x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pulling the wool over their eyes ... and ours

These spot-kick sagas are the greatest human dramas of the modern age, and your fancy new telly gives you a virtual front-row seat. And what, Will Batchelor asks, do the central figures do? They cover their faces!

Yes, that's Wayne Rooney, shortly after England lost in penalty kicks to Italy, providing the example columnist Will Batchelor is grousing about.
Yes, that's Wayne Rooney, shortly after England lost in penalty kicks to Italy, providing the example columnist Will Batchelor is grousing about.

 

So you treated yourself to a new television for Euro 2012. Well, not so much a television as a plasma pleasure dome of sensual splendour: HD, 3D, practically ESP. With this beauty you do not merely "watch" the match but absorb every minute detail.

Much of which, to be honest, you could do without.

Do we really need countless slow-motion replays to illustrate the way a striker's face wobbles when he heads the ball? Must we, too, experience the fine mist of perspiration which shimmers off his forehead? As for the aerial shot of the centre spot before kick-off, all I can say is: pity the vertigo sufferers.

But, hey, it is all worth it when the penalty shoot-outs come around, right? These spot-kick sagas are the greatest human dramas of the modern age, and your fancy new telly gives you a virtual front-row seat.

And what, increasingly, do the central figures do?

They cover their faces!

Rui Patricio, the Portuguese goalkeeper, threw a towel over his head before Wednesday night's semi-final shoot-out against Spain. Perhaps he did so to deny his opponents any visual clues to his mental state, but he also robbed millions of viewers the same thing.

After 120 minutes of non-football, a little dramatic tension was the least we deserved.

England's Wayne Rooney pulled a similar trick after his team lost to Italy in the quarter-final, hoicking his jersey over his face. Not the first time in a major tournament that boy has lost his head.

This uncharacteristic shyness is not limited to Euro 2012. Bastian Schweinsteiger, that strutting Teutonic knight of Bayern Munich, hid inside his shirt after duffing his penalty in the Champions League final.

It is an insidious practice and must be banned as soon as possible.

I know what you are thinking: give the guys a break, allow them a moment of private grief.

Sorry, no dice. Thanks to relentless media training and restraints on journalists, it is rare to see moments of raw honesty from players. Those that remain must be safeguarded at all costs.

Broadcasters and sponsors must know this, too. Television audiences peak during penalty shoot-outs not because people are desperate to see a man kick a stationary ball from 12 yards but because they want to see the player's face when he fails.

It is that potential cruelty which keeps us watching through 30 turgid minutes of extra time, secretly hoping that neither team score.

It is that which causes your otherwise disinterested wife to drift in and say: "Give me a shout if it goes to penalties."

The football authorities banned players from removing their shirts during goal celebrations, citing the notion that bare chests were aggressive and distasteful.

Cynics suspected it had more to do with sponsors wanting their logos to remain on view during the money shot.

Although logos remain visible when a player hides inside his shirt at times of heartache, that means nothing if the lost drama causes millions to turn away from their fancy new television screens.

sports@thenational.ae

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