Poor old Gus Poyet. The former Brighton boss must feel like somebody’s been sneaking into his world and pulling threads with the way his career has been unravelling lately. Since his side blew their favorites tag to go crashing out of the Championship play-offs to a Crystal Palace team in wretched form on May 13, the Uruguayan has been the football media’s number one fall guy, suspended from his job and panned by his club for failing to attend a disciplinary hearing into the undisclosed charges hanging over him. So when the BBC elected to broadcast Gus’s sacking as part of their coverage of Spain’s Confederations Cup match against Nigeria, it’s fair to concede that the look of child-like bewilderment that swept across his face as presenter Mark Chapman’s questions rained down on him was well warranted.
It’s an interesting new direction for the BBC, spearheading their summer schedule with live and exclusive prime-time sackings of people who presumably have bills to pay and would just as presumably rather receive such news without the glare of a nation bearing down on them. But who are we to question the producers at the Beeb when there are viewing figures at stake, especially at a time of year when big stories are thin on the ground. And let’s not forget the first rule of reality TV – the suffering of the star is only relative to the entertainment value generated.
At the game’s apex, there has always been a certain contract that demands access to private lives, and the reach of public curiosity, as well as the media’s capacity to satisfy it, is growing fast. But the BBC’s handling of the Poyet sacking marks a watershed in the changing landscape of football coverage. What until recently could be laughed off as a voyeuristic peep-show is beginning to feel more like a thinly veiled rendering of vulnerable people into slap-stick figures of fun.
Football audiences are greedy – inevitably really when you stop to consider the deluge of coverage that has poured out of our screens since the Sky revolution, but the dramatization of the game has seen us arrive at a place where the sport itself no longer satiates our demand. There is a craving to understand the game in its micro form and since Andy Gray’s stop-start machine with all its colored lines and thick-rimmed circles allowed us to pick apart every detail on the pitch from 1993 onwards, fans and media alike have plumbed deeper and deeper to locate the beating heart of the game off it.