mighty tough to beat. They’ve got no pretensions. Only a little country of 3.3 million.
As for Italy, their form going in is horrible. Won one with Luxembourg which is frankly embarrassing for the prep game for them. But Prandelli has done well in the big tournaments, the coach, they’ve gotten to the final there. They surprised people. I thought they looked good at the Confederations Cup. They’ll be quite attacking, and again, they’ve got a lot of players that know about playing big tournament football. So they, too, will be a threat when it comes to it. They’ve had bad preparations before and ended up winning World Cups.
As for England, I think Macca is right. It is a fresh looking squad with plenty of pace and youth about it. Ross Barkley may be the best England player since Paul Gascoigne … That is the question. He was super yesterday in his game, and then Roy ended up criticizing him after the game. Makes you wonder whether he’s preparing everybody to actually pick him. Sterling who got sent off yesterday will be okay for the tournament. They’re all really good young players. So I think England will either take the thing by storm and be a bit of a sensation for once in the big tournament, or they won’t have quite enough tournament nails. So as with everything else here, we can’t wait to find out.
Q. Do you think they’ll qualify, Ian?
IAN DARKE: Yes, I do. I think it will be very ‑‑ I’ve got a feeling that Costa Rica, who looked like the chopping block in the group, I think they’ll get a point or two off the others. Who they get them off might end up deciding it.
Q. Thank you. That’s helpful. One quick follow‑up, do you agree with the odd makers and prognosticators that Brazil deserves to be favored?
IAN DARKE: Absolutely, yes. They haven’t lost a home competitive game, I stress home competitive game, since 1975. They’re very together. It’s a nice blend. I think they’re worthy favorites, yes.
STEVE McMANAMAN: I agree. After the Confederations Cup performance last year, and the fact that the crowds were behind them 100%. The spine-tingling anthems they sung before games. I think it will be the Confederations Cup times ten, the noise, the passion, I think the fans will galvanize behind them and help them, so I think the worthy favorites are home without a shadow of a doubt.
IAN DARKE: They’re haunted by 1950 when they hosted the tournament and ended up losing what was effectively the final against Uruguay.
Q. From what you’ve seen there, what is the mood of Brazilians in terms of their reaction to the logistical problems that there have been, and the fact that some of the stadiums aren’t ready, and how do you think that’s going to balance for the passion for the Brazilian team?
JED DRAKE: So as far as their passion for the Brazilian team, you really can’t even measure it. As Ian said, it’s a religion. I would say it’s part of the very fabric of life here. It’s everything to this country, this team and this opportunity in particular. They are just so fixated on that. But there is a lot of pressure on the team too, that sort of expectation that everybody talks about brings a lot of pressure to the team. They really need to deliver on this.
We’d not like to see them get out of Group A only to finish in a loss. But that’s why this is fascinating. In the knockout round, if you go with the chalk, as we’d say, they’re going to face either Spain or the Dutch or maybe Chile in the knockout round. None other than Gilberto Silva, a member of the 2002 championship team, and ’06 and ’10 as well, has gone on record on Sportscenter, in a piece that we did with Macca (Steve McManaman) and Ian, actually, at different times in London, has said that he does not think ‑‑ he does not think that Spain will get through.
Brazil, they will get through, obviously. I think that’s a foregone conclusion. Can they just keep pounding away and get to July 13th. The expectation here is that they will. In terms of the logistics and how people are reacting to the stayed of preparedness, I think that by and large people here are very sort of upbeat about the World Cup. There is a whole lot of the country that’s not directly involved with the staging of this event. That’s a whole different group there.
But I don’t think that the people here in Brazil are terribly troubled with the perception that things have not gone exactly as they should have. I think they are much more focused on the tournament itself and the chances and the aspirations for their National Team, which is just remarkable.
Q. I was wondering if you could shed some light on Taylor’s development as a commentator, and how that partnership with Ian came about, and what he’s been like to work with, and what you thought of his performance?
JED DRAKE: Well, I was going to say Ian first, because Ian’s the one that sits next to him in the broadcast booth.
IAN DARKE: I think Taylor’s a terrific professional, and obviously, he puts his heart and soul into the job. He’s never frightened to ask questions. His contacts in the US Team are fantastic. He’s the guy that broke the story about Landon Donovan’s omission in the first place through those contacts, so that part of it is important as well. So he speaks with great insight about that.
He was at the White House with the President. He runs a charity connected with concussive injuries in sport, which he suffered from himself, so I think it’s fantastic. What I’d like to say about Taylor, is he had some terrible luck in his first profession as a player, he should have gone to the 2006 World Cup, and Bruce Arena who coached him admitted as much to him since that tournament. He was in the squad and scoring goals and kind of mysteriously got left out. But it’s all led to his early retirement from playing the game to this fantastic second career that he’s got.
He’s a fine man to work with in the box, and I’d like to think it’s a developing chemistry and I hope people enjoy it.
JED DRAKE: There are many great attributes about Taylor, and they’re all developing rapidly. We’re very pleased to have him with us, and to bring him to his first World Cup as a commentator. He’s got a great personality that’s inquisitive. He’s bright, and when I say bright, I’m not just talking about his level of intelligence, but I’m talking about that personality that he has. He challenges his colleagues, and we’d like to see that.
He’s got an interesting relationship with Michael Ballack who will be here. Taylor having played in Germany for a bit, and he’s a wonderfully engaging guy. I think that television captures that personality. Now that said, he’s also, as Ian has said, he’s incredibly hard at working at research, and we give them high props for nailing the Landon story before anybody else did. And that is just sort of who he is. He’s growing and developing rapidly, and we’re very pleased to have him with us.
I think as we say at every turn when we look at this presentation, we are aiming very specifically to do better at every aspect of our coverage than we did in 2010, no matter how well we did then. I think bringing Taylor among many others to our presentation will help us do that. The other thing about Taylor, to Nick’s metaphors, he hits from both sides of the plate very well. He can do a match with Ian at a very high level, and we really had to make some tough decisions this time about who was going to be in the studio and who was going to do matches.
Interesting, Macca, with you on the phone too, let the record reflect that you’ll be doing as Taylor will, you’ll be doing matches and being in our studio as the schedule will allow, given the logistics of moving people back and forth around this country. So high marks to Taylor. He’s got a really good growth curve going, and his abilities to hit from both sides of the plate like Macca makes him that much more valuable to us. That was a baseball reference, by the way.
STEVE McMANAMAN: Yeah, I know all the things about sport, you know that. Quickly for me about Taylor, as much as I’m really looking forward to seeing him really and working with him in the studio if we’re both on the road at the same time at different locations. I’ve met him numerous times before, and I call him. I’d like to think that he’s a good friend of mine.
What I like to say about people is regardless what they’re like on television and away from the TV screen in private, he’s a gentleman. He’s a really good friend of mine, and everybody gets on very well with him. I think that’s all credit to him. I’m really looking forward to getting over to Brazil and see him, like all the rest of the boys.
Q. There have been a couple mentions of Jurgen Klinsmann decision to cut Landon Donovan. That decision and some other decisions of Klinsmann’s in terms of his personality and training have made it clear that he’s going to do things his way with this team. How large are some of the professional risks that Klinsmann is taking? How important is this World Cup for his career? I’d love to hear from Steve and Ian on this?
STEVE McMANAMAN: Personally, my opinion of Jurgen Klinsmann is it has to be the manager’s way. It’s his decision. The fact that he hasn’t chosen Donovan Landon is not a big story for me. If a player’s not in form, he doesn’t get chosen. That is the way it’s always been for me. Whether it’s the greatest player in the world or an average player. If his form is not good enough and somebody else who is in the position, his form is excellent, the person who is in form deserves to go. You need to be playing well for your club. You need to be playing well week‑in and week‑out to have the chance to play for your country. So just because somebody has a very good reputation in the past, that doesn’t mean anything nowadays.
Landon had a great tournament four years ago. He played very well in the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year after going on sabbatical. But as far as I’m concerned, that is just part and parcel of football. If he doesn’t deserve to be in the squad, he doesn’t get chosen to be in the squad. As for Jurgen, and if he has many rifts with many people, I can’t necessarily comment on rifts he’s having with any American players.
It’s not necessarily, when you go into the World Cup, it’s not necessarily about the manager. It’s about two years before going through hell and high water to qualify for the greatest tournament in the world. There is one tournament every four years the World Cup, and you’re representing your country. You’re not necessarily representing your manager. It’s the team he puts on the pitch, those individuals to cross that white line, perform to the best of your ability, and in a one‑on‑one situation with your opposition to be the best man out of your personal battle. If you do that, and if the majority of the team does that, you win the game.
So it’s not necessarily down to the manager, because you want to win it personally yourself. You’re doing it for your country. As I said, there are many, many countries who didn’t qualify for this wonderful tournament. The fact that the USA and England to a sense are there, you have to do it for yourselves and the shirt that you’re wearing on your back. So even if you’ve got a sure manager, it doesn’t matter. There is a greater prize and greater cause that you’re playing for.
But if Jurgen does very well personally in this tournament, he will probably get any job in Europe anyway at this moment in time, but he seems to be very happy living in the USA. But of course, it’s always great if you do very well in a World Cup to have that on your C.V., especially in the group USA event. If USA qualify from the group and go forward to the knockout stages and do well, then Jurgen will be treated at some sort of hero, no doubt.
IAN DARKE: I think first thing to say about Jurgen Klinsmann is his place in the history of the game is already cemented as a wonderful player who won the World Cup, and great goal scorer for Germany. Remember, he took his home country to the semifinals as a coach in 2006. I think his reputation as a coach is being put on the line here. All coaches are paid big money, and he is on big money in U.S. soccer terms to produce results.
When he got the job, he was saying a lot that the USA cut the gap between themselves and the elite of world football. Well, here’s his chance, because he’s in a group with the elite of world football there, certainly in the case of Germany and Portugal, who I think at the moment are ranked two and three by FIFA, not that we should take too much notice of the FIFA World Rankings, and Ghana are a very decent team as well.
So how this team has progressed, this is the acid test. The degree course of what he’s done in the three years he’s been in charge. Now as for the Landon Donovan decision, I come at this from a slightly different angle to Macca, because he was saying if you don’t really produce the form, you don’t deserve to be in. My hassle is I slightly agree with Bruce Arena, if the USA has 23 players better than Landon Donovan, they better go pretty close to winning this World Cup. He isn’t the player he was. There is no question about that. Maybe he’s lost a little bit of speed, but players do evolve as they go on. Since he’s been left out he’s come up with a flurry of goals, you might have noticed for L.A. Galaxy. So he’s hurting and he’s expressing that on the pitch.
I still think, and it’s only my personal opinion, Jurgen Klinsmann knows 20 times more about the game than any of us. I still think that he could have done the job even if it was only for 20 minutes from the bench. And there are one or two, I’m not going to name names because it’s time to move forward and you wish these guys well, but there are one or two players there who do not have his pedigree and his craft that he could have brought to it with all his big tournament experience. It’s just my feeling that he should have been in.
Q. Just to elaborate on a previous subject, could you please talk about which teams are your overall favorites, perhaps potential dark horses or any foreseeable qualifiers that can surprise?
STEVE McMANAMAN: My overall favorites are quite easy. We mentioned it before. Brazil is certainly the favorite. A lot of the teams that I thought would go well in the tournament, might meet each other very early on in the tournament, which is a bit of a blow. I sat with Ian commentating on the Spain‑Chile game in Geneva about six months ago. And both teams, Spain had an excellent team, and we know that, but I was really impressed by Chile as well. I thought they may go far. Subsequently the draw happens. Spain are going to play Chile in the group stages.
Of course, whoever finishes first or second in the group may meet Brazil. So straightaway, a couple of the favorites are going to be out there. But I like Brazil and Spain. That’s an easy decision to make.
But dark horses, a team like Colombia, even though Falcao is not making a tournament is a huge miss. I just think they’ll be suited by conditions. They qualified very impressively in their qualifying campaign, and they really impressed me. If they meet their top group, they could meet somebody in England’s group, and I don’t want England to get knocked out as early as that. I like Colombia. People talk about Argentina because they have a comfortable group, a quite comfortable passage until later on in the tournament where they’re not a big surprise. So I think Spain and Brazil have been my favorites. And the dark horses would be the South American countries, especially, Colombia.
IAN DARKE: I agree with Steve about Chile. I think they might qualify for that group B at the expense of the Netherlands who find this four years ago. I think they could go through. I like the look of them. They’ve got a ruthless side as well as being bright and adventurous when they beat England at Wembley, and they were very good recently as well against Germany. They would have won the game away from home.
The other team to maybe keep a little look out on is France, surprisingly. It’s a team that will either make the final or go home early, sometimes in disgrace. But you look at their draw with Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, they’re going to qualify, no question from that group. And in the round of 16, they’re liable to be playing somebody like Bosnia‑Herzegovina or Nigeria. So I could see them having quite a soft run through to the quarterfinals, at least. Then with Didier Deschamps, I think they won’t have all the temper tantrums they had four years ago. They’ll have them pretty much together. Good, young players there with the talent.
So maybe they’re dark horses. I think they qualify as dark horses, don’t they, just about?
Q. Ian and Steve, you guys talked about some of the individual stories that might come up during the World Cup. I also wanted to see how much of an impact do you think Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie might have?
STEVE McMANAMAN: Of course everybody’s interested in Suarez and Cavani, certainly the partnership. I’m really looking forward to see how Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie perform, to be very honest. There are so many subplots. Until yesterday’s game, I was asked numerous times on Wednesday about should Wayne Rooney be dropped out of the squad? He was the talk in England about Wayne Rooney not fitting in correctly and should he be left on the substitute bench? I thought it was nonsense to be very honest, because he is and will always be one of England’s best players and most exciting players. He played last night and was excellent. So I think that showed a lot of the press up in England about him.
So I think for me Wayne Rooney has to play. It’s a very difficult group for England. But like in every World Cup, if you qualify from the group, you’re going to need your main players and best players to perform. And Wayne Rooney is one of the best players if not the best. Certainly the best attack‑minded player. So if he performs well, and scores goals and is the star of the show, England will go very, very far.
… like Wayne Rooney, we talk about the opposition of Robin van Persie. They’re going to play Spain and Chile. If he’s going to progress and be a star of the show, he’s going to have to play well against arguably two of the best teams around. So it’s a huge, huge World Cup for him. He’s the star man in the Netherlands forward line … No one stands out like Robin van Persie. So he’s going to have to show the pressure like Wayne Rooney.
So it’s a huge tournament for both of them. It could be the pinnacle tournament because of the opposition. Because of the stature of the two players playing together at Manchester United. There are going to be heros or failures after this World Cup tournament. There is no middle ground, unfortunately, for them.
IAN DARKE: I think it’s fascinating the World Cup because we always preview it talking about who we think the big stars are going to be. Of course so much publicity will center around Neymar, Suarez if he’s fit, Cristiano Ronaldo if he’s fit. There is a story today that he may have to miss the first game. It looks dodgy for him with his knee. Lionel Messi, is this going to be the World Cup for him to grab the glory in the way Diego (Maradona) did in 1986 and almost win it single‑handedly.
He won’t be winging it single‑handedly by the way, because he’s got a lot of talent around him in that Argentina team. They’ve got to go pretty close. But often the World Cup comes out with people the world never knew before – Toto Schillaci never having played a competitive game for Italy before the 1990 tournament.
One guy you might look out for is the Russian, Alexander Aleksandr Kokorin, good, good player. Russia was flattered to deceive. But he may be someone that makes a wider name for himself at this tournament.
As for Wayne Rooney, I don’t know. He obviously is a gifted player, but he’s been part of what’s essentially been a failing England team in a lot of tournaments. I think there is a little bit of a problem now in the system England play, this 4, 3, 2, where exactly he fits in. There are rivals to his position in that front four, Sturridge, Lallana, Sterling, especially Barkley looks pretty well suited to playing where Rooney plays just behind Sturridge. I’m not saying he should be dropped, but I think it is a valid debate because sometimes he just drops too deep and doesn’t get close enough to the striker if you put him in that three that plays behind without trying to get too technical here.
As for van Persie, I don’t know. It’s been a bit of an injury ravaged season. And now there is another problem. As Macca said, they are in a tough group. So he’s captaining it for Louis Van Gaal. I think the Netherlands and him have got their work cut out.
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