Columnist

Giles Smith: An appreciation of the nil

In his fan’s-eye view of recent happenings, columnist Giles Smith spots a trend following the shut-out against Sevilla and suggests a new ‘tier system’ for consumption of football on TV…

 


I don’t wish to come across too strongly as a connoisseur of the 0-0 draw. It’s a bit like a too-loudly announced interest in sub-titled films. You’re letting it be known that you can appreciate and draw sustenance from a game of football even in the absence of the vulgar and hooky stuff that most people turn up for, such as goals.

However, Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw against Seville in the Champions League was worthy of appreciation – or certainly the nil bit at our end. We possibly needed a touch of nil at this point in our season, and that it came against properly high-quality opposition didn’t hurt, either. Nil has recently seemed a touch hard to find. One might expect to be involved in a 3-3 draw maybe a couple of times per decade. We’ve been involved in two this season already including, most frustratingly, last Saturday at home to, of all teams, Southampton.

Let’s not ramp it up too high, though. Tuesday night’s was actually our third clean sheet in eight games, which isn’t entirely unrespectable. Certainly our side has been conceding a few more goals than it would probably like to, and one or two of those goals have come in some discouragingly slapstick circumstances – and in the case of Southampton’s second last weekend, not just slapstick but physically unrepeatable, which is some consolation. But even so, the nil-nil isn’t exactly the Halley’s Comet of rare scores round these parts, even now, for all that the critical attention on this area seems to have been implying that it is.
 

Another thing worth noting: every time Edouard Mendy, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell have been in the starting line-up together, we have kept a clean sheet. Every single time. (On Tuesday, against a pretty formidable Sevilla side, and at home to Palace in the 4-0 win before that disruptive and deeply unhelpful international break.) Encouragement is most certainly to be taken from that, along with the stat that only Manchester City, among Premier League teams, permit fewer shots at their goal than our supposedly crisis-riven defence. For all their possession and ambition, it was well into the second half on Tuesday before Seville managed a shot of any kind. So, yes: a decent 0-0.

Our first behind-closed-doors Champions League group stage game came hard on the back of another pandemic-era first – tapping the remote to order up a pay-per-view Premier League game. I dutifully went through with it, and counter-intuitively, they seem to be encouraging us to get to the ground at the last moment on these occasions. At any rate, the screen showed a test card until just five minutes before kick-off, meaning that Steve Sidwell, who was BT Sport’s appointed pitch-side pundit for the occasion, had a pretty minimal amount of time to open up and show us what he can do with a microphone in his hand.

Would a slightly more lavish pre-match show have been in order for your £14.95? Pricing and value for money, of course, have been the hotly contested issues in this area. Thus far, we’ve seen the application of a rudimentary one-size-fits-all pricing solution - £14.95 or don’t bother. Many feel the individual match price, on top of other essential subscriptions, is too high and that once again the fan is being opportunistically fleeced for his dependency at a level far in excess of the value of the product. And in the case of West Brom v. Burnley, it would be very hard to dispute that.

I wonder if in due course it might seem more prudent for the broadcasters to come up with a tiered offering, tiered approaches to things being so popular in general these days, with the product broken down a bit and viewers paying according to how much access they’re getting to camera angles, studio presentation, Steve Sidwell, etc. This way, choice would be increased and pay-per-view football could possibly be opened up to a wider audience.
 

So, for example, shoppers at the lower end could be offered the chance to go ‘replay free’ with a basically-shot standard resolution image for a bargain price-point of, say, £4.99. And then customers could choose from a range of graduated matchday packages, according to what they can afford or feel they really need, perhaps purchasing bolt-ons to create a bespoke viewing experience.

For instance, £1.99 would buy you a clock in the corner of the screen, a £2.25 supplement could ensure you had a former referee on hand to try and explain the more baffling VAR decisions, if you felt you would really benefit from that, and so on. And somewhere up at the top of the range, presumably, would be a £49.99 Premium Lounge package, with all the available camera angles and super slo-mo and with an absolute guarantee that there would be no contributions before, during or after, from either Michael Owen or Steve McManaman.

My hunch (and it’s a strong one) is that the market would sustain that approach, especially if you could nail down the Owen/McManaman aspect, because people really would be willing to pay money for that. Something for the broadcasters and the authorities to get their heads together and think about, maybe.

In the meantime, it’s fair to note that laughing gas is being pumped into the game on a fairly wide basis in these behind-closed-doors days, and most opinions are a hostage to fortune. Consider those analysts who took to social media midway through Tottenham’s game against West Ham last weekend to declaim how Jose Mourinho, unlike other managers, knows how to organise a defence, how he’s a born pragmatist, knows how to shut a game down, etc.

Life comes at you fast, and Manuel Lanzini even faster.

On, then, with our newly cemented defence and our quickly heating attack, to Old Trafford to play a team who recently conceded six. That’s twice as many as three, you know.

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