By Dan Horlock, EPL Talk Correspondent
From Cordoba, Argentina
The arrival of two World Cup stars to an English team renowned for work ethic and devoid of any big name players came as a huge surprise to the majority of football fans around the globe.
Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano have had a little over three weeks to acclimatise to the hustle and bustle of the English Premier League but already they have shown an indication of their quality, even if results have not gone their way.
The interest generated by the Argentine pair when they put pen to paper in London was extraordinary, as the media scrambled to catch a glimpse of the duo. Press conferences were full and rumours were rife as to the intricacies of the deal.
However, the new fascination the English press and English Premier League followers have with Tevez and Mascherano is nothing in comparison to the response back home in Argentina.
Already the West Ham shirt has become a must have item for those following Argentine players overseas, as Villarreal, Corinthians and Barcelona proved before.
But for the major impact one need look no further than the television channel Fox Sports, the host of English Premier League football in Argentina.
The coverage in the pre-Tevez/Mascherano era was comparable to a 1970’s version of Match Of The Day, a presenter with dark, shaggy hair, Juan Manuel Pons, fronting a dark blue background with white spots that regularly gave the viewer a headache.
The show was produced on a tight budget and as a consequence English football in Argentina – against its Spanish and Italian rivals on ESPN – undoubtedly appeared inferior.
However, since the arrival of the Argentine pair in London, Pons, and his co-commentator Christian Bassedas, the former Newcastle player, have been given, amongst other things, a professional news desk from which to work.
The studio is now decorated in a modern, light blue colour and the commentators are surrounded by plasma screens showing action from previous games that would not look out of place on Sky Sports – highlighting the channel’s expectancy of higher viewing figures.
In regards to the coverage, ‘Bambino’ Pons, as he is more commonly known, still likes to sing tribute songs to the scorer after each goal and provides an irritatingly biased account of the game on behalf of his countrymen; his insistent begging of Jose Mourinho last season to bring Hernan Crespo into the action mirrored that of a child pleading for their parents attention.
But his behaviour is merely representative of a country that is desperate to see their players achieve in football’s upper echelons.
For example, in the newspaper ‘Ole,’ the country’s biggest selling football daily, they scoffed at Alan Pardew’s reasoning for Carlos Tevez’s substitution against Newcastle United, when he said, ‘We needed goals.’ An entire page was allotted to the apparent ludicrousness of the statement.
Argentine media and fans alike share a fierce sense of loyalty towards their players, demonstrated by the fact that in both quarters West Ham has become known as Tevez and Mascherano’s team.
This season, the satellite provider, DirectTV has also introduced a new channel that provides exclusive footage of all the Premier League’s major games with English commentary, featuring the likes of Alan Parry and John Champion. Together with Fox Sports, the two channels have English football completely covered.
The weekend’s action generally begins on Saturday at 8.45 (12.45 GMT), followed by the 15.00 kick-off (11 AST) with the day’s football concluding at 13.15 or (17.15 GMT). Fox Sports usually broadcasts two of the three matches.
Depending on the quantity of games, Sunday and Monday’s action normally sees just two matches. Sunday at 12.00 (16.00 GMT) on DirectTV and Monday at 16.00 (20.00 GMT) on Fox Sports.
However, while English football has changed beyond recognition in Argentina a glance at ESPN’s coverage of the Champions League first fixtures demonstrates that there is still much to do for the most popular league in the World to win over Argentine and South American audiences.
While Liverpool were visiting PSV Eindhoven and Chelsea were playing host to Werder Bremen, Argentine viewers were being treated to Barcelona’s 5-0 demolition of a very poor Levski Sofia side or as an alternative, Sporting Lisbon’s 1-0 victory over Inter Milan.
The same was true on the second day of the Champions League. At the same time as England was enjoying the thrills and spills of the Battle of Britain between Manchester United and Celtic, ESPN in Latin America preferred to screen AC Milan’s 3-0 thumping of AEK Athens and Real Madrid’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Lyon.
In this continent, Spain’s La Liga is King and to replace it as the most popular European League, the English Premiership will have to change its language, culture and history.
However, overtaking Italy’s Serie A, which has been relegated to ESPN + with only the major games being shown, the English Premier League is at last beginning to show its teeth in this part of the world.
Tevez and Mascherano may well be household names in England now but their impact over the other side of the Atlantic reaches far beyond a few more West Ham shirts being sold on the streets of Buenos Aires.
Courtesy of the ‘Hammers,’ the English Premier League has finally arrived on Argentine television.