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Alexi Lalas vs Michael Ballack: The Euro 2012 Cage Match On ESPN Continues

ballack lalas espn Alexi Lalas vs Michael Ballack: The Euro 2012 Cage Match On ESPN Continues

It’s been a strange Euro 2012 when you consider that one of England’s biggest critics in America, Alexi Lalas, has been lauding how well the England national team has been playing. When Lalas speaks on ESPN, I almost have to pinch myself to believe that he’s actually praising England. His track record includes a history of harsh criticisms about England. He said the 2010 England World Cup had “delusions of grandeur.” Plus he’s been known to inflate the perceived quality of Major League Soccer, to the detriment of the Premier League. He once said that if a spaceship beamed one of the top MLS sides on to an EPL ground, that the MLS team would battle for a mid-table position. The suggestion is quite laughable, even years after he said it.

The pessimist in me wonders whether Lalas is backing England in order to make good television, especially when juxtaposed against an anti-England Michael Ballack. But I don’t think so. Lalas, a defender in his playing days, appreciates a team built around defense, as most defenders do. Heck, this England team is more like Italy than any other side in Euro 2012, Italy included. So, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Lalas has fallen for England given how well the national team has been playing, and how they’re playing much more like a sound team than a jigsaw puzzle of individual footballers.

The chemistry between Lalas and Ballack, particularly when the topic of England arises, is incredible to watch. Sitting next to each other, Ballack is sticking to his principles of how soccer should be played. His pride for Germany shines through. He’s stubborn in his beliefs, blunt with his words and punctuates the air with a style that’s completely opposite to his colleague beside him. Lalas, the effervescent American, is entertaining to watch and listen to, and seems to enjoy the debate. Best of all, there’s a tangible friction between the two pundits. It’s friendly, but tinged with a competitive spirit. When making a point, both men are looking each other in the eye when they speak, even when the questions are posed by Bob Ley or Rebecca Lowe. It’s almost as if the two men are engaged in a staring contest, trying to unsettle his opponent.

What is plainly obvious is that Ballack is holding back. He has deeper thoughts on England as a national team, but so far, he has only offered mere glimpses of his beliefs. By the manner of his tone, we know he’s not a fan of England under Hodgson. His quip about England parking three buses against France revealed a lot. But I’m looking forward to hearing more of Ballack’s viewpoints as the tournament unfolds.

Lalas, on the other hand, has shown us his cards. He’s a proponent of Hodgson, a man who recognizes England’s weaknesses and plays to its strengths, while nullifying the opponent. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. But at least, so far this tournament. England is no longer playing like 11 chickens with their heads cut off. They’re all part of a team plan — a simple notion, but something that has been lost on England for far too long.

The best thing for ESPN and we admirers of the tete-a-tete between Ballack and Lalas is that England progresses far in this tournament. The further England goes into the latter stages of Euro 2012, the more testy Ballack will become. We can only hope that Ballack reaches a breaking point, where he spills the beans on what he really thinks about England. We’ve only had a taste of that, so far, but I’m looking forward to hearing his uncensored thoughts on what he really thinks. Lalas, I’m sure, will keep on pushing Ballack’s buttons. The tragedy is that England could be out of the tournament as early as Tuesday. For the sake of entertaining television, and the chance to see a methodical German explode before our eyes, let’s hope England can keep the run going for at least another week or more.

This entry was posted in ESPN, Euro 2012, Leagues: EPL. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013.
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41 Responses to Alexi Lalas vs Michael Ballack: The Euro 2012 Cage Match On ESPN Continues

  1. huhe888 says:

    Either the producers and/or Lalas have figured out a way to get Ballack more involved.

    The tension between Ballack and Lalas was the one thing that saved the studio show, which was nearly unwatchable during the first weekend.

    Ballack has become more comfortable this week. More assertive, more aggressive, more confident.

    • Tana says:

      Hope this will be posted:

      One thing is very clear; these commentators are arrogant racists (especially Alexis Lalas) against Mario Balotelli. We have never seen the kind of goal that Mario scored from anybody (so called white or Spanish stars) in this tournament, and the commentators mentioned it for seconds and were very cold about it. If this goal was scored by any white man, they would have bragged about it all day long, or even year after year! Racism is out in the open against this great player. Whenever Mario does a minor mishap every white mouth start a campaign of badmouthing him.
      Racism should stop and players need to be recognized based on their quality and talent not on hate and arrogant bias.

      Tana

      • MetalBubba says:

        Most people don’t like to see a very talented player who is an arrogant ass that shows disrespect to his opponents and the game. No need to cry wolf.

      • Maximus says:

        Lol. I can’t wait til the white people are the minority so they can turn the tables on all those idiots that say everything is racism. Mario from Italy is an idiot…he is a good futbol player…but he’s an idiot. Reminds me of Anelka from France….lots of talent but lacks lots of intelligence. You can be arrogant in the sandlots and parks around the world..but on the world pitch..you need to be humble. He’s got it pretty good making millions while playing…the rest of us have to work to make thousands. And to your remark Tana about if a white person make that goal it would be blah blah blah…umm…Ibra from Sweden made a goal twice as nice…and it’s already been forgotten..so hush puppy.

  2. huhe888 says:

    Go read Lalas’ Twitter feed and you will notice that Lalas has been working overtime with Ballack in order to bring Ballack up to speed.

    Some of the arguments still appear to be scripted rather than spontaneous, but you can’t really blame them for trying the only thing left that would have a chance of saving the studio show.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Saving the studio show? That’s ridiculous. Rebecca Lowe and Bob Ley have been fine as presenters, and Kasey Keller and Taylor Twellman have carried their weight as pundits. To suggest that Lalas and Ballack are the only things “saving the studio show” is absurd.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

    • dust says:

      LOL what? if anything, Rebecca Lowe and her ability to steer conversation in a way that is actually interesting is what is saving the show.

      Ballack being interviewed in German shows ho fluid he can be when speaking his native tongue, go to 1 min 26 to skip the other stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nmoazurTQ

      he is a smart guy with a keen footballing mind and given the better language skills i’m sure he would put lalas in his place.

  3. CTBlues says:

    I was thinking Lalas just hated Ballack more than England.

  4. dust says:

    Lala’s position on England and apparent new found love is actually just a sarcastic, more cleverly disguised attack and a back handed compliment . I have not heard him praise England’s defensive tactics with specifics in amazement and go to the board or virtual table and point out the defensive genius of x or y.

    “England have accepted who they are”, “they don’t have the talent to play attractive football” “They finally have realistic expectations”. These are just some of the statements I have heard lala’s say repeatedly since the coverage started on ESPN when they are talking about England.

    Its like this is a tournament that vindicates his belief that England have been punching above their weight for a while and have had the wrong expectations. That the English are delusional. I think Ballack is offended by that, I think he doesn’t like it when Lalas tries to make the case that England should just defend and that’s how they should play because that all they are capable of.

    lala’s is also condescending to Ballack on the screen, you can see it in Ballack’s face when Lalas talks over him because English is not Ballack’s 1st language, it is more difficult for him to counter. It looks like he wants to turn around and say, “you weren’t very good” you played for Padova, not Millan, you were there one season, before they sold you, you then returned on loan to Padova in at the end of that season they were relegated to Seire B and haven’t been up since”. I would imagine that is what is running through Ballack’s mind–just a guess.

    I’m surprised you cant see the sarcasm gaffer, his statements are clearly just a way of backing/vindicating his previous negative opinions of England. I’m not sure why ESPN are ok with his positions on England, maybe its because he waves the mls/american flag all the time?

    I thought Warren Bartons point last night on the fox soccer report (aimed at the ESPN team i think) was out of frustration at listening to the sarcasm from lalas. this is what he said or there about’s “if Wellbeck was, Italian, French, Spanish, German or South American, his goal would be hailed as the best in the tournament, a moment of class, but because he’s british/english people are questioning if it was even intentional.”

    Lalas statements are based out of a genuine dislike for english football, be it the premier league or the national team. I’m not sure why, but to honestly say as he has done for the last 10 years that england have not got the talent, they cant pay football the real way etc.. is a joke and just sounds bitter. I am surprised you don’t see his comments for what they are gaffer.

    • Guy says:

      I have to agree. I have felt Lalas’s “compliments” about England have been backhanded, at best. Basically, “They’re doing a good job!” (at playing the only kind of hapless football they are capable of). Of course, my perception could possibly be biased as Alexi is one of the few commentators in the world who can make me push the mute button or walk out of the room altogether. He has simply never been my cup of tea. Others are offended by Warren Barton, who doesn’t bother me at all, so it’s all down to personal preference.

      btw, I completely agree with WB’s analysis of Wellbeck’s goal.

      • Lyle says:

        I totally disagree. Lalas seems to love what England is doing. He’s especially fond of Roy Hodgson it seems.

  5. Paul says:

    Still Don’t understand why ESPN didn’t use the PressPass crew. Not only do they have better chemistry but they are also better overall.

  6. Attaturk says:

    I think Lalas is loud and abrasive because it fits with the style they wish him to be…and perhaps one he is comfortable with.

    However, those irritated by his England 2010 criticisms you have to realize he was dead on accurate about them, and said the things the UK press is now saying as well. What rubbed people the wrong way, was that he was excusing of the USA team, which was similarly lacking. The two teams were fairly equal, in that they were equally limited and had no chance advancing far in the knock-out stages.

  7. BA14 says:

    Lalas reasoning is based on when he played for the US National team. Grinding out points and qualifying for the next round. Which has been the mentality of the US men’s national team for too long now. He thinks this is the way for England to play this tournament.

    Ballack’s background with Germany is to win, getting a draw isn’t acceptable.

  8. Jeff says:

    It is obvious that Lalas is just playing devil’s advocate. As soccer fans, we are educated enough to recognize this. It probably makes for easy viewing for the typical espn viewer considering their other programming.

    It is also obvious to me that Ballack has improved tremendously.

    Another thought I had is where is FOX Soccer on this? ESPN sets up shop for Super Bowls. Why not have presence? You could have daily in depth analysis. You could take tours of each city and it’s culture. Otherwise what the hell does FOX Soccer show during the summer? They are basically non existant right now. I would think the cost to do this would be minimal.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Jeff, the sad thing is that FOX Soccer has people in Poland-Ukraine reporting back what’s happening, but very few people are aware of their coverage and I’m sure very few people are tuning in. I don’t think I’ve watched a single minute of FOX Soccer since the Champions League Final on May 19 — almost a whole month ago.

      They’ve done a really poor job making people aware of what their coverage is (both online and on TV). Like you said, they’re basically non-existent right now.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • dust says:

        So you haven’t watched skysports news or fox soccer report since may 19? I thought you put together a petition to keep fox soccer report on the air, why haven’t you watched it? Strange especially as its soon for the sports show graveyard. I watch everyday, while i code, fox soccer replaying games from the BPL and champions league is for me one of the cool aspects of fox soccer channel…interesting.

        • The Gaffer says:

          I have a source to watch Sky Sports News throughout the day, so I tune into it whenever I can instead of having to wait until the times that FOX Soccer shows it. As for FOX Soccer Report, I’m an admirer of the show, but by the time it’s on TV, I’m either giving my kids a bath or putting them to bed each night.

          I have nothing against replays of great games, but personally, it’s very rare that I watch games I’ve already seen before.

          If I do watch TV at night, it’s almost always online — either Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Videos or HBO Go.

          Cheers,
          The Gaffer

        • dust says:

          It is way more convenient for those of us on the west coast.

  9. Jim says:

    The first few days were unbearable to watch for me. I couldn’t stand listening to Ballack and watching him look down every few words to see what he should say next. However, this week, it’s been great watching him. You can tell he’s more comfortable in the spot light with his words and quips. I still think with some practice on his English, he would be an excellent pundit for the program. Looking forward to see what the next few days bring in terms of interactions between the two. I’m also looking forward to seeing what the coverage is like in Europe when I get over there next week.

  10. Jackie says:

    I am sorry but having Ballack and Lalas together doesn’t work…..they just don’t mesh well together. It is uncomfortable to watch……. I know this is a different channel and tournament etc but i would
    rather watch Eric W and Warren B any day of the week.

  11. Charles says:

    People, you need to understand that these shows are provided for analysis and ENTERTAINMENT! MB is a great player, but he sucks in this studio role! He is obviously not comfortable and has almost nothing to say. They need Lalas to step up and use his personality to create banter between the two. If you recall, the world cup exchanges between Lalas and Mcmanaman were great! This is not about England or Germany, it’s about producing a watchable show! Lalas is always entertaining, knowledgeable and engaging… That’s his role!

  12. Matt says:

    Lalas is ok, I think he eggs it on purposely as ESPN likes personalities like him, Steven A. Smith and Skip Bayless…guys who spew nonsense so people can get angry or respond

  13. Jeff says:

    Matt. That’s what I was getting at. Typical
    ESPN programming has become two people arguing two different sides of a sports opinion. The Euro review is one of the few shows that isn’t this awful yelling or catchphrase city highlight package. It actually offers calm analysis and good highlights (for ESPN standards). But I feel that espn still feels the need to have their tentpole arguments to reel in their typical American sports fan. To me they are trying to please both the soccer fan and the espn lover.

  14. JW says:

    Bob Ley did a poor job getting Ballack involved the first week or so — you could see at the end of nearly every exchange Ballack would be raising his hand to respond further (likely to a sensationalized Lalas comment) and they just moved on. I get that the show needs to keep moving, but I felt that just added to the “scripted” feel of things.

    Overall, I agree with Guy’s observation of the personal preference — I just can’t listen to Lalas for more than a minute or two. Nothing with him feels like a “converstation”; rather, it’s a “spectacle.” I’d take Twellman or even that Spanish-speaking gentleman they had on one day — what was his name? — over anything featuring Lala.

  15. Barry says:

    The problem with Lalas is that even though he played the game he still comes off as being very ignorant about the nuances of the game. He has an opinion for the sake of it rather than one based on rational discourse. He isn’t one to listen to for an informed opinion or discussion. He is typical of what we are used to on US television, talk a lot and have an opinion and it doesn’t matter if it is an informed one or not. He is just doing what almost every other US TV personality does.

    Ballack comes off as being boring because he is typical of most Europeans on TV that don’t necessarily talk a lot or loudly. Unlike Lalas that speaks for 5 minutes to make his point Ballack makes his in 5 seconds. My problem with Ballack is that he is too pro Germany and does not offer criticism when warranted.

    Whether we like it or not soccer coverage in this country when produced locally will always feature the likes of Lalas, Wynalda and company. We need to get used to it. I personally tune them off and use the internet for better pregame coverage, mute the halftime show and only turn the sound on during the game. The mute button is one of the greatest inventions ever :-) .

  16. scrumper says:

    If everyone is waiting for Ballack (or “bollock” as Bob Ley calls him) to liven up then think again. He’s German not Italian. He’s obviously knowledgable and when given the chance has some decent comments, albeit they consist of one word. Unfortunately because this is American TV pregnant pauses are not allowed and when Ballack is attempting to organise his thoughts in English clown prince Lalas and the annoying Bob Ley rush in to fill the void with their pyscho babble. Additionally he’s been coached to avoid controversial subjects so the bloke is probably confused most of the time. Give Rebecca Lowe some more time and she might be able to eek out what he’s really thinking (other than the obvious Germany will reign supreme). I have doubt he probably thinks Lalas and Ley are idiots and it’d be brilliant if he said so – now that’s a studio show I’d like to see!

    Look Ballack is on there simply because the Krauts are favourites and ESPN want a winner on the programme. I think he’s pretty uncomfortable in the studio and I’m surprised ESPN didn’t do their homework. If they really want a cage match get Joey Barton or a Dutchman on the panel.

    Bob Ley knows nothing about the game and it shows. He’s obese and not a good advert for kids watching. Keller and Twellman (I think his name is), are pitiful. Why do they insist on trying to make grand sweeping statements each time they speak such as “they are resolute in defence” or “they have come out strong” A five year old can make those observations.

    • DeathCabfrWoody says:

      I would think that Keller has probably forgotten more about the game than most of us on this thread will ever know. The guy knows the sport…hands down. This is his first year in the booth out of retirement…give him a little time.

  17. Richard Long says:

    The Portuguese victory over the Netherlands is now complete, and the TV announcers seem at a loss to explain the Dutch failure. Perhaps they are not allowed to make the obvious observation on why this happened:

    Two years ago the Dutch went the the finals of the World Cup. They played against beautiful, skillful Spanish team and they played them with one of the ugliest games I have ever had the misfortune to watch. At least four Dutch players should have been thrown out of the game. Several probably should have been arrested. The fouls were vicious, even criminal. The Dutch players themselves were ashamed, afterwards,and must have had difficulty facing their teammates on their professional clubs. Two years later, many of the same players were back, and, shamefully, so was the coach.

    I have always admired Dutch soccer. Some of the best players and sides to ever play the game have been Dutch. But apparently there were no consequences for the shameful display of 2010. So, what happened in 2012? The answer is simple: Karma. I don’t think those fine players had any faith in that discredited coach. And it will stay that way until they fire that coach and reclaim the proud Dutch tradition.

  18. wwsiralexd says:

    I predict that Ballack will hit a chair over Lalas’s head.

  19. Sam Johnson says:

    Lalas is an ASSHAT. Ballack has reason for his imput, several trophies in his case. Lalas has one world cup run and a long red goatee – becuase he’s the “best” that America can produce – although Donovan, Howard etc etc come to mind.. for some reason the ginger clown is obviously kissing someones ass at ESPN to get the job. he’s a joke. always has been and always will. i’d like to see Ballack chop him in the throat with a ridge hand.

  20. Neufeldt says:

    Ballack should not be a commentator, he should be playing in the Euro-Cup 2012 games for Germany. His unbelievable talent is being wasted.

  21. Maximus says:

    Here’s what I find amazing…How in the F is Loser Lalas giving his views and opinions? I’m trying to think what he won during his failure years? If he’s qualified, then thousands of players in the last decade are much more over qualified than he is. You all want to know why the USA can’t scratch the surface in world futbol competition? It’s because they give idiots say in the game. ESPN…get someone who has achieved something worthwhile as a player to give us an opinion…heck…get one of the U.S women’s soccer players who lost in the finals as a commentator…they know more than that idiot.

    • Guy says:

      I dislike Lalas with a passion, but as others have pointed out, he is the quintessential commentator in US sports….”Just be abrasive, baby.” That’s what American sports commentary has been reduced to……and why I prefer English commentators……for anything.

      • Maximus says:

        Although I too prefer the English commentators (they at least know player names) over 98% of American…I also find British commentators a bit opinionated for no reason….also they tend to think English football is the sheet…now…if England gets so lucky they win this Euro..then I’ll take this statement back…but….England hasn’t done squat and hasn’t given football any type of technique to progress the game. Outside..cross..outside cross. If it weren’t for the foreign players in England..they’d have another MLS.

  22. Sunny says:

    Lalas is just an idiot, there is no comparison with ballack. Lalas just try to impress and talk over ballack even though ballack is more knowledgable .

  23. Gilberto Sanchez says:

    So ” The World had caught up to Spain” were the remarks made by a red headed idiot living in Lala land! The network needs to hire a professional analyst & not a partisan baffoon.

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