Dave O’Brien, the sports announcer who still gives soccer fans nightmares after his dreadful World Cup 2006 calls, has come out in support of FOX Soccer’s Gus Johnson.
The promotion of Gus Johnson to FOX Soccer’s lead commentator has been met with a mixed response from soccer fans. Many have been energized by the addition of the basketball announcer to the broadcast of the world’s game. At the same time, there has been a lot of vocal opposition to his appointment from viewers who believe the quality of commentating has dipped as a result of Johnson being added.
O’Brien is in the Gus Johnson camp. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, O’Brien said:
“First of all, I think it is an inspired choice. Gus is a mainstream sports guy like me and not the first announcer I’d expect to call the World Cup. But I heard the same thing in 2006.
“There are soccer fans in the U.S. who are Premier League devotees and [are] used to British accents on game calls. There is a perception among those fans that that group of play-by-play announcers are the only ones who can best understand the game and interpret what is happening in the match. I have always disagreed with that. As long as the matches are well done and they are broadcast well, I would not care [about] the accent or nationality of the individual calling the game.
“But I think it’s a smart move to have this long of a run-up for Gus. That will benefit him tremendously. I think much of the criticism leveled at me and ESPN was predetermined. Gus has to be true to himself. Not everyone is going to love him and that’s just a fact of life when you are an American calling soccer.”
Not surprisingly, I think O’Brien has it completely wrong. It’s not the accent that is the issue. It’s a combination of knowledge, experience and authenticity that is lacking from Gus Johnson’s two games so far, and was severely lacking from O’Brien’s pitiful commentating in 2005-06.
My stance is that FOX Soccer should hire the best talent for the job. That doesn’t mean it has to be an Englishman or a Scot. It could be an American or someone from another country. Quality needs to be the main priority, not nationality.
In the case of both Gus Johnson and Dave O’Brien, the gulf in talent between those two and most soccer commentators is vast (although, to be fair, Johnson is miles better than O’Brien ever was). Johnson will improve over time, and shows far more potential than O’Brien had. But while FOX Soccer continues with the Johnson experiment, the level of commentating quality has certainly taken a nose dive.
In a recent interview with Men In Blazers, Johnson responded to some of the criticism and said that some people are fearful of change. I welcome change, but it needs to be an improvement over the status quo. Expecting a soccer novice to be dropped into the Santiago Bernabeu or Emirates Stadium and to deliver a world-class commentary is unrealistic. And at the end of the day, everyone loses. Gus Johnson does the best he can, but makes mistakes. Soccer fans feel disrespected because we’ve been given a sub-par commentary experience. And FOX Soccer has egg on its face.
I get what FOX Soccer (or is it FOX Sports executive Eric Shanks) is trying to do, but the execution of the idea has been poor. I’m open to Johnson being the new voice of soccer in the United States, but he needs time and patience to improve. Putting him center stage in such high profile matches is, I believe, the wrong strategy. He’ll learn, but we as soccer fans will have to suffer along the way.
It’s not an attack on Gus Johnson. It’s wanting what is best for the soccer fan, the viewer.